Jun
18
2012

Mass trespass

The Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers were on high alert. A left-wing group had been agitating in the Derbyshire village of Hayfield, threatening to “take action to open up the fine country at present denied us.” Their target was Kinder Scout, part of the Duke’s extensive moorland estate in the Peak District. But if they wanted to trespass on His Grace’s land, they would have to get past the gamekeepers.

On 24 April 1932, some 400 working class youths appeared on the fell. They were dressed in a curious assortment of improvised walking gear, workman’s shoes and satchels. Smiling for the camera and heading ever upwards, they do not appear to be a dangerous let alone revolutionary gathering. But they are heading for a confrontation and many will end the day in police cells.

Because for the landed aristocracy, their estate keepers and respectable hikers, this group represented a radical and undesirable strain. This was revolutionary rambling – a feared first step in communising the countryside.

Kinder Scout is part of the Peak District’s ‘Dark Peak’, the higher, wilder and mostly uninhabited portions of the national park. Kinder Scout contains the highest points in the Peak District with most of the windswept, bleak plateau standing at least 600 metres above sea level. The highest point, Crowden Head, is 631 metres above sea level.

Today, Kinder Scout is far from deserted – it is a popular location for hiking and rambling. But it is not as overrun as some of the more popular parts of the Peak District. A long walk over the plateau will usually involve seeing a handful of other walkers but otherwise having the peace and tranquillity of the ridge to yourself.

It was quite a different scene on 24 April 1932, when 400 ramblers set off from Bowden Bridge quarry to climb Kinder Scout. These members of the British Workers’ Sport Federation were impatient with the official ramblers’ associations’ attempts to legitimise a right to roam in Britain’s wilder countryside.

The ascent was not without incident – the workers found themselves ranged against the Duke of Devonshire’s groundskeepers and a skirmish ensued. But the majority made it to the top and back down again and, in the process, made a big step towards the open access of the countryside that we enjoy today.

As noted by Mike Innerdale, the General Manager for the National Trust in the Peak District:

“Kinder Scout is one of the most iconic landscapes in the Peak District because of its vast open moorland, the wildlife that it is home to and because it was the setting for the Mass Trespass. However, it is also one of the most damaged areas of moorland in the UK and its future is in jeopardy as a result of catastrophic wildfires, a long history of overgrazing, air pollution and the routes that thousands of visitors have taken. We’ve decided to take action with our partners to save Kinder for future generations.”

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