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Wanted - A Long Green Trail

Tom Stephenson's original article - Wanted - A Long Green Trail - was published on June 22nd 1935 in the Daily Herald.

Wanted - A Long Green Trail


Daily Herald, June 22, 1935

WANTED – A Long Green Trail

BY TOM STEPHENSON

When two American girls wrote asking advice about a tramping holiday in England, I wondered what they would think of our island, particularly of the restrictions placed in the way of those who wished to see some of our most captivating scenery.

If, at the end of their tour, these visitors from across the Atlantic are over-loud in their praises of their native “Land of Liberty,” who shall blame them?

They mention their acquaintance with the Appalachian Trail, a footpath that runs for 2,000 miles through the Eastern States from Maine to Georgia, established by tramping, mountaineering and other open-air organisations, and generously aided by the Government and State authorities.

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Now this path has been eclipsed by the John Muir Trail which reaches from the Canadian border through Washington, Oregon and California to Mexico. For 2,500 miles without any slogging on hard roads, one may follow this track over lofty peaks, by deep-cleft canyons and through great National Parks and reserves saved for all time from spoilation by unplanned and irresponsible building.

After allowing for difference in geographical scale, what can we in England offer to compare with these enterprises?

Many have been closed, but new ones are unknown.

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 they will be confronted with the blatant warning. By the banks of luring rivers, on bare downlands and shaggy moors they will read “Strictly Private.”

They will discover that though walking is a most popular pastime with thousands of devotees, yet neither nationally nor locally has there been any serious effort to meet the needs of the growing army of young folk attracted to the healthiest form of recreation.

True enough we are still blessed with many a mile of alluring paths and downland and mountain tracks, but these form but a small fraction of our original heritage, for a century ago probably no country in the world had such a wealth of pedestrian ways. For four centuries the Romans were busy driving their straight roads across the country. Some of these are the foundations of our modern roads, some linger as grass-grown tracks, others have vanished beneath civilisation or the spread of towns. Medieval pilgrims and traders have left their imprint. Drovers, pack-horses, shepherds, landworkers and miners have left their compliment to the criss-cross pattern once well etched in the face of the land, but now often obliterated or only faintly visible.

Many of these ancient ways fell into oblivion, and many more have been deliberately closed to the public, sometimes after expensive litigation and often enough, for the lack of a village Hampden, without legal sanction. Others have only been retained by bitter and costly struggles and though the Rights of Way Act has simplified the procedure, it is still necessary to be ever on the watch to prevent further encroachments.

Nowhere in Britain are the restrictions so rigid, and paths so few as in the Peak District of Derbyshire.

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No wonder the Manchester and Sheffield Ramblers continue to press for the passing of the Access to Mountains Bill, a measure which would provide that “No owner or occupier of uncultivated mountain or moorland shall be able to exclude any person from walking or being on such land for the purposes of recreation, or scientific or artistic study or to molest him in so walking or being.”

Anyone doubting the existence of a demand for such legislation only needs take a trip to Castleton in Derbyshire on Sunday week. Early in the morning he will see a host of trampers pouring into the dale from all sides, and in the afternoon he will be swept with the marching throng into the imposing limestone ravine of the Winnats, where 10,000 ramblers will collect to reiterate their annual demand for the freedom of the hills.

Without sacrificing the ideal why should we not press for something akin to the Appalachian Trail – a Pennine Way from the Peak to the Cheviots?

This need be no Euclidean line, but a meandering way deviating as needs be to include the best of that long range of moor and fell; no concrete or asphalt track, but just a faint line on the Ordnance Maps which the feet of grateful pilgrims would, with the passing years, engrave on the face of the land.

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Out of the moor-rimmed bowl of Edale the track would mount to the rock-bound plateau of Kinder Scout, and from that bare plateau start northwards to the distant border, through 150 miles of lonely entrancing country.

Picture carefree youngsters setting out on such a trail of health and beauty. By Ashop Head and thence to Bleaklow, across Longdendale and by the Laddow Rocks and Black Chew Head, they would turn across the Saddleworth Moors to Stanedge, and on to Blackstone Edge, where Roman chariot wheels bit into the native bedrock.

Then, steering between the industrial blackspots, on beyond the vale of Cliviger, they would stand on Boulsworth, and behold, on the one hand, the level brow of Pendle, where Lancashire witches held satanic revels, and, on the other, the dark moors which inspired the Brontes.

Across the green lowlands of Craven they would reach the grim portals of Gordale, and then over Fountains Fell and the dome of Penyghent they would strike the packhorse trail into Wensleydale.

The magic dell of Hardraw, with its plunging beck, would be visited on route for the far recesses of Upper Swaledale. From Keld they would turn to Tan Hill with its little whitewashed inn on a windswept moor with the authority of the Ordnance Survey to refute the claims of would-be rivals as the highest licensed house in England.

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On across “Stainmoor’s shapeless swell,” between Tees and Eden, the way would wind through bewitching desolation by barren haunts of plover and curlew, over seemingly endless moors to the crest of Cross Fell, the Pennines’ topmost height.

Then by the ancient Maiden Way they would come to the grey stone town of Alston, perched high on the hillside, and then over the Tyne to Hadrian’s Wall where once Roman sentries kept watch for northern “barbarians.” Finally, over bog and moor they would reach the great heaving swells and deep-set glens of the Cheviots.

There could be no more fitting or more enduring way of celebrating the Jubilee year than by such a Pennine Trail. Call it Jubilee Way or the Georgian Path if you will, but let us have this through route to health and happiness for this and succeeding generations who may thus make acquaintance with some of the finest scenery in the land.

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.