A much asked question in rambling circles.
In response, here's a potted history of the Vanguards Rambling Club.
The Vanguard Way was launched in 1981 by the Vanguard Rambling Club, which was itself established on 18th April 1965 on the return journey of a ramblers’ excursion by train from London to Axminster and Seaton in Devon. A group of high-spirited young walkers wanted to sit together but couldn’t find enough seats, so they sat on the floor of the ‘guard’s van’. So what better name than ‘the Vanguards’!
In those days, trains had a guard’s van for storage of passengers’ large luggage and other goods being sent by train. The guard’s van featured in the Vanguard Way badge '(click here for details)' is actually one that was attached to goods trains, because we couldn’t find a suitable image of one used in a passenger train!
The story of the ramblers excursions is told in Rambling Away from ‘The Smoke’ by Colin Saunders '(click here for details)' .
The Vanguards had for some years been mulling over a suggestion that they should set up their own long distance trail, but on 14th November 1978 at a club meeting in the Marquess of Anglesey pub in Covent Garden, it was agreed that the route should be called the Vanguard Way and link East Croydon Station (where many ramblers excursions called) with Berwick Station in Sussex (a popular destination due to the excellent cider imbibed before the homeward journey at what was then the Fullers Arms pub, now the Berwick Inn). As well as crossing the North Downs, the Weald and the Ashdown Forest, the route would pass three youth hostels (Crockham Hill, Blackboys and Alfriston, sadly all since closed) at a time when hostelling was popular among club members.
Several of them set about planning and research, but it took nearly three years to finalise the route, during which time it was decided to extend it to Seaford, to appeal to more people by including the South Downs and the outstanding views of the Cuckmere Meanders, the Seven Sisters and the Sussex Heritage Coast from Seaford Head. In 1997 a further extension to Newhaven was added, partly to include the historic abandoned village of Tidemills, and partly to link with the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. This brought the total distance up to 107 km (66 miles).
The first edition of the guidebook, with step-by-step instructions and commentary on items of interest, was published for sale in time for the launch ceremony on 3rd May 1981, performed by Alan Mattingly, General Secretary of what was then called the Ramblers’ Association (now plain Ramblers). On 6th May 1998, to mark the publication of a third edition of the guidebook in full colour, the route was relaunched at Berwick Station by Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the
Open Spaces Society , a very active campaigner for outdoor activity, and now a member of both the Vanguard Rambling Club and the Vanguard Way Association.
In 2009 the route went digital, when the Club set up the website vanguardway.org.uk. It included a free 10-section north to south guide in pdf format, together with ‘An Introduction to the Route’, the ‘Vanguard Way Companion’ (with details of accommodation, refreshments and other facilities) and ‘Flora, fauna and geology of the Vanguard Way’. A south to north guide was added in 2011, and in 2021 the 'Vanguard Way PhotoGuide'
was published, which is frequently updated and enables walkers to follow the route on their smartphones by means of arrows showing the next step on photos at strategic locations.
The route was soon marked on Ordnance Survey maps, and with the co-operation of the highway authorities (Croydon, Surrey, Kent and East Sussex),club members undertook management of the route.
This mostly involved signing the route by means of these arrow discs on public rights of way (yellow for footpaths, blue for bridleways, red for byways), while white arrows on a black background is used for everything else. Photo © Colin Saunders 2023.
THE VANGUARD WAY ASSOCIATION
To manage and promote the trail, the Club set up a Vanguard Way Committee, which later became the Vanguard Way Working Party. Eventually, after 40 years, they decided to hand over responsibility to an independent, more formal Vanguard Way Association, and this was inaugurated on 28th May 2022 at a meeting in St Matthew’s Church, Croydon.
Membership is open to all who have walked the route or would like to help in some way,
either by volunteering their services on the committee or as a ranger,
or just by paying a membership fee – click here for details or email email@example.com with your name(s) and address. Membership (£7/yr) or donations help fund signage to guide you on the route.