Similarly, we occasionally run walking weekends in North Wales or in other centres around the edge of our 'usual territory' (including Conwy, Manchester, Cardiff, Runcorn, Coventry and Llandudno) which give us access via public transport to different places and more great walking. The weekends aimed at those who prefer shorter walks have generally used reasonably priced hotels, but those offering longer walks might be rather more adventurous. Keep an eye on the website for news of any planned trips.
Every Saturday you will find a choice of guided rambles, which start and finish at a railway station in either Wales or the Welsh borders . Two walks are on offer, one which is usually between 6-10 miles and another which is likely to be 10+ miles. Also, there is an extra rail ramble on one Wednesday a month. (Although many of our walkers love dogs, and are dog owners, we regret that four legged friends are not able to join us on these rambles.)
We aren't a club, you don't need to be a member or have to book in advance. Simply choose a walk from our programme and buy your return train ticket for that day, to either the start of the walk or the finish (whichever is further away). Then come along and enjoy the fantastic countryside that we are so lucky to have around us. The walks themselves are free to join, just remember to bring adequate footwear, waterproofs, a packed lunch and plenty to drink.
Although the train times are centred on Shrewsbury, you can choose to travel from any railway station that suits you. We have people who regularly join us from mid-Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Herefordshire and even Cardiff.
All the walks are led by experienced volunteers, who are members of the Ramblers Association. Rail Rambles itself is not an official Ramblers group and there is no pressure to join but as a charity they do so much to protect and promote public footpaths, giving us access to open spaces. We are grateful to Powys Ramblers for their assistance, which enables us to publish a printed programme and to run this website. Also Arriva Trains Wales deserve a very big thank you for their support, as this gives our leaders the opportunity to travel freely to explore new walks and ensure that our programmed walks are as safe as possible.
The story of Rail Rambles - how did this all come about?
We can thank Alan Howard, a keen walker originally from Lancashire who ended up relocating to Shropshire. His enthusiasism for using public transport to access the countryside, coupled with a chance meeting with a Welsh railway executive in 1989, led to the formation of the original Rail Rambles.
At first, rambles were held on a monthly basis and then over time became fortnightly, then once a week, with a dozen so people on each one. In those early days, the programme often focussed on one particular railway line (the Heart of Wales or Cambrian).
Gradually the walks offered began to include Welsh border stations on the Chester line and we are now in our 28th year. As you can see from our current walks programme, the range has now been extended so that mid and North Wales along with the Welsh Borders are featured, in fact anywhere that can be accessed by train for a day’s walking. Alan sadly passed away in 2008 but his vision has gone from strength to strength and as a testament to this there are around 150 people now who regularly enjoy what Rail Rambles has to offer. (Not all at the same time though!)
Occasionally we have had some unusual walks, a 20 mile Great Malvern circular, a 25 mile ‘Ludlow Challenge Walk’ and a 35 mile two day ramble from Cilmeri to Caersws (for the superfit) and an overnight walk one August from Ledbury to Malvern Link. Other 'different' Rail Rambles have included using some of 'The Great Little Trains of Wales' to acesss countryside away from mainline railway stations.
Over the years we have expanded the programme beyond one day walking with ad-hoc residential stays in locations that are not readily accessible by train for day walks. These may feature a half or full day’s walk from the railway station to the accommodation, often at ‘Staylittle’ Outdoors Centre, within walking distance of Plynlimon, followed by daily walks in the surrounding hills.
Although we primarily walk in rural areas, Alan Howard was keen to promote Town Trails. These date back to the 1990s but came to the fore during the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth. We have had Town Trails around Abergavenny, Aberystwyth, Birmingham, Chester to name just a few. One of the highlights was walking through the Netherton Tunnel and having a canalside lunch under Spaghetti junction. These urban Rail Rambles lapsed for some years but the idea has been resurrected recently and we’ve explored Liverpool, the Black Country and Birmingham. They provide an interesting contrast to our countryside walks.
Being regular users of train services, it was no surprise that one day we happened to bump into Michael Portillo, in 2014 as he headed up the Heart of Wales line and we were returning home after a seven mile ramble around Llandridnod Wells. His production team set up an interview with one of us whilst he cadged some cake off our leader! Sadly, our couple of minutes of potential 'fame' are languishing on the cutting room floor........
In 2014, we celebrated our 25 years anniversary with an afternoon buffet in a village hall which was at the end of the shorter walk and part way through the longer walk. To call it a buffet does not do it justice, it was the most fantastic spread and made a great change from eating our sandwiches sitting in a field! It was a very popular opportunity for the two groups to socialise and for retired ramblers to join us for a catch up.
For the future, why not become a part of it and come along to see for yourself. Have a look at our picture gallery for a flavour of the countryside we regularly enjoy, how can you resist? (Cake is not always guaranteed, though.)