Fifty years ago today, on 24 April 1965, the Pennine Way was opened. This was the first of Britain’s long-distance paths (now called national trails in England and Wales) and the event took place on Malham Moor with the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, Fred Willey, in attendance.
The path was the inspiration of Tom Stephenson, secretary of the Ramblers and a committee member of the Open Spaces Society. The opening was the fulfilment of a 30-year dream. In 1935 Tom received a letter from two American girls asking for advice about a tramping holiday in England and mentioning their acquaintance with the 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail. Tom was outdoor writer for the Daily Herald and was inspired to publish an article on 22 June 1935 entitled WANTED—A Long Green Trail.
He wondered ‘what will our visitors think of one of the most prevalent features in our landscape—”Trespassers will be prosecuted”? Wherever they go, from Kent to Cornwall, from Sussex to the Solway, they will see these wooden liars … They will discover that though walking is a most popular pastime with thousands of devotees, yet neither nationally nor locally has there been any serious effort to meet the needs of the growing army of young folk attracted to the healthiest form of recreation.’
He goes on to suggest that we should ‘press for something akin to the Appalachian Trail—a Pennine Way from the Peak to the Cheviots’.
And so the idea was born and, following a long campaign led by Tom, long-distance paths were included in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and eventually came into being. Now there are 16 national trails throughout England and Wales and many more long-distance and promoted routes.
But with funding cuts, to Natural England (which used to provide 75 per cent of the funding for the English national trails) and to local authorities, the trails’continued maintenance and promotion are under threat. Yet their economic benefits are huge.
It is vital, in this 50th anniversary year of the first of the national trails, that we continue to invest in them—to attract not only those American trampers but the millions of people from Britain and overseas who want to experience our unparalleled countryside and walking opportunities.