Remembering the fighting spirit of the past: Stacksteads resident Peter Marland applauds Labour Council for encouraging us to access the Countryside and believes that we should embody this spirit of the past when dealing with government cuts to funding.
On 24 April 1932 Benny Rothman a 20 year old diehard socialist from Cheetham, Manchester led 400 like minded people on a mass trespass of Kinder Scout. Their aim was to gain better access to the open countryside for everyone. Not just affluent landowners and their friends. They were met by force. The press maligned them as working class hooligans. They never gave up and more and more people joined in the struggle for countryside access. Access was slowly granted over large parts of the countryside as more and more people took buses and trains to walk the hills and dales.
In 1935, Tom Stephenson published an article in The Daily Herald promoting a national walking trail along the spine of the Pennines. Again wanting people who would not normally access the countryside to be encouraged to put on their boots and go for a walk.
After years and years of patient lobbying the Pennine Way opened in 1965.
Growing up in Preston a friend and I were inspired by these pioneers who fought for access to our countryside and took groups of young people of our age on hikes over the Trough of Bowland, land owned as a grouse shooting area by the Duke of Devonshire. We did think of ourselves as rebels with a cause. I actually moved to Rossendale in 1976 to be closer to proper hills. The Pennines seem to breed a particular gritty but community minded sort of person.
In 2000, the Labour government passed the Countryside Rights of Way Act which gives people unfettered access to large parts of the UK countryside. It’s not perfect but better than 1931.
To further encourage people to take advantage of the countryside many forward thinking councils have developed paths, bridleways etc: many are signposted and there are information points in strategic areas. Local volunteer groups like Valley of Stone and Stacksteads Community Park group in Rossendale have provided valuable help both in providing local information and undertaking volunteer work.
Our local council in Rossendale and Lancashire County Council are to be congratulated and applauded for what they have done to encourage everyone to get out there and see the Golden Valley from different aspects: be it on foot, on a bike or sat on a horse.
There is the continuing development of the multiuse pathway from Rising Bridge to Rochdale using the old railway routes. The regenerated Lee quarry and Cragg quarry are a mecca for outdoor pursuits enthusiasts. A great 2km pathway is open from Lee quarry to the Rooley Moor Road, an ancient historic highway in the hills and from there it links to the Pennine Bridleway. The area is alive with people from all over the UK and it is right on our doorstep.
The future, however, is uncertain given the huge government cuts to funding which Lancashire County Council and Rossendale Borough Council are facing. The County Council has already announced that their financial support for areas like Lee quarry will cease in 2018. It is a huge shame because the investment that the Councils have made help to make the Countryside around Rossendale more accessible, and at a time when the government is trying to encourage healthy living and is having to spend money to combat obesity and related illnesses, it seems nonsensical that the Government is reducing the money they give to Councils that could be used to support countryside activity.
However, I think that people are very resourceful and will not let the strides we have made in encouraging access to our countryside be thwarted, despite a lack of government funding.
The spirit and endeavour handed down to us by Benny Rothman and his 400 diehards in 1932 will prevail.