Our jottings on Healthy Walks

The health walk concept was devised by Dr William Bird an Oxfordshire GP, who started his health walks from his practice at Sonning Common (North of Reading) in 1998. He also introduced an idea which he called the green gym, where the members gain in physical fitness by doing a few hours each week in such open air tasks as gardening or country side conservation.

Dr Bird then worked with the Country side Agency and the British heart Foundation to set up a nationwide network of healthy walks; the scheme was launched in 2000. Currently this national scheme is run jointly by the Rambler’s association and Macmillan Cancer support and further details are found on the walking for health website.

Click for the walking for health website

The green gym idea was taken up by the British Conservation Volunteers who continue to run the Green Gyms on conservation sites throughout the British Isles.

Modern life styles and work patterns mean that we are far less active than our parent’s generation, and this has lead to a worrying increase in obesity in our society. Successive governments have become concerned about the health cost implication of this trend, and the need to both improve the healthy content of what we eat and prompt us to become a little more active in our lives. There is much evidence to show that exercise can improve physical and mental health and reduce the risk of many conditions including some cancers, muscular-skeletal conditions, stroke, diabetes and coronary heart disease. A recommended minimum level of activity would be about 30 minutes of brisk walking or similar action at least 5 times per week. Apparently around two thirds of people in England are not physically active enough to meet the official recommendations for good health. Government suggestions for a healthier life style can be found on the Change4Life website.

Click for the Change4life Website

Walking is not only a cheap and convenient way to increase our physical fitness, but as a sustainable way of travelling short distances, also helps the environment by contributing to a reduction in road congestion and green house gas emission. We like to think that membership of our walking group encourages our members to adopt a healthier and more active life style;however we would not presume to know what’s best for an individual and prefer to leave it to our members to choose for themselves a level of activity that they are comfortable with.

Amongst the diseases, thought linked to an unhealthy and inactive lifestyle that has been increasing in frequency in recent years is Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is when the body either does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin it produces does not work as well as it should (insulin resistance). The risk of this form of diabetes increases with age and it usually affects people over the age of 40. Currently there are over 2 million sufferes in the UK. You can decrease your risk of getting type 2 Diabetes by losing excess weight and exercising regularly- another reason to keep walking. More information on this subject can be found on the web page of the charity Diabetes UK.

Click for Diabetes UK website

The walking environment makes an important contribution to the desire of people to take more of their journeys on foot. Badly maintained pavements, busy difficult to cross roads, poor signage are all factors that can discourage the walker in an urban environment, and are factors that councils need to consider if they wish to promote walking. Livingstreets is a national charity that campaigns on behalf of the pedestrian and should you wish to run a campaign of your own it is well worth consulting their websites for ideas based on the various national campaigns that they are currently running.Living streets, which was inaugurated in 1929 as the Pedestrian Association, is probably the oldest society in the UK actively pressing for better pedestrian rights.

Click for the Living streets Website

Hamshire county council (HCC) is our local Highways authority and shoud you encounter a problem with the local pavement, such as an uneven surface or flooded drain, you can report these directly on line on the council’s webpage, using the following link.

Report a road problem to HCC

Although I am sure that many of us walkers find opportunity to visit our national parks, most of our occasional walking will be in those country side and green areas that are on our doorsteps. It’s for this reason that those pieces of open country side, adjacent to our Borough, take on an importance. These areas, such as the Blackwater valley path or the areas still owned by the army, but open to the public, are the areas where we are likely to go for our occasional weekend walk. In the past three decades or so our area of North Hampshire has seen much urban development with many of these open areas lost to housing. I feel that it’s always worth valuing these areas, making their importance known, and preserving as much as possible of our local open space. After all it’s by having pleasant open space on our doorstep that we are encouraged to become more active through regular walking.

We should not forget the part played by parks in providing us with local green space, and in Aldershot the three main parks, Municipal gardens, Manor Park and Aldershot Park are always well maintained and delightful places for the occasional stroll. I most certainly appreciate the work done by the council’s contractors in maintaining our parks in such good condition.

The restoration and improvements to a narrow strip of country side adjacent to the Blackwater river came about as a by-product of the development of the A331 road, to link the M3 motor way with the A31 at the Hogs Back, and in part bypass the A325 in its route through Farnborough, past Aldershot and onto Hale. During the early post war years the area adjacent to the Blackwater, which was once productive agriculture land, fell into decline and was bespoiled with local dumps, worked out gravel pits, and general neglect. The building of the new road, following a course close to the river, gave an oportunity to improve the river side environment, and in part compensate for the environmental impact of this new highway.

