Wednesday, 4 December 2013


TALK to almost anyone about walking in the Dorchester area and the name of Sue Blake will almost certainly be mentioned.

Sue has long been associated with not only the Ramblers but the West Line Rail Walks and the Strollers. She was a key player in setting up the Jubilee Trail across the county and has championed rights of access for walkers across Dorset.

But she might equally be mentioned for her work with the Access group, at the County Library, with Unison, as a member of the Friends of the West Station or the many years she and her late husband, Phil, spent working for the Methodist Church.

It is no surprise that earlier in the year she was awarded a British Empire Medal for her community involvement, especially for her passion of encouraging others to enjoy the countryside by walking, or walking through Dorchester with the Strollers as a means of getting some gentle exercise.

The list of organisations which Mrs Blake has been involved with seems almost endless – others of note include the Dorset Archaeological Committee and the Dorchester Area Partnership, membership secretary of the Colliton Club - not to mention a spell as parish clerk at Broadmayne and as an officer of the Dorset Branch of the Society of Local Councils Clerks.

She was born in a village outside Oxford where her passion for walking in the countryside was nurtured and came to Dorset in 1960 when her husband, then fiancĂ©e, was transferred from Harwell to Winfrith. 

Sue herself transferred to Dorset County Council. They both lived separately, in digs, until they married, moving into their home on the Manor Park estate in July 1961, where Sue still lives today.

WHAT did you think of Dorchester when you first arrived?
It was strange because we would walk down South Street and see the same people we used to see in Abingdon or other towns near Harwell, so many other people we used to know up there had been transferred to Winfrith at the time. Dorchester was then, and still is, a friendly town where people would readily stop and talk, but it was easier for us because of our involvement in the church. In those days there were few places to go in the evenings if you didn’t want to go to a pub so people often ended up at our home playing Monopoly or Whist. We tended to make our own entertainment.

WHEN did you renew your passion for walking?
We were too busy with the church and everything else for many years so there was no time for walking but in 1986 I spotted a programme of walks put up in the library by the Casterbridge Ramblers and persuaded a friend to come along with me. Within a year I was programmes secretary, which I did for 11 years, and also started leading walks on Saturdays or Sundays. I also joined the Ramblers in the late 80s and became area membership secretary and also publicity officer for Dorset. It was while I was on the Area Council we formed a sub-committee and organised the Jubilee Trail working together with all four groups to complete the 90 miles from Forde Abbey to Bockerley Dyke.

YOU are now more involved with The Strollers, the Dorchester group which encourages people to walk to keep fit. How did that come about?
I was looking for something to do when I retired in 2003 and said that I would lead a few walks but since then it’s grown and I seem to have taken on a range of other tasks as well, apart from co-ordinating all the walks.

APART from the walking what have you done, or do you do, to keep your mind active?
I’ve completed an Open University degree and studied law and economics at Weymouth College. I also like to try and complete a crossword every day and I like to read, mostly fairly light fiction. I’m a bit of a John Buchan buff and have even visited his grave. He was very similar to my father in law in many respects. I also like music and tend to have Classic FM on all day.

DOES TV or cinema interest you?
Yes, I’ve been to the cinema about five times in the last couple of weeks. I’ve recently seen Philomena, Saving Mr Banks, Last Chance and The Butler. I don’t seem to find time to watch TV when programmes are on but I like to record things which I am interested in. I quite like CSI.

AND if you were abandoned on a desert island and could choose someone to have with you, who would it be?
Someone with survival skills, like Bear Grylls; someone who would take charge like Margaret Thatcher who would also be interesting to talk to and possibly someone who has a wide knowledge of the natural work like Chris Packham. If I was on an island I would miss the British countryside, books and a radio and if I couldn’t take my iPad I would have to try and take some jigsaw puzzles and crosswords.

Watch where you are walking

CHRISTMAS is proving too much for some pedestrians who have not just grown careless in traffic but almost suicidal.

The problem revealed itself when one woman loaded with bags, festive wrapping paper peeping coyly out of one of them began to cross the road about 100 metres ahead of me.

She didn’t look left and she didn’t look right, just continued her slow plodding way right in front of my car which would have hit her had I not pulled up. Even when she reached the pavement there was no realisation of what she had done and she simply turned right up Commercial Road and carried on walking.

Some people, I thought, but over the next week I saw several other ludicrous traffic incidents either from my car or while I was a pedestrian myself.

A man carrying a large cardboard box but in such a way he couldn’t see the traffic he was stepping out in front of, two woman walking out into the road with their heads bent over a  package with a bow on it instead of with their eyes on the cars braking to avoid them and an elderly man with what looked like a large box of Christmas chocolates in his bag.

He at least had some of his wits about him and waved a walking stick at cars to encourage traffic to stop as he stepped slowly across the road… less than 30 metres from a pedestrian crossing.

Do Christmas pedestrians have some sort operation to remove their sanity? I’ve kept the best one for last.

A mother quite rightly reprimanded her young daughter who she’d grabbed just as she was about to run out into the road… but as she bent over to deliver the reprimand into her daughter’s ear they had already started to cross the road right in front of a van which they’d missed seeing. Sort of spoilt the safety message a bit!

Waking up to a frosty message in the morning

WALK outside on many mornings now and chances are that your car will be covered with ice.

This tells you it is winter, not because it is freezing cold but because of all the messages scratched into icy car windows by children on their way to school.

You get the usual smiley faces, smiley snowmen, smiley Father Christmases and even the occasional mutant reindeer with certain bodily parts given greater care and attention than others!

Then you get the “fun” messages which really aren’t that much fun at all which means, with due apologies to Shakespeare, “now is the winter of our discontent”.

I really don’t want to know the likes of “Sandra snogs Rob”, that “Carmel is a bitch” and definitely not that “Max has a big one”.

There is no real malice involved but, as an early morning welcome, it put drivers off their breakfast and really only leaves them with one option. To turn on the heater and see all the messages dribble.

Going above and beyond

NEVER have doctors and health staff been under such pressure as they are now, but many still go considerably further than the extra mile to help patients.

A Weymouth woman had a medical query but was told the doctor concerned was away on holiday.

She had resigned herself to having to deal with an unfamiliar figure, so she was understandably delighted when her usual doctor took the trouble to answer her query by email… even though he was on the other side of the world in the wilds of Tasmania!

He had apparently been monitoring his calls and had taken the trouble to seek out a spot from which he was able to send emails via his phone so this patient’s query could be answered.

She was extremely impressed and felt that her care really mattered to the doctor in question who had really put himself out to help her.

Trip down the mines

A WEYMOUTH man recalled the time he accompanied work colleagues on a special adventure trip down a coal mine in the Midlands.

Down and down they went and there was a certain amount of excitement when they reached the bottom and got out of the cage, surrounded by working lights and the sight of bright white lime scattered on the ground to help neutralise waste.

There was much chatter as the group made its way along a shaft led by a knowledgeable guide.

Then one of the women in the group asked the guide a question, saying: “What is all this white stuff on the ground?”

In a deadpan voice he replied: “That’s frost. It was very cold down here last night.”

There is no record of how long her colleagues managed to stifle their laughter.