#75 – Access to the hills and The Mass Trespass of 1932

The plaque at Bowden Bridge Quarry, commemorating the Mass Trespass

 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

Benny Rothman addressing the crowd at Bowden Bridge before the Trespass

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 ‘Trespassers’ set out towards Kinder Scout

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.

William Clough, near the site of the confrontation between the trespassers and gamekeepers

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 view from Kinder Downfall, the scene of the trespass

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.

* * *

The steep southeast side of Parlick, near Chipping in Lancashire

Higher up, but still steep!

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.

The ridge leading to the plateau and the old county boundary

Looking down towards Bleadale Water

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.

Next to Bleadale Water, heading to Langden Castle

The final approach to Langden Castle

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.

More uphill on the Fiendsdale track

Returning to Parlick from the north

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.

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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14 Responses to #75 – Access to the hills and The Mass Trespass of 1932

  1. nittylizzyrozzy says:

    Another interesting post and some great photos. I didn’t realise until I saw a letter in our paper that there was a mass tresspass from Keswick a good few years before. There’s some more about it in this blog.


  2. I suspect there’s been all sorts of stuff going on in Hayfield this week to commemorate the trespass – I just haven’t been aware of it in my current ‘very short hobble’ status. Where would we be now without this kind of thing though?


    • Too true – the present government seem willing to go ahead with proposals to water down CROW – if we allow it!
      We have a responsibility to the activists of the past to stop this happening.


  3. Great post Paul. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the “Trespassers”. How much land would be out of bounds, if we did not have these important pieces of legislation. We all need to make sure that there is no sliding on CROW, as some reports in the newspapers have suggested. Never been walking in the Forest of Bowland – so I will have to change that at some stage!


    • The current government seems to be prepred to consider diluting CROW – if that happens perhaps the mass trespasses will be repeated.

      Our freedom to wander has been hard won in the past – it’s not for us to give it away lighyly!


  4. smackedpentax says:

    excellent, informative article (can you imagine what our world would be like if the landowners won)…doesn’t bear thinking about..and I love your photos…superb!


  5. Pete Buckley says:

    Nice post Paul; I know Bowland pretty well it being near where I currently live. it’s a nice quiet area – when you’re not ducking for paragliders that is! The idea of landowners being able to keep people off the hills though belongs in medieval times – and that’s where it should stay!


  6. Sam Harrison says:

    Great post Paul. Fiensdale and Parlick fell is a lovely area and I hadn’t been until I did the Fiensdale fell race a few month back! Will definitely be going again.


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