The Pennine Way, which runs along the spine of England, is the spine of the ramblers’ movement.
Yesterday I launched a new gate at the start of the Pennine Way in Edale, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the route. It is made of oak and depicts the route on the middle panel. The carpenter is Andy Bentham.
The gate was organised by Martyn Sharp, the Peak Park’s Pennine Way ranger. The children from Edale School hid a time capsule among the stonework. Just behind the gate is a magnificent hollow walnut-tree.
I spoke at the gate which marked the start of a number of walks organised by the park authority on 26 April. I told the group how in 1935 Tom Stephenson, who later became secretary of the Ramblers, was outdoor writer for the Daily Herald. He had received a letter from two American girls wanting advice about a tramping holiday; they were acquainted with the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States. Tom wrote:
What will our visitors think of one of the most prevalent features in our landscape—Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted?
Wherever they go, from Kent to Cornwall, from Sussex to the Solway, they will see these wooden liars; on the edge of many tempting wood … by the banks of luring rivers, on bare downlands and shaggy moors they will read ‘Strictly Private’. …
Nowhere in Britain are the restrictions so rigid, and paths so few, as in the Peak District of Derbyshire.
And he proposed something akin to the Appalachian Trail: ‘A Pennine Way from the Peak to the Cheviots’ starting here ‘out of the moor-rimmed bowl of Edale’.
Although Tom published this idea in 1935 it was another 30 years before the route was opened. The 1947 Report of the Special Committee on Footpaths and Access to the Countryside reinforced the notion of long-distance paths and particularly mentioned the Pennine Way, estimating that four footbridges and 40 stiles were needed—which seems very few. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 included provision for long-distance paths, and the Pennine Way was designated in 1951. There then followed many years of surveying, and controversy with landowners including water companies, to try to get the optimum route. At last the way was opened in 1965.
As for funding, in those days things were much more simple, the Countryside Commission and its successors paid 75 per cent of the costs of upkeep and promotion, so the routes did not put too much pressure on local authority budgets.
If only it were so simple today. The funding formula for national trails has changed, they no longer get such substantial sums of guaranteed funding from Natural England (the Countryside Commission’s successor) but must rely on trail partnerships and their own fund-raising efforts. Local authorities are slashing their path budgets so that all rights of way are being squeezed.
But national trails, as the long-distance paths became known, should be paid for by central government in recognition of the benefits they bring, to our health and to the rural economy. They are an investment. Unfortunately, we cannot take our national trails for granted, we must be vigilant and we must fight to ensure they have proper upkeep.
Tom said it all in 1935: Whatever the cost, it would be a worthy and enduring testimony—bringing health and pleasure beyond computation, for none could walk that Pennine Way without being improved in mind and body, inspired and invigorated and filled with the desire to explore every corner of this lovely island.