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Power of walking; Rambling group is perfect to get fit and meet people.

Ann Rankin may be 70 but she walks the walk and talks the talk when it comes to keeping fit and making friends.

Ann, from Larkhall, runs the South Lanarkshire Older Walkers (SLOW).

A keen walker all her life, Ann trained originally as a Health Walk Leader under a scheme called Paths For All. The aim was to get the less active to a certain standard of fitness and a higher level of walking.

After doing this for a year, Ann and another walk leader, Mary Ritchie, decided to form SLOW, which has now been running for eight years as part of the Ramblers Organisation.

Ann said: "We were already insured through Paths To Health and I decided we would join Ramblers, so we became SLOW - although we are not slow, we are just as fast as anyone else!

"When we started with the health walks the slogan was 'Fit, Fabulous and Over Fifty', so we continued that theme with the rambling group but we don't mind if you are younger or older than 50, and we also have people in their 80s."

The Health Walks and SLOW run side-by-side, with 104 on the Health Walks register. There are 73 members in SLOW and around 50 per cent of them are also members of Health Walks who are out on 48 Tuesdays a year.

SLOW walkers meet four Fridays in the month. The rambles are staged depending on your fitness. There is a long ramble which can be from eight to nine miles and a shorter ramble which is a maximum of five miles and these run on alternate Fridays.

There are rambling groups and walking opportunities all over the country and Ann's group takes in South Lanarkshire. Their meeting point is Chatelherault Country Park in Hamilton and some of their walks are local, which could take in the Clyde Valley Walkway, Douglas or Lesmahagow.

Ann spent a good bit of her time in Glasgow when she was a principal teacher of home economics at Glasgow and Western Scotland College Of Domestic Science, which she calls "dough school", so she is inclined to take her walkers in and around her old area. Ann said: "I love the architecture in Glasgow and I often spend all my time looking up. There is so much to see so I'll maybe take people to the West End of the city, on the MacKintosh Trail, or maybe down to Lochwinnoch or Largs.

"Our longer rambles go anywhere on the coach, which is a two-hour journey from our meeting point. They could be in Cumbrae, Drumlanrig or Edinburgh."

When walking with Ann, you get a sense that she investigates her areas well and she is full of fascinating facts, history and information about her walks.

She also likes to point out things and tell stories along the way, so you get a real feel for where you are walking.

And all the walks are checked out for their suitability; the calendar of walks is chosen, given out and put on the website six months in advance.

The only equipment you need is standard walking gear, boots, waterproofs and backpacks.

People interested in joining the group should contact Ann first. She is named on the Ramblers website and will assess people's levels of fitness and find out how much walking they have done before they join. She said: "I would suggest people come along on a Tuesday. The great majority of folk on the Health Walks are also on the SLOW Ramblers, so it's a good way to get to know everybody but there are also some people who have walked with other rambling groups and just come straight on to the long ramble."

Ann is friendly and welcoming and one of the biggest things she notices is the social side of walking. Within her groups there are many friendships and they also organise social activities.

She said: "From the Health Walks I have seen many benefits, because we have had people with learning difficulties and mental illnesses, and it's the social side that makes a big difference.

"We combine all our social activities for the health walkers and the ramblers. We are mostly women and there's a tremendous amount of blethering.

Unfortunately we only have around half a dozen men.

"There's a lot of widows, single people and those who like to walk but are afraid of going out walking on their own. The groups give them confidence. And there are a lot friendships. I met my late partner George there. I came to help people become fitter and he came for company.

"Some of us go to the theatre on occasion and some of the long ramblers go on foreign holidays and weekends. It does make people feel fitter too. One of our walkers, Alex, who was a member of both groups, lost several stones."

SLOW plan to leave a legacy behind them, with lots of photos and reports of each walk documented in albums.

Ann said: "People say, 'your health walks have been going for eight years, do you not get fed up?' But no, there's the four seasons, the wildlife, you can walk in one direction and then do the same walk in an opposite direction, and it's completely different."

Walk this way

If people are interested in joining, there are two guest walks for newcomers to try before making a decision.

Most people are on concessions, so it's just pounds 17.50 a year.

There are also joint memberships for husbands, wives and partners.

To cover coach journeys it is a flat rate of pounds 9 per journey.

For more information see www.ramblers.org.uk.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 6, 2011
Words:1087
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