William Wordsworth describes The Lake District as “a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy“.
I would agree. But still in England and Wales, the right to roam all open spaces is still murky water, whilst Scotland has almost 100% access for people to enjoy its wild places. Dartmoor in Southern England has special access rights being the only place in England where you can legally wild camp. The struggle to win our right to roam on open land has been fought for almost two centuries.
Often what has been seen as a landmark moment was The Kinder Trespass in 1932 where four hundred ramblers and activists set out from Manchester and Sheffield over the high moorland of Kinder Scout, now immortalised for posterity in the song ‘The Manchester Rambler‘ by Ewan MacColl. Labour MP Lord Roy Hattersley described it as “the most successful direct action in British history”. But what has been forgotten in history is that this was more of a symbolic act of protest, rather than a defining moment of open access. Five arrests were made on the day and the event made national newspaper coverage. But the struggle had gone on for decades before with Winter Hill in Lancashire being a long-fought battle for open access since the late 1800’s and countless trespasses were made on Northern moorland before then.
Why is this important you may be asking?
The cities of Manchester and Sheffield and its conurbations were filthy, smoky hard-living places. People often worked countless hours in the crowded, sweaty factories and mills for a pittance. What people craved was in their small amount of leisure time, (bless the two-day weekend now) was an easy, affordable way of enjoyment outside of the stinking cities. Northern Gritstone provided the answer. Families enjoyed simple leisure time away from the polluted streets and their hard existence. I believe this is still relevant today. Whilst we’re not still toiling down mines eighteen hours a day, in Austerity Britain we need affordable enjoyment. The alluring temptation of international weekend breaks with quality weather have never been easier, as low-budget airlines criss-cross Europe for tantalising prices to get hammered and fraternise with locals on 60p a pint of Bock Lager in an Eastern European bar. For such a break it will cost you upwards of £200 on the best days and isn’t sustainable for the planet or your liver. In an age where we’re so disconnected from our surroundings and where instant entertainment rules the roost, rejecting the immediate gratification and exchanging it for the experience of exploring the high grounds has to be embraced.
The rocks on the moors around Manchester, Sheffield, Lancaster and Huddersfield are famously dark in colour through the pollution of the industrial revolution (could be myth) but here I believe lies the next open access revolution, especially with wild camping as it is forbidden except Dartmoor in Southern England. The CROW act of 2000 opened up vast swathes of land in England and Wales for the right to roam which has helped but still areas are still closed off. Granted, the access we have today is far better than those who forged the Kinder Trespass in ’32 but only in the past couple of years certain areas of Durham and Cumbria have been opened, so the fight is still on. The reason why not all areas are open is game-keeping and land ownership. The Forest of Bowland owned by the Duchy Of Lancaster has alternative access rights for ramblers whilst huntsmen and servants to the Crown poison the dwindling and extremely rare Hen Harrier population there. The RSPB have forged numerous attempts to catch the perpetrators with no positive conclusion. Peregrine Falcons attempt to nest in Ramsden Clough near Holmfirth and are illegally poisoned every year. This is directly down to game-keepers who own the moors and want to keep their grouse shooting business fledgling. Even taking out the physical and spiritual benefits of enjoying these open spaces, these are all reasons I believe we must trespass these wild places and enjoy the surroundings and wildlife. It’s ours to reclaim, to share and to enjoy, not to keep exclusive for game-keeping or otherwise.
Very recently a leader of the Scottish Mountain Association actively encouraged English and Welsh walkers to disobey game-keepers and land owners to trespass as much as possible to enjoy the rights they have in Scotland for TRUE open access and wild camping. I for one this year will be exercising my right to roam on open land and ‘illegal’ land but more importantly, to wild camp where I choose. To retreat to a natural form of enjoyment instead of waiting for something to happen on social media. To take back what is ours for all to enjoy. And I will also be actively encouraging others to do the same.