It is with great sadness that I report the death of Ben Perkins on 6 June, at the age of 86. Sussex has lost arguably its foremost ambassador for walking and rambling in the county. To most local ramblers, Ben was simply “Mr Sussex Walker”.
His love of walking and the Sussex countryside had been with him since childhood. It followed him throughout his working years as a family GP in Patcham, and culminated in even more intensity after his retirement in 1996. Over his lifetime Ben published 14 books on walking in East and West Sussex. Sadly most of these are no longer in print, though you may be lucky enough to come across the odd edition in good local or second hand bookshops. He also contributed to a further two AA walking books. His first book, ‘South Downs Walks For Motorists’ was published in 1979 , but all of the others appeared during his retirement during the period 1996 to 2008. Ben was also a prodigious contributor to The Argus. Every fortnight between 1984 and 2012 he wrote a column highlighting a particular walk, many of which have been responsible for inspiring ramblers to take up walking. Ben has estimated that his Argus columns covered some 70-80% of the 2000 miles of rights-of-way in East Sussex.
But perhaps Ben’s finest legacy will be the Sussex Border Path, which he co-designed with Aeneas Mackintosh, and which is the subject of one of his books. This 150-mile trail stretching from Emsworth to Rye, highlights some of Sussex’s finest scenery. Ben was also involved in the design of the Sussex Diamond Way.
As a dedicated and passionate walker, Ben was a member of the Ramblers for decades. He was subsequently one of the founding members of the Brighton & Hove Group in 1982, but only became an active member in his later years. Since 2016 he was rarely absent from one of the Group’s Thursday or Saturday walks. Latterly he also joined a growing number of the Brighton and Hove Healthwalks programmes.
Ben was not simply a walker however (even though he used to walk most days of the week): he was involved in so many aspects of the countryside, working and campaigning for the protection of public rights-of-way. At various times he was involved with the Sussex Area Council of the Ramblers, with the path-clearing activities of the Sussex Rights of Way Group, and was Footpath Secretary, responsible for the maintenance of footpaths in four East Sussex parishes. He was also one time Chairman of the South Downs Access Forum, Vice Chairman of the Society of Sussex Downsmen and an active member of the Society of Sussex Wealdmen.
Those of us who were privileged to walk with Ben will remember him as a knowledgeable and unassuming colleague. Universally popular, he had an equable manner, always cheerful, always ready to offer advice, always positive – a true gentleman of the countryside. He was always the first to wear shorts during the season and always the last to switch back to wearing long trousers. He was never without the local OS map. His modesty was infectious. I recall one occasion when a new rambler asked Ben, upon learning who he was, to autograph one of his books this rambler had acquired. Ben was completely flattered. On another occasion, during a Ramblers Group walk, he was knocked over by a horse, unsettled by the strong wind, which charged him from behind. Ben took quite a nasty fall, but still came up smiling, playing down everybody’s concern as if nothing had happened.
Ben, we are all going to miss you. Wherever you are, I’m sure you’re still wearing your walking boots and looking forward to your next coffee and slice of cake.
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