For those who missed it, 24th April was the 80th anniversary of the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932. The Trespass was part of a working class movement in the first half of the 20th Century to secure the right for the public to walk on the hills and moors of Northern England (This right has always existed in Scotland). These areas were used by the landowners for shooting game birds, and anyone attempting to walk there would be turned back by aggressive gamekeepers. It was a situation that could not continue without being challenged
The challenge came from politically active walkers from Manchester and Sheffield, and the Peak District was the battleground. It was decided to confront the power of the landowners by trespassing on the prohibited areas in numbers so large that they could not be contained. The landowners, supported by the establishment, tried their best to prevent this, and attempted to serve an injunction on Benny Rothman, the principal leader, but despite a heavy police presence on the day, the Trespass went ahead.
The Manchester contingent set off from Bowden Bridge near Hayfield, heading towards Kinder Scout via William Clough, where they encountered the Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers. At a given signal the walkers left the path and headed for the forbidden plateau. A scuffle broke out, though without any serious injury, and the trespassers carried on to Kinder Scout where they met other like-minded walkers from Sheffield.
On their return to Hayfield, the trespassers were confronted by one third of the total strength of the Derbyshire Constabulary! Six of the trespassers, including Benny Rothman, were arrested and charged with offences of violence. (Trespass is a civil, not a criminal offence, and therefore out of police jurisdiction) As the trial jury included two brigadiers, three colonels, two majors, three captains and two aldermen, the verdict was never in doubt, and the six were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of two to six months.
The trespass appeared to be a victory for the landowners, but the shock waves continued and change became inevitable. In 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act opened up vast areas of land for recreational use, and the process has continued with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) of 2000, which has confirmed the ‘Right to Roam’ on uncultivated land.
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I started hill-walking in my mid-teens, on the hills of the Forest of Bowland, the hills I could see from where I lived. Until CROW in 2000 there was no open access on these hills for walkers, but unlike the Peak District a large degree of tolerance was shown by gamekeepers, probably because we were local lads. Only once was I asked to change my route because a shooting party was expected, and what’s more I was asked politely.
Our usual access point was by bus or bicycle to the village of Chipping, where we would head for the nearest steep hill, named Parlick. From there a broad ridge leads to the old county boundary between Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire (changed in 1974). Beyond is a vast moorland plateau where we learned the art of navigation the hard way, by getting lost! One of our regular routes would take us to the disused stone building of Langden Castle, which made a superb (though unofficial) bothy.
I returned here with Chris in 2006. I had said that we probably wouldn’t see a soul, and was proved wrong at the old county boundary by a group of a dozen or so walkers. From there we followed the way I have done many times in the past, over Brown Berry Plain to Bleadale Water, then down to Langden Castle. From there we returned by the steep path over Fiendsdale Head, an ancient route from Whalley to Lancaster, and probably the route by which the Pendle Witches were taken to Lancaster for trial.
On the return to Parlick I was again proved to be wrong about this being an uncrowded route, but this time it was the air that was crowded. Westerly winds from the Irish Sea hit the escarpment of the Bowland Hills making great flying conditions for paragliding – at one point we were having a conversation with one pilot as he hung in the air a matter of metres away.
Thanks to the sacrifices of activists like Rothman, we can now roam these hills unhindered. So, what are you waiting for – grab a pair of boots and get out there!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock (Except for the archive images of the Trespass)
p.s. You can read more about these quiet hills at #45
p.p.s. Since posting this, I’ve been told of an earlier mass trespass in the Lake District – click here to read a fascinating account.