06 February 2019 by Terry Howard
With some slight curiosity I wondered who would be meeting me and my Rambler colleagues from Sheffield Ramblers, when we reached Edale Railway Station. We had been invited by Ramblers central office to meet Michael Portillo and his film crew to take part in filming for his BBC Two programme, Great British Railway Journeys.
The theme was how a railway line, linking Sheffield and Manchester through the Peak District, had opened up the High Peaks to ramblers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
We alighted the train at Edale and an enthusiastic man in bright coloured trousers and jacket rushed towards us to great us; ‘Hello, I'm Michael Portillo.....’ he said. We then set off on a short walk through the village of Edale and up towards the iconic Kinder Scout via the scenic Grindsbrook Clough. Michael asked about the early rambling ‘pioneers’ who had ventured into these hills and, most importantly, why they had done it. We discussed how the dirty and filthy working conditions of people from Sheffield and Manchester forced them to escape to the hills and moors for fresh air and recreation. It became a ‘mass escape’, albeit for just a short while.
There were no buses or cars at this time so the train served as the escape route to the Peaks. Weekend trains through the Hope Valley were jammed with ramblers wanting to get out there. We talked of the early pioneers such as GHB Ward of Sheffield who formed what was considered the first working man and woman's rambling club in 1900 in the north, if not in the UK. Bert Ward, as he was known to his rambling friends, helped form the Ramblers Association in 1935 at Longshaw in the Peaks. We considered why Ward was such an advocate of getting people out into the hills and moors. He often spoke of the trinity of legs, eyes and mind: legs to get you out for health and exercise, eyes to look and explore and mind to ‘free the spirit’, to think and to reflect on life.
We branched off the main path towards ‘Ringing Roger’, a rock outcrop above us, and sat and gloried at the views up Grindsbrook towards the summit of Kinder. It seemed a little bit unreal – here we were sitting in our usual outdoor gear talking to a smiling, brightly clad chap. He seemed genuinely interested in what we were saying and what we brought to show him: the early Clarion Ramblers Hand books of 1907 and 1908. He wondered at the art work of them, the contents of collected thought and the walks programme for those years. Virtually all the walks and rambles used the Hope Valley railway line as it was the only way to reach these hills and moors. It was the ramblers’ lifeline.
However it brought with it "conflict" between ramblers and Grouse Moor Owners and their keepers. This was the start of the one hundred year campaign for the right to roam which culminated in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
We walked back to Edale, continuing to talk about public access, the benefits of this particular railway line and the seductive and fantastic views of the Edale Valley and Kinder Scout.
Read more about Kinder Scout and the history of the Ramblers.