The Great Outdoors – June 2022
English | 102 pages | pdf | 89.07 MB
I’M WRITING THIS ON an auspicious day: the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass. In the intervening almost-century, this act of civil disobedience (a limited word count prevents me from recapping the story, but do some Googling if you’re unfamiliar!) has come to be seen as a crucial turning point in the access campaign in Britain. But it has also been sentimentalised and softened into heritage; and it’s easy to forget how controversial, provocative and even unpopular it was at the time.
The trespass was led by Communists, and comprised largely of young working-class people from Manchester. More mainstream – and middle-class – organisations were disapproving. Many more affluent ramblers were simply less encumbered by the limited access arrangements of the time; they had the status and connections to get around them in a way that inner city oiks didn’t. Naturally, they were more inclined to pragmatism. Imagine their horror at the prospect of 400 Mancunian Bolsheviks saying, in the words of Kinder trespass leader Benny Rothman: “Wherever we claim we have a just right to go we shall trespass en masse.”
We live in a very different world now, but we shouldn’t be lulled into complacency. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 was a landmark, but under its terms only 8% of England is ‘open access’, and even that is conditional. The contrast with Scotland is stark. And earlier this week, the government quashed a review into expanding access to nature in England. Justifying its closure, a minister said: “We have to recognise the countryside is… a place of business and food production.”
Nor are all barriers simply legal. Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups make up 13% of the UK population, but only 1% of visitors to national parks. There is an echo with the 1932 trespass here, too. As well as being working-class, several of the leading trespassers were from immigrant backgrounds: Benny Rothman for example was Jewish. The trespassers said the police seemed to be deliberately targeting people with ‘foreign’ faces, and the judge at the trial referred to the defendants’ “foreign-sounding” names.
In 2022, just as in 1932, the countryside is still seen by too many as being for a certain sort of person. When I hear people today downplaying or denying the inequalities that still exist around outdoor access, it reminds me of the people who thought much the same thing 90 years ago. But history has proved the Kinder trespassers right, and their spirit still lives on. On this sunny Sunday, in an event called ‘Kinder in Colour’, hundreds of walkers, led by people from BAME backgrounds, walked up Kinder Scout
to protest unequal access to the countryside.
This issue of The Great Outdoors magazine leads with a celebration of the finest mountain walks Britain has to offer – plus some of the lesser-trodden alternatives (p30). Enjoying high, wild and free places is what we’re all about – but we should never forget the people who struggled so we could do just that.