A walk in the country

Bowden Bridge kinder scout plaque

Now that spring is in the air, it’s the ideal time to dust off the cobwebs, don some sturdy boots and get out into the countryside.

Walking for pleasure is one of the most popular pastimes in Britain today, and an excellent form of exercise to burn off some weight and improve fitness.

It’s a common sight these days to see groups of ramblers in brightly coloured waterproofs striding out across the countryside, and of course the National Trust is the perfect place to find some of the most spectacular scenery in Britain. 

Today, the Trust looks after 250,000 hectares of land and more than 780 miles of coastline. But did you know that modern ramblers partly owe their freedom to roam to people like William Straw, who in the early years of the 20th century campaigned to make large tracts of privately-owned land accessible to the masses.

The Straw family were fond of walking and the brothers, William and Walter, were commonly seen as they walked around the town and surrounding countryside. 

William Straw was an enthusiastic supporter of the rights of people to access tracks and roads across private land, called rights of way, and he sat on the Worksop Borough Council public rights of way committee. He was invited to join them in a letter dated 6th March 1951 following their inaugural meeting on 19th February. 

Inspired by the family’s love of rambling, we run a series of guided walks, taking some of their favourite routes and stopping at some of the significant places in their lives. 

The ‘Worksop Walk’ covers their working and leisure hours, passing their former shop, which is remarkably well preserved, and the church where they worshipped. The ‘Towpath Trek’ follows the Chesterfield Canal as it flows through the town, a haven for wildlife in the midst of the urban landscape. 

The ‘Straw’s Stroll’ takes walkers out to Mr Straw’s House’s sister property, Clumber Park and explores the links between the family and the ducal estate. Finally, the ‘Red Lane Ramble’ is a winter walk, following the route taken by the brothers on their regular Christmas excursion.

Shenfield Common, Brentwood, 1926
Shenfield Common Brentwood 1926
Shenfield Common, Brentwood, 1926

Rambling as a pastime has its origins in the Romantic movement of the 18th century, when attitudes to nature and landscape transformed walking from the last resort of the poor traveller, to a fashionable pursuit. 

The Lakeland poets introduced the public to the relatively unknown landscapes of the north west and the fledgling tourism industry was taking off in the early years of the 19th century. As industrialisation spread across the country, and people moved into the towns and cities, there was nostalgia for the countryside and a need to get away from the polluted streets into clean air and sunshine.

As the early 20th century brought shorter working hours and paid holidays, ordinary people now had the leisure to get out into the countryside. 

However, it was at this point that the lack of accessible land became apparent. Huge areas of land in the north, especially around cities like Sheffield and Manchester were privately owned. In places such as the Peak District, trespassers faced being forcibly ejected and possibly prosecuted. 
Rambler’s groups began lobbying for access, and demonstrations such as the ‘mass trespass’ onto Kinder Scout in 1932, when several hundred protestors marched to the summit, increased pressure on the government to act. It was only after the second world war however that the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed, and the first National Park was created in the Peak District. 

Today, after the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, the amount of land accessible to the public has expanded considerably, a tribute to the perseverance of people like William Straw, who campaigned so effectively for walkers’ rights.