Three County Councils, Hampshire Surrey and Berkshire, which boarder the river, became aware of the situation and commissioned a report, Blackwater River Valley Landscape Restoration & Recreation Strategy, which was published in 1971. It advocated major landscaping, restoration and the development of planning policies to prevent the urban centres melding together. It also recognised the recreational potential of the area and recommended that future development should be based around both water and land-based leisure activities. The concept of a 'Blackwater Valley' was born. In 1979 the Blackwater Valley Project was established to coordinate action and work began to dramatically improve the area's blighted landscape and turn it into a green corridor to benefit both local people and wildlife. From these beginnings the Blackwater path, the Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership,Blackwater Countryside trust and the Blackwater Conservation Volunteers were established. During the development of the road, and since,landscaping and tree planting has been undertaken beside the new road, and many new nature reserves established beside the black water. It has become a local urban green corridor of major significance. Further details can be found at the websites for the Blackwater valley partnership,

Blackwater country side Partnership

In addition the Blackwater Countryside Trust runs as a local nature society whose details can be found at:-

Blackwater Countryside Trust

In passing we should also note Aldershot's two local nature reserves, Brickfields Park and Rowhill Copse

Brickfields Country Park, which is situated off Boxalls lane in Aldershot is also within easy walking distance of Manor park. During the late Victorian period, when Aldershot was expanding as a major Army town, a brickworks and clay pit occupied the site. Since the closure of the brickworks in 1930 the site has been used for a concrete drainpipe works and then a local dump, before being cleared and landscaped as a small country park which opened in 1985. The clay pit has now become a lake for wildfowl and the surrounding area is partly wooded and partly open. Further details of Brickfields country parkcan be found at their web site.

Brickfields Country Park

Rowhill copse, situated off Cranmore Lane in the south of Aldershot covers about 55 acres of land and includes a field study centre open to the public on Sunday afternoons. Originally the area was a local copse of both Hazel and sweet Chestnut providing fuel for the local brick making industry during the expansion of Aldershot and the ajoining Army camps in the late Victorian period. As well as being largely covered by deciduous woodland it also contains a diverse habitat including heath land, ponds, meadow areas, wetland area, and some coniferous woods. A spring and pond in the reserve is the source of the Blackwater river. Further details can be found at : -

Rowhill Copse

The Blackwater valley path, Brickfields, Rowhill, and the three parks of Aldershot are all places where we have organised our local walks.When passing through these areas we appreciate the work done by the various volunteer conservation groups that work both to enhance the wildlife resource of the area as well as keep it neat and tidy for us walkers.

Cove brook & Greenway Group The Cove brook is a small tributary of the Blackwater and gets its name from Cove, a region to the west of Farnborough. The brook starts from three main tributaries - from the hills to the west of Aldershot (The Laundry stream), from a swampy wooded area near the Southwood region of Farnborough and also from a small stream (The Marrowbrook) which rises under the main Farnborough shopping centre. The Brook runs approximately North through Cove to join the Blackwater River at Hawley Meadows just north west of Farnborough. The Brook and area adjacent form a narrow green strip through otherwise residential Cove that is very pleasant for short local walks. The Cove brook Greenway Group is a local nature society that both arrange informative meetings on nature and wildlife as well as providing practical support in the conservation of the Brook. Go to their website to download their latest newsletter.

Cove Brook Greenway Group

Finally I return to the subject of streets. By streets I mean the roads adjacent to our homes along which we might walk to the local shops or walk with our children to school, or the roads around or through our town shopping centres where we walk around visiting the various shops, community centres, and other facilities we wish to visit. In the past, Urban planners and traffic engineers have focused on developing road networks that concentrate only on improving the flow of traffic and have often neglected the needs of other modes of transport such as walking cycling or public transportation.

A Complete Street is one that is designed to accommodate all users, not just the motorists, by providing adequate pavements and cycle ways, safe crossings of the highway for pedestrians and cyclists, and traffic calming measures to reduce vehicle speed - in summary a road environment for all to share. Such a street with its good pedestrian facilities is also a healthy street for it entices us to come out of our cars, walk about, and be more active. In our town centres, a complete street is also good for commerce, for it encourages us to take a stroll round town and may increase the number and variety of shops we visit whilst en-route. The walk-ability of our neighbourhood thus has a direct bearing on the health of our neighbourhood and links the work of the highways department with the task of the local health and wellbeing board. For by providing streets that are a pleasure to walk or cycle along, we help create a more active population and aid in the reduction of those health problems resulting from lack of exercise and obesity.

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