I wonder what is the collective noun for Ramblers’ vice-presidents. There were eight of us at the event on 7 October to unveil a blue plaque installed by Jerry Pearlman at Stalling Busk, a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The plaque commemorates a weekend which the Ramblers’ Access Panel spent here in August 1996, discussing access legislation.
The unveiling was inspired by Jerry, who is a vice-president and former honorary solicitor of the Ramblers, and it was organised by Keith Wadd (another vice-president) and Mike Church of the Ramblers’ West Riding Area. The other vice-presidents who were there were Chris Hall, Cath MacKay, Malcolm Petyt, Janet Street-Porter and Paddy Tipping and me. Another two vice-presidents, Richard Lloyd Jones and Alan Mattingly (who were both at the 1996 meeting), gave their apologies.
In his invitation to the Ramblers’ Access Panel to spend a weekend in August 1996 discussing legislation in the old school house, Jerry wrote: ‘when the weather is good (which it rarely is) Stalling Busk is the next place to heaven. When it is bad it’s hell.’
That 1996 weekend was heaven and we were frustrated at having to spend it indoors. It was a year before Labour won the general election but we were keen to influence shadow ministers and urgently needed to have draft legislation ready for them. In the heady atmosphere of that lovely Dales valley we got quite carried away. I recall that after we returned home we had second thoughts on some of our more far-fetched ideas, but the weekend’s work certainly took us forward. We agreed many of the principles in the prototype Access Bill which Jerry drafted.
Paddy Tipping, then an influential Nottinghamshire MP, promoted our draft bill, and it later formed the basis for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, giving the public freedom to roam on mapped mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land in England and Wales.
Although the meeting was held in the old school house the plaque is on Jerry’s cottage next door.
Unveiling the plaque, Janet Street-Porter said: ‘We have three basic freedoms: the freedom to vote, the freedom to be equal, and the freedom to walk in as many places as possible. The Stalling Busk meeting was a vital step in the Ramblers’ campaign towards the third of those freedoms.’
I said that while the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was a major milestone in the campaign for greater freedom to roam, the Ramblers’ job is not done. Whatever one thinks about Brexit, it is an opportunity to ensure that public subsidies for farmers and landowners include significant spending on public access to our lovely countryside.
Paddy Tipping agreed. ‘The next campaign must be to secure greater rights for ordinary people to enjoy the land—this land is our land,’ he said.
Carl Lis, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, explained how the right of access had proved a wonderful asset to the park, increasing the proportion of land which was open to the public from four to 65 per cent. He believed that this freedom was attracting visitors to the park and said ‘we should take pride that our generation can pass on to future generations such a wonderful legacy’.
For the record, those attending the meeting on 3-4 August 1996 were Ramblers’ trustees Peter Harwood, Cath MacKay, the late Des Whicher and me (as chairman), with Richard Lloyd Jones (president of Ramblers Cymru), Jerry Pearlman (hon solicitor), Alan Mattingly (director) and David Beskine (Assistant Director, Access).