We get into a few debates about access here at Peak District MTB. Unsurprising bearing in mind our main aim is to hugely increase the number of places you can legally ride your bike here in the national park.
Anyway, when we’re talking access – inevitably online, inevitably late at night, sometimes with a glass of something cold if we’re lucky – it’s never that long before someone invokes the Spirit of the Kinder Trespass and touts it as a realistic option for mountain bikers to open up access. Chris had some thoughts on why it wouldn’t help the mountain bike access cause and he shares them here (and the video below). What do you think?
“There’s been a fair old debate online just recently – what with more people getting out walking and riding – about conflict on the paths and the out-dated access laws in England.
And it doesn’t take long when talking access laws online for someone to mention the Kinder Mass Trespass as a solution to all the problems – a silver bullet to lift all the rules and regulation and open up access for everyone to the as-yet inaccessible trails we’re all dying to ride.
Anyway, it got me thinking and today I’m going to tell you why a mass trespass wouldn’t work and how it could set the goal of getting increased access for mountain bikes back years. But first, we have to go back to the 1930s, and a very different relationship between the people and the peak.
Now, back in the 30s the cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham were hugely different to the cities they are today. In Manchester, the textile industry dominated, here in Sheffield steel was king and in Birmingham manufacturing and automotive industry all led to places that were noisy, smoky and dirty. In Sheffield’s Don Valley they say you could hear the pounding of the forges around the clock and people had to go up on to the hills of the city to get out of the valleys where the smoke hung in clouds like fog. In 1930, a severe smog killed nearly 600 people in Manchester.
The desire to get away from all of that is clear.
But the high moorlands – the places we all love and take for granted today were private property – managed by gamekeepers on behalf of shooting estates who didn’t want people ranging across their land and affecting their business. This was way before footpaths and bridleways were a thing and the Peak District National Park even existed.
So, large numbers of people who live and work in dirty, smoky cities wanted to be able to get out into the hills for some fresh air – but to hills owned by estates who were more interested in the money they could make from that land through game management. They didn’t want those city folk in the hills and had the law on their side.
Now, the first right to roam legislation was brought to parliament in 1884 and voted down. It was voted down every single year from then on until 1914 when more pressing matters engulfed the country. Way back in the 1880s the desire to get out onto the peak was there.
Back in 1894 the Local Government Act was amended to include changes to Rights of Way. In 1925 the public was given access to common land.
Fast forward past a world war, a great depression and a growth in the fortunes of an industrious nation and we’re back at where I started. A heavily industrialised population wanting to get into the peak.
Benny Rothman is rightly praised for his role in organising the mass trespass of 1932. The mass trespass is also pretty fairly described as a symbolic, unique event. On the day, it’s difficult to find out exactly what happened. Either 100, 400, 600 or 3000 ramblers strode up on the hill from Hayfield and Edale to be met halfway by gamekeepers who had been ordered to keep them off. Armed with ‘their sticks’ the gamekeepers got into scuffles with some of the walkers which resulted in some custodial sentences for violent disorders.
The mass trespass itself has become something of a legendary beast; celebrated as the spark which lit the change in access rights across the country. I’d argue it was the cherry on top of a hell of a lot of other things. The desires of a growing, unhealthy, sickening industrial population wanting to get out and better themselves with basic good health. The growing rejection of the situation in which landowners had supreme rights over anyone wishing to cross their land – or their business.
The Mass Trespass was in 1932, but it wasn’t until 1949 until the legislation was passed to establish the national parks and create access.
The way it’s spoken about on some forums, you’d think Benny got up one morning, called a few of his mates to walk up Kinder and by tea time had established the Peak District National Park.
Nope – these arguments were already being made through official channels – with some success. The mass trespass focused the argument.
But it was an argument over a different subject at a different time.
Today access to the Peak District is huge. Swathes of the area – Kinder Scout, Bleaklow, Howden Moors, many of the dales – are open access; free to roam – on foot – for people wishing to get into the hills. The landscape is, quiet literally, very different from that of 1932.
Today, the access via paths is governed by rules which predominantly benefit walkers – a hugely influential lobbying body in access legislation. Are you going to be able to convince a card carrying member of Ramblers UK that allowing mountain bikers on to their sacrosanct footpaths is a good idea?
We’re fighting a different fight entirely.
Put yourself in the boots of walker.
Back in 1934, you had next to no access to the moorlands of the Peak District. Today, you have access to hundreds of miles of access land – you can go anywhere – thanks to the actions of all the campaigners and Benny.
As a walker, you’ve achieved what you want. You have the right.
As such, anybody else sharing that access is only going to be to the detriment of your own experience. And that includes mountain bikers.
We’re fighting a different fight entirely. No longer is it the united and unionised workers – the spot welders by trade – rising up against the landed gentry. No longer is it the many – because we’re all walkers – against the few. Looking at stats, we’re predominantly an affluent, educated, healthy group. We’re a growing, but still niche community.
That we want to go and ride our bikes and have a nice view isn’t quite as compelling an argument I don’t think.
It’s a different age, a different context, a different argument. And we have to fight it differently.
Thankfully, the science is in our favour. Studies repeatedly show that boots cause comparable damage to a path as tyres. Yes, a tyre track is very evident on a muddy track – but I’d argue that’s due more to pattern recognition that actual empirical evidence of damage. Internet battles abound of photos of a bike tyre track, instantly parried with a picture of a puddle and its border of boot flattened heather, ad infinitum. Cutting through the keyboard warriors and looking at the evidence, walkers and riders are united when it comes to erosion. We make that argument really well when we get into the room with the right people. A mass trespass won’t get us into that room.
But why can’t we go anywhere we would like to here in England? Well that’s where I draw a blank. As well as the growing awareness and level of responsibility in the MTB world about not riding somewhere that’s going to be damaged by us being there; the logic for sharing trails would dictate that the impact is shared more evenly. In opening trails up, the load would be spread and so reduce direct impact on hotspots.
But, it’s a hard argument to sell to the group we really need to get on side because as a walker, you already have what you want. Your access is there.
Would 100, 400, 600 or 3000 mountain bikers hoiking up the top of Kinder flick a light switch on in their heads and get them campaigning for a change in legislation? No, of course it wouldn’t.
Back in Benny’s day there were no mountain bikes. Benny rightly wanted his walking mates to be able to go the Alport Castles, Kinder Downfalls and Millstone Edges of the Peak and sit and enjoy the view. But Benny’s ‘walking mates’ was everyone, bar the landowners and gamekeepers.
Times are different. Benny might pushed it over the line for the walkers, and now we as mountain bikers need them on our side. We need the horse riders and we need you lot.
A mass trespass is only ever going to galvanise the tribal, anti-positions of the most vocal of groups; including the anti- group who would happily photograph and share muddy tyre tracks in the woods as ‘evidence’ of the greater damage caused by mountain bikers. Despite the changes Benny accelerated, power still rests with the landowners.
We’ve got to get beyond this daft romantic myth that mountain bikers are somehow a group of rebels. We’re not. We’re plumbers, middle managers, driving instructors. We’re teachers, firefighters, bank workers and architects.
Benny Rothman was a different person, representing a different group, in a different time, fighting different fight.
Embrace the spirit of kinder by all means, but today, but let’s leave the mass trespass to the information panels and the history books and look forward to better access done the right way. If Scotland and Wales are anything to go by, it’s coming.