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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
The walk that changed Britain
Kinder Scout
Kinder Scout: Feel free

This week in 1932 a walk took place which changed the face of Britain. But even 70 years on, the revolution is not quite over.
For all its history, the UK is not rich in moments which celebrate the victory of the ordinary folk over the establishment. But as the years go by, the reputation and romance of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout grows and grows.

Benny Rothman
Benny Rothman: History on his side
In 1930s England, landowners jealously guarded their rights to keep ordinary folk off their land, all the better to shoot, fish and hunt.

But in the depressed northern cities, so close to some of the best countryside England has to offer, resentment was growing that working people could not share the simple pleasure of rambling.

So on a Sunday in April, led by Benny Rothman, a young Communist mechanic from Manchester, hundreds of ramblers headed to Kinder Scout, the gateway to the Pennines.

South Cheshire
Members of the South Cheshire Ramblers Association on Kinder Scout
Rothman himself, who died aged 90 earlier this year, recalled the day, talking to the BBC in 1980.

"It was possibly a naive idea that if enough ramblers went on a ramble, no group of keepers could stop them because there would be more ramblers than keepers," he said.

"We went up the bank from William Clough [a gorge] in one long line and as we went up the bank the person in charge of the keepers gave instructions to the keepers to come down the bank and meet us halfway.

"They did that and there must have been a dozen or slightly more brandishing their sticks and shouting 'get back'. Of course we just ignored them or pushed them aside until we got to the top."

I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday

Ewen Maccoll
One of the game-keepers, John Watson, also speaking in 1980, contested the popular version of events, putting the crowd at just 200, and saying: "The laughable bit about it - really laughable as far as we was concerned - they were on a public footpath and they suddenly let out a yell and left the footpath and walked about fifty yards off the footpath.

"That was the mass trespass, the total mass

trespass was about 50 yards off the footpath and about 100 yards long. Then they all let out a great cheer as if they'd achieved something, walked back to the footpath and went back to the village."

Popular feeling

Whatever is the correct version of what happened, the impact the trespass had is what in the end matters. Some of the popular feeling was captured by folk singer Ewan Maccoll (father of Kirsty) who wrote his classic ballad The Manchester Rambler at the time.

It includes the lines: "Sooner than part from the mountains, I think I would rather be dead... I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday."

Rothman and four others were arrested after the trespass, and charged with "riotous assembly". He served four months, but a feeling grew in mainstream society that the young rebels had been treated very harshly and within weeks more than 10,000 people demonstrated in their support.

And the tide of history went Rothman's way. As the Attlee government began restructuring British society after World War II, it established the National Parks starting with the Peak District, home to Rothman's beloved Kinder Scout.

Kinder Scout
Don't grouse
There are now 11 National Parks in England and Wales. More than 100 million people visit them each year.

The ultimate sign of Rothman's victory came this week with the grandson of the 9th Duke of Devonshire, the owner of Kinder Scout, accepting that the ramblers had been right.

"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," he said.

Right to roam

Attlee also tried to establish the right of people to roam across the countryside, but for several reasons the laws were not implemented. 50 years later another attempt is taking place, with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.

The act enshrines the right to walk across "mountain, moor, heath and downland", in addition to other areas to which the public already has right of way. To make it clear where ramblers may roam, the Countryside Agency is currently mapping all of England and Wales.

By 2005, the maps should identify about 12% of England and Wales on which the public may roam. But not all ramblers think it goes far enough, and believe it should include huge areas of woodland too.

Instead of laboriously working out which areas are open, many ramblers believe England and Wales should have the same approach as in Scotland, which now has a presumption that land is free for people to walk on unless it is excluded.

For the time being, however, the hundreds of ramblers who are this weekend recreating the trespass - this time with a government minister in tow - will just be hoping for fine weather.

The Manchester Rambler
By Ewan Maccoll
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