The Manchester Rambler
Words and Music by Ewan MacColl
MacColl was always a keen hill walker - not just for the pleasure and enjoyment of the countryside, but also because it represented a political freedom. He believed that the land ultimately belonged to the people, not the landowners or the Crown, and the freedom to roam the hills and valleys was of crucial importance to his socialist ideals. Living and working in the Manchester area for much of his life, he writes here with intimate knowledge of The Lake District, but he spent much time walking in Kent and The Cotswolds.
This is a timely song, in view of an increasing movement in Britain for more freedom to roam the land away from set paths. The Rambler's Association is agitating, as it always has, to allow more freedom to explore the British countryside.
Scotland has very different laws - here, access is much more open, and provided you do not cause damage, the law allows you to roam almost anywhere, although most landowners will set out and mark footpaths for everyone's protection.
In this day, as at the time of writing, access to the countryside is under threat. This time, it's not selfish landowners that are causing the problem, but developers who are changing the countryside out of all proportion. In some parts of England, especially in the Midlands, village footpaths are rerouted as new developments are built, with the result that once-pleasant walks alongside rivers, or through woodlands, now meander between brick walls.
The feeling that the countryside belongs to us all, is common to many. Those people working the land are often bowled out of the way by "progress" as larger corporate farms take over from the small landowner. Access to the countryside may be better, but it is, in some areas, just not as pretty as once it was.
On New Year's Eve last year, my girlfriend and I were standing near Knock Pike in Cumbria, talking to a hill farmer, all my senses drinking in the chilly countryside. The full recognition of these verses hit home to me - this shepherd was on his way back from feeding his flocks, scattered across the hillsides as we were setting out on an afternoon's walk, and yet he directed us the best way down the valley. This was 'his' land more than anyone else's, and yet was more than happy to share with us this legacy of countryside, a stark contrast to the keeper of the song. Truly, Ewan would have been proud of him.
The Manchester Rambler
I've been over Snowdon, I've slept upon Crowdon
I've camped by the Waynestones as well
I've sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder
And many more things I can tell
My rucksack has oft been me pillow
The heather has oft been my bed
And sooner than part from the mountains
I think I would rather be dead
I'm a rambler, I'm a rambler from Manchester way
I get all me pleasure the hard moorland way
I may be a wage slave on Monday
But I am a free man on Sunday
The day was just ending and I was descending
Down Grinesbrook just by Upper Taw
When a voice cried "Hey you" in the way keepers do
He'd the worst face that ever I saw
The things that he said were unpleasant
In the teeth of his fury I said
"Sooner than part from the mountains
I think I would rather be dead"
He called me a louse and said "Think of the grouse"
Well I thought, but I still couldn't see
Why all Kinder Scout and the moors round about
Couldn't take both the poor grouse and me
He said "All this land is my master's"
At that I stood shaking me head
No man has the right to own mountains
Any more than the deep ocean bed
Striding out across hill and moor gives me the greatest of pleasure. I am in good company with hundreds of thousands of people who truly love the countryside with all it has to offer. We must fight for this freedom, along with all others.