The Simple Pleasures of an Urban Ramble

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By Usa Express Daily

Clustered outside a tube station, 20 or so Londoners were preparing to roam around Tufnell Park, which is not actually a park, in their role as part of a Ramblers group, who do not, by the most rigid definition, ramble. (That typically requires a roam through the countryside.) They huddled under street lamps for the customary introduction to the night’s event: a three-mile loop around a residential stretch of the city, culminating with a trip to the pub.

The Inner London chapter of the Ramblers is a coalition of 10 walking groups scattered throughout the city. This particular offshoot, the Metropolitan Walkers, is geared at people in their 20s and 30s, though they are not very strict about the age cutoff. On this Thursday night, some members came straight from the office with backpacks slung over their shoulders; one took off dress shoes and slipped into sneakers. Heading out, they charged up and down car-lined hills, walked in single file to traverse a narrow slip of sidewalk and waited impatiently for the rest of the group to finish crossing the street before taking off again. They passed a crosswalk barrier covered in graffiti, neon VAPE signs glinting in store windows and an endless parade of double-decker buses.

These scenes might seem incompatible with the idea of rambling, a treasured Britishism that evokes sunny strolls through the fields. But members of the group argue that you can ramble anywhere if you’ve got the right attitude.

“If people enjoy it, the walk’s a good one,” said Phil Bennett, 41, who led the Thursday night expedition.

Part workout regimen, part social club, ramblers groups combine two wellness truisms: Walking is good for you, and so is spending time with others. These types of groups have a long history — the Inner London Ramblers can trace theirs back to 1905 — and newer descendants have taken hold in cities across the globe: Walk San Francisco has been leading treks for more than 25 years, the Montreal Urban Hikers started in 1997, and City Girls Who Walk formed in New York in 2022.

The Inner London Ramblers groups attract all kinds of walkers, but lately, they seem to have become landing strips for people undergoing transitions. Some, like Mr. Bennett, sought out a walking group a few years ago, after moving to London; others joined as a way to endure, and then ease out of, strict pandemic lockdowns; some get involved after they retire.

“It’s a nice little community,” said John Lovett, 46, who joined the Metropolitan Walkers two years ago. In addition to their city strolls, the group takes weekend excursions to the countryside, where they trek 20-odd miles at a time, and get together for karaoke and darts and sailing trips.

Ramblers walk in all weather. In Andrew Strouthous’s four years leading walks for the London Strollers, a group focused on shorter distances, he’s only seen one walk canceled — and that was when the path flooded. Mr. Strouthous, 76, was in charge of leading a walk on Thursday morning. He counted off 42 walkers and two dogs — a Schnauzer and a Chihuahua — along for the jaunt. It was suspiciously bright out; one member announced that she had a raincoat wedged in her backpack, just in case.

Mr. Strouthous had been part of the walking group for around eight years, but he became a walk leader during lockdown. His water aerobics classes shut down during the pandemic, and walks filled that void. “I needed something to keep going, really,” he said.

Mr. Strouthous meticulously plans the routes ahead of time, making sure they’re scenic and not too arduous, and have a good spot to stop for lunch. Thursday morning’s trek checked all the boxes: a route through the South Bank of London, curling past the Globe Theater and under the London Eye, with a stop near a string of shops and cafes, where some members ordered hot chocolates.

Pat Thomas, 67, has been walking with the London Strollers for the past two years. When she retired, she said she felt “quite aware that I needed to keep active.” Ms. Thomas lives alone and finds comfort in the steadiness of the group’s calendar, the constancy of its companionship.

“It just makes you feel that life doesn’t have to deteriorate once you turn 70,” Ms. Thomas said. “There are lots of people who are well into their 70s and very fit, still walking and enjoying it — it’s slightly inspirational.”

Ramblers like to end their walks with some form of celebration. On that particular day, the Metropolitan Walkers clinked foamy pints at The Boston Arms pub; the London Strollers clapped and cheered as they ended their route by the Thames. Julia Cooke, 70, edged closer to the river, what she called London’s “best asset.” Days like today, she said, made her never want to leave the city. “It does make you feel better,” she said. “Being with people, but also just walking.”

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