Celebrating 70 years of the Peak District National Park
It’s hard to imagine now but the stunning beauty of the Peak District National Park hasn’t always been as accessible for people to enjoy as it is today.
Indeed, it took the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout back in 1932 to pave the way for the creation of the UK’s national parks. The Peak District National Park became the first - and this weekend it will mark its 70th anniversary.
The mass trespass saw 400 ramblers gather at Bowden Bridge Quarry, Hayfield, to exercise what they saw as their right to walk on the land. However, they were met by gamekeepers and scuffles broke out.
Five trespassers were imprisoned. After the skirmish, the demonstrators continued along the path through William Clough and were joined by other ramblers who had walked via Kinder and Edale Cross.
In the years that followed, the national parks principle was established with the Government passing an Act of Parliament to establish National Parks in 1949. The Peak District was established two years later in 1951, and this was followed by numerous others throughout the rest of the decade, including the Lake District, the North York Moors, and Exmoor.
Roly Smith, who is known affectionately as Mr Peak District and was an information officer for the national park for many years, hopes that people never forget the mass trespass.
He said: “People were arrested for being out walking, something we now take for granted but it was a different time and it was those brave people who paved the way for the creation of the national parks as we know them today."
Now, 70 years after its creation, the Peak District National Park covers 555 sq miles and reaches into five counties; Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
Roly said: “On the doorsteps of millions of people is the country’s most accessible park – it is close to such big cities and that is why it is still one of the country’s most popular national parks and still very much needed.
"For years people would have looked out of their windows and seen the hills and would never have been able to walk on them but for the last 70 years that has changed and it has pulled people out of the cities and into our wonderful countryside.”
The Peak District welcomes more than 13 million people each year and following the first coronavirus lockdown, the numbers of those using some of the traffic-free trails to exercise doubled to almost 4,000 a day, nearly 230,000 visits over a three month period.
Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “I believe as people we are innately drawn to nature.
"As you enter the National Park there is a real sense of beauty and tranquility and a connection to nature.
"It is so important to create opportunities for nature to thrive and people to get that connection and experiences of our best landscapes, that sense of everyday life slowing for a moment allowing us to pause.”
Mum-of-two Kirsty Snelling contacted the Advertiser to share her memories of the Peak District, calling it her haven during the first lockdown. She said: “My two boys, who were six and eight last year, love the Peak District and during the first lockdown we walked out in the national park everyday.
"It was a chance for us to get out and let off some steam and have no worries for an hour or so. I got them up early and we watched the sunrise over Mam Tor which was very special or we’d bike around Ladybower.
"My husband is in the armed forces so we have had to relocate to Cambridge but I’m so thankful to the Peak District and the wonderful memories it gave us.”
One of the key developments in the early days of the Peak District National Park was the creation of the ranger service in 1954. Tom Tomlinson was the national park’s first ranger, appointed to work as a warden in the Peak District in January, with the Voluntary Warden Service later being launched on Good Friday. Wardens are still used today to help people appreciate the vast countryside.
The national park is so large that it features 26,000 miles of dry stone wall – which is equivalent to a wall around the Earth. It has 202 square miles of open access land – open to walkers without having to stay on paths – and 1,600 miles of public rights of way footpaths, bridleways and tracks. The Peak District National Park Authority owns and manages 34 miles of traffic-free trails, mostly along former rail routes.
In order to maintain and protect the national park for future generations, a new charity called the Peak District National Park Foundation was set up in 2019 with the aim of raising £70,000 to mark the 70th anniversary. However, as the anniversary approaches this weekend, the foundation has so far raised an incredible £130,000.
Foundation chair Jen Lowthrop, said: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us reach our first major fundraising target and more.
“The Peak District National Park’s 70th birthday is a time to reflect and there’s lots to celebrate.
"Without the protections of a National Park designation, the Peak District would look very different but there is still much more to do.
"Our National Park is facing massive challenges, but with your help we can help combat climate change,support nature recovery, maintain our heritage and habitats and ensure the National Park is accessible and welcoming to all.
“The things we do today will help our National Park thrive tomorrow, and for many generations to come.”