Taking a hike – the battle for our ‘right to roam’

As long as there have been paths, there have been people willing to walk them, and these rarely-seen pictures from the archive are proof if proof were needed that hiking holidays are literally as old as the hills.

circa 1930:  Hikers at Skelwith Falls, near Ambleside, in the Lake District.  (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
circa 1930: Hikers at Skelwith Falls, near Ambleside, in the Lake District. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

1936: A group of hikers scale Ben Lomond in Scotland, to gaze down at the Loch below. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

April 1936: Two female hikers admiring the view near Haslemere, Surrey. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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19th May 1934: Hikers enjoying a picnic by the Cheddar Gorge in the West Country. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson, Editor

1st August 1950: A hiking party returning from a climb up 'Galole' at Seathwaite in Cumbria's Lake District, the wettest corner of England. (Photo by J. Hardman/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
August 1926: Four female hikers stop at a road sign in Callander in the Trossachs, central Scotland, to check their map. The Trossachs, meaning 'bristly country', have been a popular tourist destination since Sir Walter Scott wrote his novel 'Rob Roy' and the poem 'The Lady of the Lake', both of which are set amidst the wild scenery of the area. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)