Only a year ago, but another era. On 22 March 2019, five outdoor organisations organised a celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, in the Peak District National Park.
They were five of the organisations which campaigned for the creation of national parks in the 1930s and 40s: the Campaign for National Parks (CNP), Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Open Spaces Society (OSS), Ramblers, and Youth Hostels Association (YHA).
About 150 of us gathered in the car park at Castleton, with the film crew from BBC Countryfile. Andy Hall from CNP welcomed us.
Then we set off up the road, past the Blue John Cavern. My visually-impaired friend Marika Kovacs was with us and walked with a number of people.
As we climbed up to Hollins Cross, Matt Baker interviewed Marika for Countryfile.
He also spoke to my pal Maxwell Ayamba from the Sheffield Environmental Movement.
At the top we congregated for a group photograph: inconceivable now that we must practise social distancing.
We had fun recreating an old photo of ramblers.
Then we walked down to Losehill Hall, a bittersweet moment for me; I had last been there on 11 December 2010 for a farewell party. I helped fight the campaign for it to remain a field centre when the Peak Park decided to sell it in 2010, but we failed and it went to the YHA. I was relieved that it was not that much altered, but it had lost its familiar smell.
Representatives of the five organisations mentioned above signed a pledge to continue campaigning for the parks’ protection, and to make access to them easier for everyone.
The pledge was buried in a time capsule in the grounds of Losehill Hall.
After lunch we heard from speakers Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE; Yvonne Witter from Peak District Mosaic; James Blake, chief executive of the YHA; Andrew McCloy, chair of the Peak District National Park Authority, and Janette Ward, chair of CNP. Yvonne poetically dubbed the national parks ‘a passport to heaven that requires no renewal’.
Indeed they are, but just now (unless we live there) we have to rely on our memories as recreational travel must be stopped, to reduce the spread of the virus.
The parks will still be there to inspire and refresh us when we emerge from this crisis—and 70 years on, we must go on fighting for them.