New Mills was a good choice for the first Spirit of Kinder Day, to celebrate the 81st anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass on 24 April 1932. The town is close to the north-west edge of the Peak District National Park, and to Hayfield, whence the Manchester contingent embarked on the trespass.
I had a chance first to explore the fascinating industrial archaeology of the town, the Goyt and Sett valleys and the dramatic Torrs gorge.
New Mills is the home town of the late, and much-missed Martin Doughty, former leader of Derbyshire County Council, and chairman of the Peak District National Park Authority and Natural England. Martin loved Kinder and every year walked up there in early spring to see the mountain hares. On 10 October 2009 (which would have been his sixtieth birthday) I attended a ceremony where an exquisite sundial was unveiled on the wall of the town hall and we then walked up to Kinder Downfall.
The wording round the edge of the sundial, which is illegible in this photo, is:
AN EXCEPTIONAL NEW MILLS MAN WHO LOVED KINDER AND THIS SPECIAL TOWN PLACED UNIQUELY ON THE 2O WEST LINE THE CENTRAL MERIDIAN A MAN WHO ACHIEVED SO MUCH IN THE TIME HE WAS GIVEN
The Spirit of Kinder event was held in the town hall, which was packed, with over 300 present. Around the edge were stalls for the Ramblers, Peak and Northern Footpath Society, National Trust, Friends of the Peak District, British Mountaineering Council and many others. The day had been masterminded by Roly Smith. Terry Howard, chairman of the Kinder & High Peak Advisory Group, was the compère. It had been inspired by the tremendous interest and enthusiasm in the 80th anniversary of the trespass at Edale last year.
The day opened with an excellent illustrated talk about the trespass by Keith Warrender, author of The Battle for Kinder Scout; then Jon Stewart, manager of the National Trust’s Peak District estate (which includes Kinder Scout), reflected on the trust’s 30 years of ownership of this special place. I was there as president of the Ramblers and general secretary of the Open Spaces Society. My first task was to launch the Friends of Kinder Trespass membership scheme. The friends are an energetic group set up to raise funds for the Kinder Trespass Centre in Hayfield. They are seeking members (£15 a year) to support their work.
The trespassers were a crucial catalyst in the long campaign for access, and we revere their brave actions: six were arrested and five, including Benny Rothman, went to jail, not for trespass but for public-order offences.
I talked of the threats posed by the current regime to our access and our countryside, a government driven by development dogma which is dismantling the planning system piece by piece. I spoke of the threats to green spaces and village greens; national parks (despite the brilliant efforts of the Campaign for National Parks, the Growth and Infrastructure Act undermines the duty of public bodies to have regard to national park purposes: the thin end of the wedge); and national trails. Local authority budget cuts mean less attention to our public paths and access land, while the Anti-social Behaviour Bill threatens to make trespass a criminal offence by creating public spaces protection orders (in fact exclusion orders).
It’s a dismal list, but just as the postwar campaigners were motivated by the tough times, so too should we rise to the occasion and pick up the Kinder trespassers’ torch.
Threats bring opportunities. Walking is inexpensive and healthy, it’s good for the economy, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in 2014 should mean more money for access (but let’s make it permanent not permissive access which can be withdrawn at any time); devolution in Wales allows an opportunity to pilot good ideas, and there’s to be an Environment Bill whereby this could be done.
Our worst enemy is not obesity but apathy. If we don’t swim against the current we shall just drift downsteam. Benny Rothman and his colleagues knew all about that.
So I made a call for renewed campaigning, reporting path problems, lobbying councillors and MPs to get across the huge benefit of outdoor activities for health and the economy; registering village greens where the land is not yet threatened with development; working together to get a better deal for walkers, riders and cyclists, and learning from the Kinder trespassers’ legacy.
‘The mountains would endure to feed those roots of human nature which are starved in cities and even among cornfields,’ wrote Jacquetta Hawkes in A Land (1951). Long may those mountains endure, along with our freedom to enjoy them.
We were then entertained by Boff Whalley, founder member of the former anarcho-punk-pop band Chumbawamba, who sang the band’s tribute to the Mass Trespass, You Can.
The Chapel-en-le-Frith Male Voice Choir concluded the day with the traditional singing of The Manchester Rambler. Terry Howard told us that next year’s event would be in Sheffield. The trespassers live on.