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Walkways published in The Times

April 23, 2016

The Trust's Chairman Hugo Vickers had a fabulous article published in The Times today promoting our work.  The Article is below and can also be found on the Times website here.

 

When Her Majesty The Queen launched the Queen’s Walkway in Windsor on Thursday it was the latest of many routes throughout the Commonwealth that commemorate her reign and tell fascinating stories of that family of nations.  

 

The panoramic panel, which now stands under the gaze of Queen Victoria’s statue was the final touch to a walkway which meanders through the town, taking in places like Clarence Crescent, laid out by James Bedborough, Bachelors Acre where they roasted an ox to mark George III’s Golden Jubilee in 1810, King Edward Court Shopping Centre, Alexandra Gardens by the Thames, and famous landmarks such as the Theatre Royal, where so many plays took life. 

 

The Outdoor Trust put this 6.37km route in to mark the 63 years and 7 months of Queen Victoria’s reign, which the Queen sailed past, with minimum fuss, on 9 September last year.  Appropriately, there are 63 points of interest.

 

This follows the stalwart work of the Jubilee Walkway Trust, which itself sprang from the Silver Jubilee of 1977.  That inspired environmentalist, Max Nicolson, saw the possibility of rejuvenating the South Bank in London by creating a permanent memorial to the Silver Jubilee. Max therefore devised a route which led from Leicester Square over Lambeth Bridge and along the South Bank, crossing Tower Bridge, where for the time being it ended.  Had he called it the Max Nicolson walkway it might not have worked, but as the Silver Jubilee Walkway, it certainly did. 

 

The Queen opened it on the night of the Thames fireworks, 9 June 1977, and it then inched its way along the South Bank as the warehouses and cranes disappeared and the new emporia took over.  Every time they wanted planning permission, they were told to landscape their riparian stretch.  Thus, the South Bank came to life, and is now a vibrant and exciting part of London life.

 

The Jubilee Walkway looped up north of the Thames and took in places like St Katharine’s Dock and the Barbican.  For the Golden Jubilee, it took in the Mall, the great ceremonial route of London, and for the Diamond Jubilee, a 60km route linked the main Olympic sites, since both events were celebrated in 2012.

 

It seemed that our work was done, but one afternoon in 2012, Jim Walker and I met for a coffee in a Café Nero in Gloucester Road, forlorn at the thought that there was nothing more to do.  Then we perked up and decided to advance into the Commonwealth.  We sought the Queen’s permission and it was readily given.

 

Jim Walker is one of the leading experts in walking in the world.  He designs the routes, designs the discs, he even sometimes drills the holes and puts them into the ground.  He has an enormous pair of metaphorical scissors with which he cuts through the red tape occasionally encountered along the way, and he does it with consummate patience.  I explore the historical side and it has been a voyage of discovery, learning so much about far-flung places in the Commonwealth.

 

Windsor is complete and since 2012 we have been exploring the Commonwealth and the Overseas Territories.  We aim to link 5,000 iconic points of interest.  Walkways are placed in a capital city so that a visitor to Wellington, New Zealand with an hour to spare can follow the route and it will take him to iconic sites, both predictable and unusual.  Given two hours, he can do the second part of the loop.

 

Naturally we celebrate key features such as Government House, the cathedral and parliament building. But each place has its own special features.  Valletta is rich in history, having been dramatically invaded many times, not least in World War II. Their Walkway circles Valletta and then crosses it like the George Cross bestowed on the island by King George VI in 1943.  A hidden gem is the Casa Rocca Piccola, home of the Marquis de Piro (who recently contributed movie footage of Princess Elizabeth in Malta to a TV documentary).  As a private palace belonging to the same family since 1580, it shows how a particular Maltese family lived.  The Marquis’s wife takes special care to keep their disc polished.

 

Perhaps the oddest discovery in Valletta was the tomb of Lord Hastings in Hastings Gardens.  The 1st Marquess (1754-1826), father of Lady Flora Hastings, is buried there, but not all of him.  He loved his wife so much that he commanded that his right hand be cut off and placed in that of his widow after her death.  She was buried at Loudoun Castle in Scotland 14 years later.  I am glad I did not serve as his executor. 

 

Ascension Island has no permanent residents.  It is a South Atlantic island with an extinct volcano in the middle.  Inaccessible to cruise ships, and dangerous to swim from due to heavy currents, it is populated by a large number of donkeys, goats, land crabs, sea crabs and turtles, seen at certain times of the year.  There are also many amiable, bearded marine biologists.  Ascension was discovered in 1501 but the British did not bother to put a flag on it until 1815, and then only because Napoleon was on St Helena.

 

Duff Hart-Davis wrote a lively history of it in 1971, stating: “It has never played any major role in history, and probably never will.”  Hallo!  When the Falklands War was at full blast in 1982, 350 aeroplanes a day took off from there.  Gallant Ascension Island has just raised the necessary funds for panel, app and discs.

 

I had always longed to go to the Falklands, since my aunt, Joan Vickers, played a key role in getting the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Amendment Act through the House of Lords in 1983.  This gave full citizenship to those Islanders who did not have parents or grandparents born in the UK.  My greatest experience there was to find myself completely alone for a few minutes amidst 1,000 King Penguins at Volunteer Point. I also enjoyed learning about Monsignor Spraggon, the Catholic padre during the 1982 war.  Some Argentinian conscripts let off 21 rounds of bullets into his house in Stanley.  He showed the Governor, Sir Rex Hunt, the bullet holes that ripped through his ecclesiastical books, commenting that they got through them rather quicker than he had.

 

The Gold Coast south of Brisbane, and in particular, Surfer’s Paradise, was rich in buccaneering characters from recent years.  When the City Council introduced parking meters on the strip in the 1960s, a local hotelier, Bernie Elsey, worried at the consequent loss in tourism revenue, established the Meter Maids, in gold lamé bikinis, armed with sixpences to feed the meters. They are still a feature of Gold Coast life to this day.  Then there was Al Baldwin, the “Suntan Man”, commemorated by a bronze sculpture.  Whenever anyone rented a deckchair from him, he squirted them with Coppertone.  He was said to have squirted 3 million girls in 30 years. 

 

The Commonwealth, that “family of nations" as the Queen has called it, is rich in diversity.  The Walkways play a small, but significant role in uniting the Commonwealth further together.  We will not rest until we have 100 of them with 5,000 markers in the ground.    

 

 

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