Mole Valley Ramblers formed as a new Group in 1980. The first ramble went from Box Hill station on a circular route over Ranmore. Jim Spencer was the founding secretary and worked tirelessly in promoting the establishment of the group. Membership quickly grew to over 100 walkers in the first few months. He wrote these words for an article published in the local paper, which hold just as true over 35 years on. ”The people of Dorking are fortunate in the varied countryside available for their recreation and as a beautiful background to their daily lives. Box Hill, with its steep, chalky slopes and wooded summit; the gentle tree-lined horseshoe of Norbury Park; Ranmore with its beech and oak and church spire never out of sight; the fir-covered range leading to Leith Hill. In between – river, stream and lake, water meadows, park and farmland. Add to these the varied vegetation on chalk, greensand and clay and there is a range of scenery in a small area that can be equalled in few parts of the country. These amenities can be enjoyed by us all. ... The walks organised by this newly formed branch of the Ramblers Association have proved the demand for organised walking by those who prefer company and who may not have the time or knowledge to find their own way off the beaten track.” The photos show group members on the 30th Anniversary walk in 2010, gathered around Jim Spencer's memorial bench in Norbury Park.
In its first two years membership grew to 250, with members coming from some distance, when there were far fewer other Ramblers Groups in Surrey. Walks occurred both at weekends and weekdays as now, with the full day walks often being as far as 15 miles. We currently have over 400 members, although many of those may have retired from walking whilst still supporting the aims of the Ramblers. All of the press cuttings have been preserved in scrapbooks, along with photo albums from many past walks and Group holidays. These are made available at AGMs if ever you wish to browse.
Some names feature frequently in these archives, for example Jim Spencer, Secretary and a driving force in the Group, and Sheila Dearing, Local Footpath Secretary for many years. The following have served as previous Chairmen: Peter White, Cliff Cook, Bob Tanner, Michael Lane, Harry Robinson, Graham Griffin, John Carver, Penny Mason, Peter Moyle, Tricia Goodwin and Gordon Lewis. Our current Chairman, Joan Young, has been a member of the Group for over 30 years.
We kept walking through the aftermath of the 1987 hurricane, though finding detours to avoid the fallen trees often meant that the walks were longer than planned. In many areas the countryside had been completely transformed, and the new views over the North Downs and across to the Weald were pleasant surprises. In 2001, when the countryside was closed to walkers because of Foot and Mouth, we created an emergency programme of walks in London. These proved popular, often taking us into attractive back streets with interesting historical connections, and we continue to include London walks in some of our programmes today.
For the Group’s 25th anniversary in 2005 a booklet was produced with excerpts from walk reports over the years. One of the record walks must have been a New years Day walk in 1992, with 58 walkers. More generally the walks were of a similar group size to now, although there was a stronger turn out for weekend whole day walks. Mention is made of one walk being somewhat delayed as the leader arrived half an hour late, having forgotten that summer time has begun that morning! On another occasion walkers were invited to join in and party with a hippie gathering at Chanctonbury Ring!
We hope the Group will continue to thrive in the coming years, enabling many more people to enjoy the glories of the Surrey countryside, and the companionship that can be experienced through group walking and working to maintain the many footpaths we are fortunate in having access to.
With thanks to Cliff & Shirley Weight for access to their invaluable archive records.