Colin Speakman, a leading writer on the country’s long distance footpaths but then a teacher in Leeds, remembers going to the ceremony in his spluttering Morris 1000 with his passenger, the eminent and elderly geologist Arthur Raistrick, almost having to get out and push it up Sutton Bank.
But it was worth the trip, he said, just for the novelty of seeing Baron Howard of Henderskelfe, the portly owner of Castle Howard, scuttling comically to the shelter of the marquee.
Yesterday, Mr Speakman was on the same spot, as the 109-mile National Trail between Helmsley and Filey, skirting the northern edge of the North York Moors National Park, held a birthday party for itself.
The country’s second such route, after the Pennine Way, had been in development for a decade and a half, ever since a proposal was handed to the old North Riding Council. By the time it was officially opened, on May 24 1969, a part of its coastal section, between Filey and Scarborough had eroded and disappeared into the sea.
“It wasn’t a terribly good augury, but in fact it’s been brilliant – although erosion has meant they’ve had to re-route bits of it ever since,” said Mr Speakman, who was one of those to address the crowds at yesterday’s celebration.
This time, no shelter was necessary as some 150 hikers, including him, turned out in the sunshine in period costume – tweed breeks and Dunlop boots from a time long before designer hiking gear.
The day began with a three-mile retracing of the so-called Pilgrim’s Walk, the route from Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey taken by the first ramblers and trodden many times since.
It was the culmination of a series of anniversary events, which also includes an exhibition of 100 paintings from along the route by artist Debbie Loane.
The opening at the end of the 1960s of the horseshoe-shaped path – nearly all of which is still in Yorkshire, despite the boundary change of 1974 which declared Cleveland a county in its own right – came at a time of great social change. More people than ever had access to Morris 1000s, and were venturing further than ever.
“It came at the time of the publication of the definitive map of footpaths, and people were waking up to the fact that we’d got this amazing network of public rights of way,” Mr Speakman said.
The 50th anniversary, he said, was also a way of celebrating the landscape and heritage.
“People drive everywhere now – they’re too sedentary. But the faster we travel, the less we experience.
“It’s a beautiful place, and that’s economically important because there is a value in living near some of the greatest landscapes in Europe.”