A rambler made

ďA rambler made is a man improved"
To many veteran walkers the initials GHBW are synonymous with the great outdoors and the birth of organised rambling.
George Herbert Bridges Ward was born in 1876 not far from Sheffield City Centre. His father, a mechanic by trade, introduced the lad to an early love of the open air and, by 1900, 'Bert', had established the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers which, he claimed, was the first active rambling club of its kind to be formed in Britain. In September of that year he led the first club outing - over what was to become a great 'battlefield', Kinder Scout.

It was his desire, that land should be free for all to enjoy lawfully, which led to a writ of trespass being served on him for making an annual pilgrimage to a cairn on Kinder where a fellow rambler had perished. The £ 17 fine was accompanied by an injunction forbidding Bert from entering the moor without prior consent.

In 1910, he started off the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' handbook which developed into a pocket sized mine of information on rambling, local history, folk fore and records of conversations with locals. That handbook has become one of the most sought after of publications and is constantly used as a rich source of information, not least of all by myself. He continued as editor for 47 years finding time to write constantly elsewhere and, recognising the work of his famed predecessor, he revised John Derry's "Across the Derbyshire Moors".
Concerned that public rights of way were gradually being erased, he formed the Hallamshire Footpath Preservation Society in 1912 and, over a number of years he was instrumental in gaining access to huge tracts of land in the Peak District. Ward was a prime mover in the formation of what we now know as the Ramblers' Association, and in 1926 founded its Sheffield & District Federation. He also found time to take part in the formation of the local YHA and assisted in the purchase of the Longshaw estate (now owned by the National Trust).

Having started his working life in engineering at the local steelworks, he then transferred to the Ministry of Labour before retiring in 1941. After that Bert was able to spend more time on his outdoor interests with his wife Fanny. He lived many years on Moorwoods Lane at Owler Bar, a few hundred yards from his beloved Big Moor. In 1949 the Access to the Countryside Act came into being but by that time Ward's great contribution, towards access for all, had been well recognised. Four years earlier he had received a just tribute. On 8th April 1945, some 2,000 ramblers gathered on Lose Hill in the Peak District to witness Bert receiving the deeds to 54 1/2 acres of that summit (forever to be called Ward's Piece). A plaque there records that the Sheffield & District Federation of the Ramblers' Association had purchased the land in appreciation of the life's work of George Herbert Bridges Ward F.R.G.S. and an inscription repeats one of his favourite slogans "a rambler made is a man improved". Ward's Piece was then presented to the National Trust.

On 6th July 1957 Sheffield University conferred an honorary degree of Master of Arts on G.H.B.W. but sadly he was unable to attend due to ill health. The Public Orator said "...that no man could have worked more tirelessly for the preservation and accessibility of our countryside heritage and especially of the incomparable Peakland. No man in the last half-century could have done more, by precept and example, to foster the true spirit of rambling".

Bert Ward died on 14th October 1957, leaving behind a rich heritage for all walkers and visitors in our countryside.

Brian Edwards