CHRISTINE McCabe likes nothing better than to see groups of walkers out and about in Bingley.

She hopes that they have been encouraged to stride out in the town by its official accreditation - Bingley Walkers are Welcome.

Throughout the town stickers bearing a distinctive logo are attached to the windows of cafes, pubs and other businesses, letting walkers know that they can enjoy the facilities, muddy boots and all.

Maps showing walks are also produced by the group, that anyone looking for a route can buy for a nominal sum.

Christine, who is chairman of the group, was instrumental in setting up the scheme for Bingley after it was achieved by other towns and villages in the area.

For years she was heavily involved with the district’s swimming community, through her son’s close links to the sport, then she became a manager for British Swimming. Once retired, she missed the busy sporting environment.

She had heard about the Walkers are Welcome schemes and attended the lauch event when Baildon achieved that status in 2013.

Otley and Burley-in-Wharfedale are also accredited, and I thought, ‘why don’t we have this?’” she says. “I got the bit between my teeth and called a few people who were interested.”

Around a dozen people attended the first meeting. “Since then it has gone from strength to strength,” she says.

Members visit cafes, pubs and other businesses and explain what the accreditation means. They also organise walks once a month. “It is about increasing footfall in the town,” says Christine . “We are now seeing more people in Bingley with rucksacks and walking poles. The more presence we get in the shop windows and doorways the better. Some premises also welcome dogs and we have a section on dog-friendly premises on our website.”

The group has a helpful, informative website and Facebook page, with information including family walks, walks of differing complexity, information on walker-friendly cafes, pubs and restaurants, the location of toilets, walking events and even an up-to-the-minute weather report.

Walkers are Welcome is a national initiative, launched in 2007 to encourage towns and villages to be welcoming to walkers. The non-profit-making organisation now has more than 100 member towns and villages across the country.

Its aims include helping places to appeal to walkers, with information on local walks, ensuring that footpaths and facilities are well-maintained and promoting the health benefits of walking. It also encourages the use of public transport contributing to local tourism strategies.

On Monday May 6 Bingley Walkers are Welcome is holding its third walking festival, a free event with five different walks including a fun walk for families.

One walk is billed as gentle, taking up to 90 minutes, one moderate, of around two hours, and the third a long ‘hard’ walk, of between six and seven hours.

Each walk is designed and led by one of the group’s experienced walk leaders. Each has something different to offer to walkers of all abilities, ages and experience. They offer a chance to see the sights and landmarks of Bingley and the surrounding district.

Also next month, on May 11, Bingley is hosting the next Walkers are Welcome Northern Get Together, in which groups from across the north meet. “This will bring up to around 60 people in to Bingley, some using public transport to get here - we put big emphasis on public transport,” says Christine. “We believe that we are helping the Bingley economy.”

Sue Dennis, treasurer of Bingley Walkers are Welcome, says of the initiative: “It raises awareness of the value if walking. Cafes, restaurants and pubs have the Walkers are Welcome sticker on view so walkers know they are not going to be turned away for having muddy boots.

“If people come here to walk they may stay overnight, or visit local pubs and shops, which is good for the economy.”

Sue became involved when Christine sought a representative from her workplace, Bingley Medical Practice, to join the group. “I volunteered to go,” says the finance manager.

A keen walker, Sue extols the virtues of the bracing activity, emphasising the social benefits. “Walking clears the mind, it is invigorating and If you are walking in a group you end up chatting to people you did not know, but with whom you find you have things in common - a love of the outdoors and of walking being one of them. The camaraderie is great, and we all get to see some of the glorious countryside we have around us.”

Volunteers from the group help to organise the walking festival and arrange walks throughout the year. These include special birds walks on St Ives Estate, organised by the Friends of St Ives Estate, one of a number of local organisations linked to the walking group. They are led by Mark Doveston, a local naturalist and bird expert.

Of bringing the scheme to Bingley, Chris McCabe adds: “It has been one of the best things I have ever done - I am still enjoying the challenge.”

Diana Greenwood, visitor development manager at Bradford Council, said: “One of the best ways to explore the Bradford district is on foot. Renowned for our rolling hills and rugged moorland, Bradford is a paradise for walkers of all abilities. Visitors will find three Walkers are Welcome towns throughout the district, Bingley, Baildon and Burley-in-Wharfedale, which proves we really are walker friendly.

“The ‘Walkers are Welcome’ accolade is a highly respected accreditation and we are proud to receive visitors from all over the UK coming to walk with our experienced guides. It also means when people visit, they know they will be greeted warmly by businesses that understand walkers’ requirements.

“Bradford and district also offers a selection of self-guided walks, showing off the dramatic and diverse countryside. May is National Walking Month, so we are urging people to get out into the fresh air and take in the fantastic scenery around the area. Search ‘Visit Bradford Walking’ for more information.”

*Bingley Walking Festival will be held on Bank Holiday Monday, May 6. It is a free event. Those taking part can give a voluntary donation to help the group to continue to hold similar days in future. Well-behaved dogs are welcome.

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