Thanks Benny

I feel sometimes in the developed world we take a lot of things for granted. Sure, everyday things like running water, sanitation and a largely accessible health service are probably what spring to mind first. Some things are the result of an individual’s idea, a war, or a similar struggle somewhere and can easily be forgotten as generations come and go or not even questioned as to why we have certain privileges. I think that global events like the two world wars will not be forgotten in a hurry although the sacrifices made by millions on either side, as well as civilians, all in the name of the freedom, it can be argued, could be seen as taken for granted nowadays. A prime example is the right to vote. The percentage turnouts for recent general elections have been low, yet a hundred years ago, women were willing to die or go to prison for that privilege.

All of these are massive, world-changing events, but there are seemingly smaller things in our lives that we owe to people who have sacrificed something, or stood up and fought for something not just for them but for everyone. I bet you’re wondering firstly, where this is going, and secondly, what the hell it has to do with the outdoors. Worry not, I’m getting back on track.

If you’re reading this blog because you’re an outdoors lover, or nature enthusiast then you’ll surely be (if you’re in the UK) able to access green, open countryside where you can escape and enjoy your interests at will. You can do this most of the year and even enjoy a picnic in the hills, or by a mountain lake. But a hundred years ago, you would have ran into big trouble attempting it. That all changed, and here’s how.

On 24th April 1932, three groups of walkers (one group as large as 400) set out to walk across open countyside on Kinder Scout, the highest peak in England’s Peak District. They were led by Benny Rothman, a Socialist, and Conservationist. A man after my own heart. Today, this very same route is walked each weekend in the summer by walkers in their drives, however the 1932 excursion was in order to highlight the fact that walkers weren’t allowed to do it. The three groups walked Kinder Scout and along the way were involved in a few altercations, mainly with gamekeepers. On the return journey, a handful were arrested, not for the act of trespassing, but for the violent nature of the altercations, and some served jail terms.

What followed was a constant campaign, spearheaded by the Ramblers’ Association. It paved the way for the National Parks Access and Countryside Act of 1949, which addressed the access issue, as well as essentially setting up National Parks in England. Eventually, in 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was set up, defining open access land and rights of way for everybody. If you’ve ever heard of the ‘right to roam’ in England and Wales, this is it. We all have the right to access open land (defined on a map) and remain as long as we wish in the pursuit of leisure, as long as respect for both the land and other users is adhered to.

Because of this, we are pretty lucky in the UK to have this in place. When compared to other countries, we are privileged. For a mountain lover like me, I am indebted to the campaigns that have gone before me to give me, essentially, an escape, a way of life, a reason to think beyond the realms of capitalism and gadgets. So thanks Benny Rothman, we all owe you one.

Roll up, roll up! It’s free!

It probably wasn’t a great philosopher that said it, but things are better when they’re free aren’t they?

Free drinks? Go on then! Free food? Great! Free money? Have I died and gone to heaven? What about free exercise? Technically all exercise is free, after you’ve paid out for the kit and equipment you’re going to need, because the outdoors is free.

Gyms aren’t normally free though, but let’s ignore those for now as this is a family show, geared at getting out, not in. In my opinion, the best free stuff is stuff you can enjoy with others. This also supports my opinion that sport should be accessible to all, regardless of status and income. Every weekend, I kick things off with my local ParkRun. These are free to take part in, are timed and you get a placing. At my local, we get over 300 people a week, all abilities, with multiple goals and motivation. For me, it is about the challenge through the year of chasing the elusive personal best, and largely about the community feeling that goes with it. We welcome new runners almost every week as well as running and chatting with familiar faces. If you asked everyone, you’d probably get a different answer every time. I personally look forward to Saturday mornings as I’m sure others do too. As it’s a free event, it is ran on a tight budget by volunteers. You can in turn volunteer some weeks to put a little bit back into it.

We’re very lucky in my part of the world to have free access (both physically and financially) to public rights of way, making walking in scenic or rural areas realistic for the majority. All you need to do is treat those areas with respect. Of course, aside from the physical benefits of being out in the open, there’s the mental health boost too, fighting depression and stress.

If you want to get fit, what can you do for nothing where you live? If there aren’t many options, could you create a group? The possibilities are relatively endless!