Only the fashions have changed, with tweed, rather than Lycra, the cloth of choice for taking to the great outdoors.
It was Thomas West, an 18th century Jesuit priest and author, who was credited with popularising the idea of walking for pleasure – particularly in the Lake District. In earlier times, to be seen out walking with no obvious purpose was tantamount to vagrancy.
West published his first guide to the Lakes in 1778. It included a list of viewpoints – which he called stations – from which to enjoy the best views of the water.
Among his followers was his fellow Lakelander, William Wordsworth, who walked his way around France, Switzerland and Germany, and recorded the journey in blank verse in The Prelude.
But it was during the industrial revolution that the health benefits of unspoilt countryside became clear to everyone. From the late 19th century, ramblers’ clubs emerged and began campaigning for the “right to roam” on privately-owned land in the North of England especially, where to hike was to trespass.
The movement was slow to gain traction – if not with walkers then with landowners – and it was not until 1939, seven years after the Ramblers’ Rights movement staged a “mass trespass” on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, that the Access to Mountains Act was passed by parliament. Even then it was a compromise, and it took post-war reforms to deliver the promised land to hikers from all walks of life. The latest freedoms, contained in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, were bestowed as recently as 2000.
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