Anyone interested in my earlier article `Kinder Conservation and a Historic Mass Trespass` (this blog 1 November 2009) may be wondering how the Ramblers fared after those heady early days.
The next major landmark for the movement was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. As the name implies, this was the act which established the national parks of England and Wales. It`s other claim to fame was the creation of the `definitive maps` of public paths.
Establishing the definitive maps in law was one thing, but in the end it was`people power` that really counted. Ramblers` Trustee Kate Ashbrook explains ;
"Once the Act received royal assent, ramblers worked tirelessly to claim paths over a wide area. For instance, members in Merseyside, led by Wally Smith explored the remote paths of Snowdonia, sixty plus miles away. It was a great achievement and we are indebted to them.
Fifty years later we won freedom to roam throughout Scotland, and on mapped open country in England and Wales. And there have been countless other victories."
The Ramblers (at that time known as The Ramblers Association) worked hard to establish it`s reputation as `the trade union for walkers`, and it`s support base became ever broader, no longer limited to the `miners and mill girls` of the early years.
In recent times, the organisation has been rocked by a financial crisis which resulted in the closure of it`s Scottish and Welsh offices, and significant cuts in the campaigns section. This troubled time is discussed in my article `Rambling through Adversity` (see link below). As I indicated in that article there were also significant positive results on the campaigning side during that same period, but it is clear that there is a legacy of bitterness and mistrust between the rank and file on the one hand and the Chief Executive and Board of Trustees on the other.
However that may be, it s clear the organistation is far from being a spent force, as a quick skim through recent campaign results indicates ;
At Withyham, East Sussex, Ramblers and local people have recently emerged victorious after a ten-year dispute over the Earl de la Warr`s decision to close a right of way between the local church and the village centre, which crossed his Buckhurst Estate. The path had been in use since the 1930s, but was blocked with a barbed wire fence during 2000. The local council rejected an application to make it a right of way, but this decision was overturned by a public inquiry. Rambler`s representatives blamed East Sussex County Council for "nine years of delays and misjudgements".
In Cleveland, North Yorkshire, a major new path has been established along the path of a disused railway line afer a long-running battle involving two public inquiries and a High Court Appeal. In this instance , unlike the Withyam situation, the Ramblers and the locally-based Guisborough Bridlways Group were supported by the local council.
Kings Lynn Ramblers have also won a decade-long battle after a farmer discovered that a path crossing hs land was not on the definitive map. The Ramblers proved that the path had been in use for 20 years and was therefore a de facto right of way, and in fact followed the line of a carriageway in use as early as 1797. Despite this, the local council dismissed their claim. The issue went to a public inquiry and the inspector`s report ordered the re-opening of the route.
Not all campaigns drag on for years. The owner of Scotland`s Boquhan Estate denied public access to his land on the grounds of privacy and security. He was successfully challenged in court, but decided to appeal to the Edinburgh Court of Session. However, in January he decided to drop his appeal and the right of access remains in place.
Not all Rambler`s campaigns are rural. The organisation is frequently brought into conflict with urban councils over `gating` or `alleygating` orders, which close footpaths and alleyways in (usually) inner-city areas. One such case, still ongoing, involves the closing of a path at Altcross Road, Croxteth by Liverpool City Council, despite a 700 strong petition protesting their actions and no evidence of persistent crime/anti-social behaviour on the route. The organisation encourages members to submit details of contentious gating to www.unlockingpaths.org.uk.
Other cases are ongoing, most notably the long-running dispute over Vixen Tor, Dartmoor, with it`s distinctive Sphinx-like rock formation. The Ramblers and campaign partners the British Mountaineering Council wanted this site designated as open access land under freedom-to-roam legislation during a 2005 public inquiry but were unsuccessful. Now Devon County Council has agreed that there is enough evidence to support putting Vixen Tor on the definitive map of public paths. The landowner has objected and another public inquiry is expected in the autumn.
Of course, court battles and public inquiries are not all the organisation is about. Some people just like to go walking with like-minded people ! The organisation also collects information on rights of way (see www.ramblers.co.uk/rightsofwaybook ) , and encourages local groups to submit details of their walks to www.ramblers.org.uk/walksfinder . Recent issues of their magazine www.walkmag.co.uk indicate a broadening of interests, with the association taking an interst in planning and road safety issues where relevant, and looking at the ideas of consultant (and Ramblers member) Tim Pharoah. Also worth a look is the blog section - www.walkmag.co.uk/category/blogs where you can encounter Northern Walker, Bearded Git and Walking Class Hero, among others. Benny Rothman would have been proud !
Yugoslavian Medal for Bravery
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