FANS of Radio 4’s countryside programme Ramblings will be pleased to see its return this week for its 39th series.
For almost 20 years, broadcaster Clare Balding has been tramping around the British landscape transporting listeners on another Thursday afternoon aural adventure, accompanied by enthusiastic local walkers from all walks of life.
A chaotic and lively dog-walk near Honiton in Devon kicked off the new series, with rebellious golden doodle Nigel trying to upstage Clare and her guests.
But that’s not everyone’s idea of entertainment, of course. Back in 2013 Will Self, writing in the New Statesman, hit out at the show as being symptomatic of the state broadcaster “kowtowing” to its parliamentary paymasters with an “excessive amount of mittel-Englandry of the leather-on-willow, cask-aged-bitter, spinsters-cycling-to-evensong variety”.
He sniped: “Balding is a natural for this sort of thing. She comes from that stratum of the British who seem to love their dogs and horses more than their children and certainly a great deal more than the working class. ”
However even Self recalls the show as being “a thoroughly amiable affair: the walks are usually in areas of tolerable – if not outstanding – natural beauty and the chit-chat flows like milky-sweet tea from a Thermos flask”.
Of course the very concept of pitching a walking programme on radio is an extraordinary one. Speaking to Country Walking magazine in 2016, Balding explained how the show’s long-term producer Lucy Lunt originated the idea: “She had such a conviction and faith in it; she saw the ideas and stories that could come from putting two people together on a walk with something to talk about. ”
Balding joined for series two because the original presenter wasn’t able to do it, and proved an immediate hit.
Elisabeth Mahoney, the Guardian’s radio critic, wrote: “The finest broadcasters make you forget the medium. They sound as if they are chatting to you, off-air and informally, and are just happening to say amazingly clever, interesting stuff.
“She is quite simply a radio natural, and presenting a format that couldn’t suit radio better: a walk and a talk.”
If you miss the Thursday afternoon broadcast, more than 200 episodes of Ramblings are available as podcasts. And at least one walking group for bereaved people was set up by people who had listened to Ramblings and loved the way the series helped to evoke the best memories of time spent with their partners.
“If Ramblings never accomplished anything again, that would be success enough for me,” Balding said in 2016.
Ramblings is broadcast on Radio 4 on Thursdays at 3pm.