Tribute to the man who created iconic walking route

The originator of the popular St Cuthbert’s Way walking route covering parts of north Northumberland and the Scottish borders has died at the age of 85.

By Katherine and Stephen Dunhill
Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 8:30 am
Shirley and Ron Shaw.
Shirley and Ron Shaw.

Our friend Ron Shaw was born in Ilford in 1936. Seeing his aptitude, the local Essex Education Authority sent him to Elmfields, a boarding school that Essex County Council ran in the leafy Surrey countryside for boys of good character who had failed the 11-plus.

There Ron gained a love of the outdoor life, wanting initially to work in agriculture.

However, he was to spend his life working in travel, working variously as a travel agent and for tourist authorities.

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His interest in travel led him to learn languages and it was at a Swedish language evening class that he met his future wife, Shirley, a senior translator at the Bank of England.

They complemented each other well – Shirley the rigorous academic linguist and Ron the more relaxed communicator.

Through his travel work, they travelled frequently on holidays in northern Europe.

Shirley had always longed to return home to her Whitley Bay roots and when early retirement came for her in the 1980s, they moved to Northumberland, settling in Berwick.

Ron found work as the project officer at the Till Valley Tourism Initiative in nearby Wooler. It was there that he developed his deep knowledge and love for the English/Scottish Borderlands and the idea of the St Cuthbert’s Way was born.

The plan was for the St Cuthbert’s Way to run from Melrose in the Scottish Borders to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coast, marking key points in the saint’s life.

In 1995, Ron contacted Roger Smith, walking development officer for the Scottish Borders, and together they developed Ron’s idea further – Ron working with the English authorities and Roger the Scottish.

All authorities were supportive with funding and landowners were persuaded, and so the inauguration of the walk was able to take place in the summer of 1996. Ron also wrote the official guide for walkers of the route.

It was a magnificent cross-border enterprise; a wonderful legacy that Ron has left to us all.

In Berwick, Ron was an active member of Probus and of the Civic Society, and was especially involved in supporting the Berwick Swan and Wildlife Trust.

During their retirement, Ron and Shirley acquired a remarkable collection of historic textiles from around the world – many acquired on their trips abroad. These have been bequeathed to the archives at Heriot-Watt University.

Shirley suffered a serious stroke and was in a care home for several years before her death in March 2020. Ron was indefatigable in his visiting and care for her.

Perhaps the most touching visitor experience was to find him reading Swedish poetry to her.

Ron died after a brief illness at a hospital in Cramlington on Thursday, December 23.

As one friend remarked: “Now Ron and Shirley get to spend Christmas together again.”

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