Acting editor of The Great Outdoors magazine reflects on how access laws, Benny Rothman and the British Mountaineering Council have been instrumental in the evolution of hillwalking.
Hillwalking has seen some major developments since communist activist Benny Rothman and his team trespassed Kinder Scout in a mission to bring walkers the freedom to roam, but acting editor of The Great Outdoors (TGO), Daniel Neilson, says the effects of increased hillwalking means our duty to protect the hills is greater than it has ever been.
Neilson has a long-standing passion for the great outdoors and with a background in adventure travel writing, the 36-year-old has seen first-hand the huge impact The Kinder Trespass has had on hillwalking, hillwalkers and the hills themselves across the UK.
Rothman’s trespass in 1932 may have caused a few unpleasant scuffles between those who simply wanted access to hills and those who owned the land, but it was the key moment in changing laws and opening up access to land in the UK.
“Hillwalking used to be quite a niche thing to do, but now it’s a mass market activity,” Neilson says. People certainly have become incredibly passionate about hillwalking. TGO’s loyal readership over the last 35 years is proof enough.
While we may have access to the mountains now, there are still a number of restrictions in England and Wales; wild camping being one of them. When it comes to access to wilderness, Scotland is one of the most progressive countries in the world says the Eastbourne-based editor.
“Lots of people would like to see the same kind of freedom across the rest of the UK,” says Neilson. “In England and Wales you’re not supposed to wild camp without the landowner’s permission, although various National Parks, like Dartmoor accept it. In Snowdonia, if you arrive late and leave early and leave no trace, they won’t often know you’ve been there, and in the Lakes as long as you camp higher than the highest fence and away from the public highway you’re generally OK. But every time you’re supposed to get the land owner’s permission.”
A number of organisations have sprung up, working both to protect the mountains and to further promote the increasingly popular leisure pastime. Neilson identifies the Rambler’s Association, the National Parks Association and the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) as three such institutions.
However, the increasing footfall on UK hills and mountains, as well as the rise in charity challenges, such as the Three Peaks Challenge, has resulted in increased path erosion; a concerning matter for dedicated hillwalkers.
“The problem of path erosion has caused National Parks and authorities, even charities to create quite solid walkways. Some don’t mind it, others absolutely loathe it. Over recent decades routes have become a lot more funnelled to go up certain mountains, like Scafell Pike and Snowdon,” Neilson says.
Cairns are also on the increase. “At the top of Scafell Pike they’re everywhere. Some people hate the fact they’re there and go and kick them down. When there’s one every 30 metres it does begin to feel like you’re on a highway,” Neilson admits.
But we can still help protect the hills we have been given the privilege of enjoying by following some basic guidelines. “The really obvious one is sticking to paths,” says Neilson. “People put those paths in for a reason and not sticking to them can lead to us losing lots of flora. It’s certainly happened in Snowdonia, paths seem to be getting ever wider.
“I’m also always amazed at how much litter I see. I think it’s just really simple things. Exploring other mountains and getting off the main trails is another way to increase your enjoyment, because you’re seeing something different and you’re not just following everyone else,” Neilson concludes.
If you're looking for more off-route walks, check out The Great Outdoors' Wild Walks and keep an eye out for my alternative route up Y Garn, Snowdonia in TGO's February issue out on 4 January 2014.