Eugene Suggett: Charms of the Peak
Every few years there comes another anniversary of the Kinder Scout trespass, attended by walks, rallies, exhibitions, speeches and like festivity. For the 60th we turned out a pretty good booklet, with the front page of the northern Daily Dispatch, 25 April 1932, in facsimile (‘Hitler’s New Bid for Power’ taking second place to ‘Mass Trespass Arrests on Kinder Scout’); and Mike Harding wrote a play. Gaoled trespasser Benny Rothman was interviewed on television; and, decrying the freedom-to-roam concept in his column shortly afterwards, Peregrine Worsthorne somewhat vinaigrously complained that the Ramblers had wheeled out ‘an awful old man’ to speak in its favour. The 11th Duke of Devonshire addressed the 70th anniversary rally, and it is to be hoped that Mr Worsthorne found His Grace a rather less awful old man. The Duke certainly went down well with the assembled throng: prolonged acclamation resounded in that quarry at Bowden Bridge at the noble utterances he made about open access. At the 75th the speakers included David Milliband, who named a train after Benny Rothman, and Lord Hattersley, who rather daringly declared the trespass to be ‘the most successful direct action in British history’. At the 80th the other week, Stuart Maconie, Dame Fiona Reynolds and Mike Harding appeared on the bill; and, as before, people came in their droves to walk and listen.
Some colleagues lately confessed that they have never been to Kinder Scout. And so after some prompting and a night on the floor of a delightful if draughty barn at Upper Booth, this blogger found himself leading a party of them up the Scout, ascending by Crowden Clough, and climbing the majestic waterfalls to arrive at Crowden Tower; passing by that set of fascinatingly surreal stones the Woolpacks and Noe Stool and Pym Chair, turning north at Kinder Low toward the Downfall, passing Cluther Rocks; and then heading south-eastwards through Kinder Gates to show them the groughs and hags of this mighty sovereign of the Derbyshire hills. ‘Nobody has really seen that masterpiece of nature’s savagery who has not, once at least, crossed its barbaric expanse and paused amid its stillness and its solitude, where the elements have had their way, without let or hindrance, for countless æons of geological time,’ wrote the Derbyshire antiquarian Thomas L Tudor, in The High Peak to Sherwood (R Scott, c 1925), a book which handsomely repays a read. So half a dozen central office staff can now say they have sampled the fierce features and varying meteorology of the plateau’s peculiar grandeur. The descent was from Grindslow Knoll, with its endless vista of broken slopes and fading skylines, and on to the alluring charms of Edale and its Nag’s Head Inn, in which that evening the ales went down as well as ever.
A pleasing feature of all these Kinder anniversary celebrations is that they are never a wallowing in nostalgia for the old days of khaki shorts and stout shoes. One detects amid the crowds an awareness that the Countryside and Rights of Way Act has about it the air of an unfinished agenda; there is a forward-looking determined desire for an increase in the definition of open access land, so as for it to include the coast and the woodlands as well. People walk for all sorts of reasons: exercise, scenery, well-being, wildlife, remoteness, refreshment of spirit; and more space for it would not come amiss, thinks the present writer, for what his opinion may be worth. ‘Perhaps no experience is better calculated to relieve the hectic strain of modern life than a burst into these open sanctuaries of nature, free from the bedlam of the roads and the eternal distraction of the town; grand and solitary and untamed since the beginning of years.’ And it was in 1925 that Thomas L Tudor wrote that.
Eugene Suggett is the Senior Policy Officer for The Ramblers.