I have started my own walking group!

We’re not affiliated with The Ramblers or any governing body; this is something I’ve setup on Meetup – a platform that remains largely alien and unknown to me. But it’s quite popular among others.

Weston-super-Walkers on Meetup!

In case anyone reading this has any concerns… I am not about to throw in the towel and walk away from my commitments to Brunel Walking Group (a Ramblers group), with whom I’ve been a paid-up member for over seven-years and a recognised walk leader since 2013.

Brunel are based in Bristol, with the distinct core of its user base. As of April this year, I now live in Weston-super-Mare; a reasonably-sized seaside town some fifteen miles away. Not unreachable by the M5 motorway or local rail links but it feels like more of a distance – compared with my previous twenty-five minute car journeys.

Having friends and being committed to something like this has obvious benefits. But there is always going to be that physical distance in some sense. I often wonder about the like-minded walkers who may (or may not) exist much closer to home. It’s an honest statement to say that I don’t have nearly as many friends in Weston as I do in Brunel. This is why I started Weston-super-Walkers; to try and lure these ‘Others’ out in to the light.

Who is the group for?

It’s worth mentioning that there is already a Ramblers group called Weston Walkers… My own brief impression is that they’re more of a “stereotypical” Ramblers group who cater for a membership of people who are… ‘Later in life’, with their programme that includes mid-week walks and distances rarely surpassing six miles.

Initially, I’m looking to target people in their twenties, thirties and forties (I reside within the middle). Although I’ve no prior experience of Meetup, I’ve also viewed it as a site for “younger people” (rightly or wrongly). I know of a couple of other Ramblers groups who have and do use it.

I’m not ruling older folk out in the long run but I know from my own experiences with Brunel, that some “younger” folk prefer to walk with those who are their own age and not parental in appearance.

My prime objective is to meet and recruit people who enjoy a good day’s walking… Let’s say, from eight to sixteen miles; starting in the morning, continuing through lunch and ending sometime before nightfall.

Is it only for people in Weston?

While I still believe that there are other twenties, thirties and forties walkers in Weston-super-Mare (I know at least three of them), there’s always the chance that they won’t look on Meetup. I’m open to people from North Somerset – in fact, a good portion of my current membership seem to live between here and Bristol or Bath.

Other Meetup groups (I’ve even joined a couple) exist in each of these cities. Outside of which, very little exists around Somerset… There is a young walkers group but, as you might expect, they’re a bit lacking in regular events.

Put simply: I’m hoping to attract people from W-s-M and the surrounding towns and villages. Inevitably, city-dwelling folk may follow in time.

How will it work?

Right now, I am the sole organiser of a group that is already more than fifty-members strong! I’ve spoken privately with a handful of Meetup users to try and determine my potential direction… Right now, I need to try something and see how it goes.

I’ve organised our first walk for early December and already have ten members looking to join me that day. I anticipate being able to organise one walk each month. I realise that won’t be regular enough to sustain a growing group but, with my own commitments to work and life, I am understandably restricted.

In the long-term, I’d like for other members to feel comfortable in stepping up to lead a walk, regardless of the location or its distance. But I know from other experiences with Brunel that people are rarely confident or interested in organising and leading a group of any size.

Is it free to join?

This is going to be a big issue for me, having just paid around £65 for the first six months of Weston-super-Walkers (and that is a discounted rate).

At the time of writing, I am not charging any form of membership fee and my first walk will be free. Over the long term though, I’ll need to find a way of covering those “admin costs”. Charging people to attend a walk is not uncommon on Meetup. Prices elsewhere can very from a handful of pence to several pounds – the greater the membership and average attendance, the lower the fee.

It’s an issue I’ll have to experiment with. If I’m not breaking even after the first twelve months then I may well give it up.

Where do we meet?

Whenever I’ve been on a Ramblers walk, an emphasis has always been placed upon the importance of car sharing, to reduce our carbon footprint and also to not suffocate public car parks that others may also like to use.

Several people I’ve spoken to in Weston are happy with the idea of car-sharing – I don’t yet know how many of my members can or cannot drive. Free parking around Weston is a great premium these days, for anything more than a couple of hours. I’ve yet to come up with a concrete answer to where we could all meet before a walk – which may also be influenced by where in the town the core membership resides.

Looking ahead to Walk #1, very few of the attendees actually live in Weston, which means most will be driving direct to the walk and probably alone.

Will we be doing social events?

In the long term, yes, I’d like to. I’m hardly the most socially-confident of people in this regard and I’d rather hope (and rely upon) a future forthcoming member who’s prepared to step up and take on the task. Whether it’s a monthly meet in a pub or a trip to do something non-walk related.

I’m hoping that this will work. The sheer fact that one-fifth of my membership are willing to come on Walk #1 implies a good thing. In a group situation, everyone might want something different to the next person. We all walk at different paces, preferring different gradients, distances, etc. I have enough prior experience of leading group walks to be able to get most of this right.

We’re starting off with the Mendips, close to home. I hope to be able to offer further walks across North Somerset, down to the Quantocks and then Exmoor.

Any questions or suggestions are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in Weston-super-Mare, close to the Mendip Hills in Somerset and I enjoy time spent outdoors, whether that's walking, camping or backpacking. My day job involved making furniture from recycled wood (I'm a furniture maker and carpenter by trade). I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Walks With Olly (walking, camping and kit) You can also find me on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. My second YouTube channel is titled 'Walks with Olly'.

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