The Rambler's Association is a British organisation which "exists to facilitate, for the benefit of everyone, the enjoyment and discovery that walking outdoors can bring, and to promote respect for the life of the countryside". They do this by actively encouraging walking, protecting public rights of way and campaigning for freedom to roam
During the 19th century, people were increasingly turning to the countryside for recreation, as a necessary escape from burgeoning industrialisation. Sadly, many of the places people wanted to walk were owned or controlled by rich landowners, who wanted to preserve the right to roam for themselves. There was an existing network of public footpaths, but many of them were blocked across private land.
Unsurprisingly, given the political climate, many groups sprang up to protect the rights of walkers, most especially in the Industrial North and the Black Country. Two of these groups, the Association for the Protection of Ancient Footpaths in the Vicinity of York (1824) and the Manchester Association for the Preservation of Ancient Footpaths (1826), formed the vanguard for a number of other, localised groups.
In 1865 the Commons Preservation Society began in London, to fight for open spaces in the City, and the campaign began to spread, the flames fanned by luminaries such as John Stuart Mill and James Bryce MP, who introduced the Access to Mountains (Scotland) Bill in Parliament in 1884.
Beginning in 1892, a number of federations began to appear all over the country, beginning with the West of Scotland Ramblers' Alliance. In 1905 the Federation of Rambling Clubs was formed when representatives from about a dozen groups met to discuss their common goals, of opening up the counryside, and granting access to open spaces and common land.
For both the working class and intellectuals, these issues were important. Cloth cap and mortarboard discussed, agreed and protested together, and many local groups merged, allowing a united voice and greater visibility.
During the early 1900s, it became clear that only with a national body could all their protests be heard at the highest level. Consequently, delegates from associations and groups throughout the country met at Longshaw in the Peak District in 1931. The outcome was the formation of the National Council of Ramblers' Federations.
Conflict and Trespass
In 1932, conflict arose between ramblers and landowners over access to the Derbyshire grouse moors. A mass trespass on Kinder Scout was organised, during which several ramblers were arrested and imprisoned. The feelings of the protesters may be read in Ewan MacColl's song The Manchester Rambler. The National Council opposed these tactics, however, and refused to endorse the event.
These same tactics of mass trespass were used down to the 1970s, when a number of landowners once again blocked access to public rights of way, and builders planned housing estates which spanned public paths.
The Rambler's Association
The National Council of Ramblers' Federations produced a diary and accommodation guide, and in 1933 produced the first issue of the council's journal, Rambling (the predecessor of the Rambler). In 1934 the decision was taken to change the council's name, and so on 1 January 1935 the Ramblers' Association was officially founded.
Growing from about 1,200 members and 300 clubs, the Association began to become more involved with lobbying for change, abd succeeded in securing the introduction of the 1939 Access to Mountains Bill, but ironically, ended up opposing the bill due to amendments and clauses which limited access and penalised supposed trespassers. Despite this, the bill became law, although it was never used and was subsequently repealed.
Plans for a series of national parks were now taking shape. In 1941 the Ramblers submitted ideas to the government on both this and the creation of long-distance footpath routes. One outcome was a report by John Dower for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning in 1945, outlining what and where parks should be located. This was a turning point for ramblers.
After a vigorous campaign, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act became law in 1949. It enabled making access agreements to specific areas of open country, and ensured that all footpaths would be surveyed and recorded on definitive maps. It also allowed for the creation of official long-distance paths, and of course led to the establishment of national parks. Ten parks were quickly established, the first of which was the Peak National Park in 1951. Several agreements were won allowing public access in the Peak District, and later some in the Yorkshire Dales and the Forest of Bowland.
The modern Rambler's continue this work, and continue to campaign for responsible access to rural walking, as demonstrated recently by their support for the closure of foothpaths to control foot and mouth disease.