While roads and schools were closed this winter and many people tried to stay inside, a tenacious group of volunteers was out in the countryside and city.

The West Essex Ramblers, who walk around the district and further afield, have been mending bridges and keeping footpaths open through the winter.

Pat Juchau, of Southview Road, Loughton, who deals with publicity and recruitment, said: “Over Christmas and the New Year, we had almost a fortnight where there was a walk a day, so it’s a very active group.

“We have almost 800 members, but we don’t all go out walking together.

“People join the ramblers because we fight to keep footpaths open.”

A key moment in the history of the national ramblers movement was the trespass of the privately-owned Kinder Scout in the Peak District, which many believe led eventually to walkers’ rights being secured over open country and common land in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Brian Smith, of Millsmead Way, Loughton, runs a weekly working party of about 10 to clear footpaths and make them safe, ensuring open land is accessible. He said: “We go out and see what the paths look like from a walker’s point of view.

“Last week, we were in Abbess Roding clearing foot bridges and found one where all the treads needed replacing because they’re rotten and someone’s going to step on it and go through.

“On land in Upshire that goes through the forest, we put way markers in. “Although that’s open access, people still want a path to follow and there’s a good case for people knowing where they’re going.”

To join the West Essex Ramblers, call Pat or John Juchau on 020 8502 1628.