Retro: Peak District celebrations of Pennine Way and right to roam

Stan Atter and his wife walk the Pennine Way - 14th June 1973
Stan Atter and his wife walk the Pennine Way - 14th June 1973
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Walkers are out in force today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pennine Way, the original National Trail, that starts in the Peak District.

The 268-mile walking route starts at Edale and wends its way to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders, taking in some of Britain’s finest upland scenery.

Today walkers are doing sections of the route to make sure that its entire length is walked in a day and Edale is the centre of a weekend of celebrations including a Spirit of Kinder event.

Many will be toasting the 50th anniversary with a special celebratory ale as they listen to talks on the Mass Trespass and enjoy music events.

The route was first the idea of journalist and walker Tom Stephenson, writing in the Daily Herald in 1935.

He had been inspired by trails like the Appalachian Way in the US and was 72 before he saw his vision for a long-distance green trail in this country realised.

In the 1930s much of the countryside that the Pennine Way runs through was still in the hands of private landowners and usually aggressively defended by their gamekeepers.

Ramblers often ran the gauntlet of dogs, sticks and even guns.

Stephenson wanted to promote greater access for workers in cities like Sheffield who enjoyed getting away from heavily polluted industrial towns for the peace of the countryside.

The chorus of Ewan MacColl’s celebrated song The Manchester Rambler sums up the appeal for workers at the time: “I may be a wage slave on Monday, But I am a free man on Sunday.”

The Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932, involving 400 people, was the most famous of a series of mass actions designed to challenge this private privilege and the landowners’ efforts to protect their grouse shooting land.

Five trespassers, including protest leader Benny Rothman, a young Manchester factory worker, were jailed as the Derbyshire constabulary turned out in force to stop them getting access to the Kinder Scout high moorland, chosen as it is the highest point of the Peak District.

The trespass was seen as a key part of a political battle for working class rights to free access to the peace and beauty of the wild moorland.

The action was called by the the British Workers’ Sports Federation, largely made up of members and supporters of the Communist Party.

Walkers from Sheffield joined the protest alongside others from both sides of the Pennines.

They attracted opposition from more ‘official’ walkers’ groups, who preferred to negotiate with landowners to ask for restricted access to the moors.

However, eventually the mass trespass was acknowledged by many as leading to the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.

Two years later Britain’s first National Park, the Peak District, was established.

Over time most of the big landowners came round to the point of view that they had to give wider public access to their land.

Just before the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the trespass, the late Duke of Devonshire, owner of Kinder Scout, whose keepers had battled with the trespassers, said: “I hope to have the opportunity of making an apology on behalf of my family.

“The ramblers were entirely in the right. My grandfather, I think, took the wrong attitude.”

The actions of the trespassers had been vindicated.