A six-day festival will be held next week to mark the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Mass Trespass, perhaps the most significant single event in the decades-long fight for public access to our countryside.
'This was the single most iconic event in the battle for our right to roam'
The Kinder 80 festival will be launched by author and broadcaster Stuart Maconie at the Moorland Centre, Edale, on Tuesday April 24. Other speakers to the invited audience of countryside bodies will include BBC Radio2's Mike Harding; Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust; and Kate Ashbrook, secretary of the Open Spaces Society.
In honour of the ramblers who fought for public access in the 1930s the Kinder 80 festival is staging a packed programme of events including a series of themed guided walks, exhibitions at local venues and a family treasure trail (the Kinder Surprise - well somebody had to). Several talks will be held covering the history of access prior to the Trespass; the moors in the future; and rock climbing on Kinder with the BMC's Martin Kocsis. There'll be a re-enactment walk from both sides of Kinder, Hayfield and Edale; a rendition of Ewan MacColl's song Manchester Rambler; and the re-launch of Trespass leader Benny Rothman's book The Battle for Kinder Scout. Publisher Keith Warrender will present an illustrated talk on the book and the Trespass itself in Manchester on Tuesday 24. The festival concludes on Sunday 29 with a celebratory ceilidh in Sheffield.
Before the days of public rights of way and a legal right to roam most walking was trespassing, and unpleasant encounters between urban walkers and rural landowners (or their employees) were commonplace. By the 1930s the emergence of walkers' organisations galvanised a more organised mass movement. The events of 24 April 1932 occupy a special place in walking folklore. Frustrated by the hostility of local landowners and a lack of meaningful access rights, 400 or so Peak District ramblers staged a public walk up Kinder Scout. The Mass Trespass had all the trappings of a full-blooded protest: stirring speeches; scuffles with gamekeepers; even arrests. Several participants were jailed, and this perceived injustice boosted the ramblers' cause, sparking other trespass events. The largest of these drew a crowd of 10,000 to Winnat's Pass. Continued pressure by walkers' organisations forced a gradual progress: first the post-war creation of Britain's early National Parks, the establishment of an extensive network of public rights of way and the negotiation of local agreements for access to open country; and eventually the right to roam, albeit circumscribed, that is now enshrined in law in England and Wales (Scotland has much better legislation on this). In the clash between private property and public good, ordinary people have secured for themselves a vital concession - the right to enjoy the countryside that in a sense belongs to us all. But the freedom we now take for granted was hard won and long fought for; and we may never have got here without the trespassers of the 1930s.
'There were stirring speeches, scuffles with gamekeepers, even arrests. Several participants were jailed'
'The Kinder Trespass was the single most iconic event in the battle for freedom to roam in this country' says Roly Smith, festival organiser and President of the Outdoor Writer's and Photograhper's Guild.
'Previous trespasses had taken place, some even decades before, but this was the first to really harness the power of publicity. Perhaps the main reason it got so much attention was the severity of the sentences that were handed down to those arrested on the day, for no more heinous a crime than walking on the moors.'
'The Peak District moors mean so much to so many. Can you imagine back in the 1930s, people in Manchester and Sheffield could actually see Kinder Scout, but they weren't allowed to walk it? It was the forbidden mountain.'
Walkers and climbers have plenty to thank the trespassers for, but the struggle for access isn't yet consigned to the history books.
'The fight goes on even today' says Roly Smith. 'In England and Wales we now have a right to roam on CROW land, and although there'll soon be statutory access rights to the Welsh coastal strip the present government in Westminster shows no sign of introducing a right of access along the coastline or in the woods of England. Contrast that with the freedom enjoyed in Scotland or other European countries; England is miles behind.'
The Kinder 80 festival runs from 24-29 April. For more info and bookings see the event booklet.
'And the fight goes on even today; there's still no right of access along the coastline or in the woods of England'
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