An inscribed stone commemorates the original demonstration

An inscribed stone commemorates the original demonstration. Photo: The Milestone Society

Campaigners will gather this weekend to mark the 125th anniversary of a milestone in the rights of the public to access England’s uplands.

Kate Ashbrook, who will speak to a planned gathering at Winter Hill, said there is still a long way to go to achieve the desired right to roam for outdoor enthusiasts.

The mass demonstration on Winter Hill in Lancashire took place in 1896, pre-dating the better known Kinder Scout mass trespass in Derbyshire by 36 years.

Ms Ashbrook, who is general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, spoke at a Winter Hill centenary event 25 years ago and will be at the gathering on Sunday.

She said: “On 6 September 1896, ten thousand brave people from Bolton asserted their right to use Coal Pit Road, the main path to Winter Hill, which the landowner Colonel Ainsworth had obstructed with a locked gate, ‘keep out’ notices, and gamekeepers.

Kate Ashbrook: 'freedoms still denied'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Kate Ashbrook: 'freedoms still denied'. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

“While today we can enjoy that path by right, our freedoms are still being denied to us, though perhaps more insidiously.

“Green spaces, where people have roamed free and children have played, are being trashed and built on apace. Country paths are made hostile by fencing, CCTV notices and big gates.

“Local authorities do not have the resources to defend paths and green spaces as they have done in the past, yet these have never been more valued for our health and wellbeing, as demonstrated by the pandemic.”

Ms Ashbrook pointed to planned UK Government legislation which, she said, risks increasing hostility to outdoor enthusiasts.

“Government is extending the criminalisation of trespass in ways which, although it claims will not catch innocent walkers, riders and cyclists, will create a mood of intimidation in the countryside,” she said.

“We have yet to see the government honour its promise that post-Brexit agricultural subsidies will fund more and better access, yet there is a great opportunity here to ensure that landowners and famers promote public recreation in return for the public money they receive.

“And government has refused to create targets for public access in the Environment Bill currently in parliament, despite the ambitions for access stated in its 25-year plan.

“So it is a frustrating time for access campaigners, but we shall not give up. The trespassers on Winter Hill 125 years ago set us a fine example and we shall for ever follow in their footsteps.”

Winter Hill lies north-west of Bolton and rises to a height of 456m (1,496ft). It is now open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. In 2018 was the scene of a major wildfire, which burned for 41 days and caused widespread damage to moorland on the hill.

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