Scores of people are benefitting from York Health Walks. MAXINE GORDON strides out with a group at Haxby to get the lowdown... and finds out why they need more volunteers

COME rain, shine, sleet or snow, Chris Walker dons her yellow bib and hiking boots and leads her charges through York.

As a volunteer with York Health Walks, Chris leads groups walks from various venues across the city.

Walks last for either 30, 60 or 90 minutes and are a great way for people to get outdoors, become fitter and socialise.

There are currently 13 different walks on offer, some are weekly, others fortnightly or monthly. They are free and no pre-booking is required. New members are more than welcome.

"You can just turn up on the day," says Chris. "Introduce yourself to the walk leader and complete the registration process."

Under 18s need to be accompanied by an adult and dogs should be kept on a short lead.

There were just seven of us on the walk I joined, which began at the Oaken Grove Community Centre car park in Haxby. Everyone was wearing rain jackets and sturdy footwear. One clutched a brolly. The forecast was for heavy rain, which had deterred some of the regulars apparently. "We normally have at least ten on this walk," says Chris.

The walks go ahead, whatever the weather. "One time I turned up and there was just one other walker," begins Chris. "It was December and had been snowing. We had a tiny walk and went for a coffee."

Chris has been involved in York Health Walks for a few years. It is part of the broader Walking For Health movement that is widely established across the UK, the purpose of which is to entice people outdoors and become fitter through gentle exercise.

The York walks are advertised in local libraries and GPs' surgeries, where you can pick up the latest programme (this information is also available online at

Walk leaders carry out risk assessments on all of the routes. Because of recent rain, Chris ruled out a walk by the riverside and instead lead us on a tour round Haxby and Wigginton. "There are lots of snickelways to use," she says. "None of them are on the map, and some people don't even know they exist."

True to her word, we were soon weaving up and down a labyrinth of narrow ginnels and cut-throughs, passing housings estates, churches, a children's playground and even the local cemetery. In there, my eye was drawn to a bronze statue, titled Embrace, of two people hugging. An inscription told us it was commissioned by the town council to commemorate the Millennium and was made by Jean Larcum, a local artist.

I paused to take a photograph and found volunteer Pat Crawshaw waiting for me so I wouldn't fall behind.

Each walking group has a leader and a "back marker", like Pat, who literally hangs at the rear of the group to make sure no-one falls too far from the pack.

Pat, aged 61, became a volunteer after she retired from the civil service. She really enjoyed the walks, finding that they gave a structure to her day, got her fitter, and allowed her to make new friends.

Volunteers like Pat and Chris are essential to the continuation of the walking programme, which used to be run by the council. It is now supported by a council grant and money from York Age UK. But more volunteers are needed, not only to run walks, but to serve on the organising committee, which will need a new chairman and secretary for 2018.

Mike Reynolds is 72 and is a regular. "It's a good way to get exercise when you are getting on a bit!" he says with a smile. "It gets you out in the fresh air and it's the sort of exercise that anyone can do. I think it's brilliant. They do a lot of different walks which you can pick or choose, depending on your level of fitness."

Organisers at York Health Walks recommend that if you are new to or are getting back into walking that you start gently with a short walk of up to 30 minutes in duration. Then you can gradually build up your fitness at a pace that suits you. Medium walks are up to 60 minutes in length and longer walks of up to 90 minutes are available too. Shorter walks tend to have wheelchair and pushchair-friendly route options.

Retired nurse Carmel Jedry, 62, tries to get out on one of the walks at least once a week. "I've never been in a gym in my life. I like this because it is something you can just pick up when you want. You meet nice people and it's good for your fitness."

Most walks end with a cafe stop. In Haxby, we all pull up chairs at the Aroma cafe. After an hour's brisk walking I am hungry and thirsty and really enjoy my latte and home made scone that is served warm with butter and jam.

Others tuck into toasted teacakes and slices of homemade cakes.

The weather outside is still grey and dank. But inside, there's a warmth from the food, drink, and friendly chat among the walkers.

Carmel reminds us of another reason why it's good to walk. "In winter, you can end up staying behind closed doors. This is a great way to get you outside."

The current walk programme runs until January and offers walks in and around Tang Hall, Fulford, Dunnington, York city centre, Holtby, Haxby, New Earswick, Acomb, Foxwood, Rawcliffe Country Park and Yearsley (which also includes a free swim afterwards). Find out more at: