Best wishes for all who have followed the blog this year. I hope you all have a great Christmas and a peaceful new year.
We’ve had some splendid walks this year. I have no “walk of the year”, for we’ve enjoyed them all. But our first ascent of Cross Fell – the highest top in the Pennines – has to be up there on the list. A terrific ascent and we hope to do it again this coming year from a different direction.
But one of the joys this past year has been our exploration of the countryside of County Durham. County Durham doesn’t seem to score highly on destinations when you talk to walkers, which is a great pity. It offers a terrific variety of scenery, some excellent footpaths and bridleways and lots of good, remote countryside. Do look at some of the blogs to see where we’ve walked.
There have been some disasters for walkers this year, notably the de-registering of common land in the Pennines, where the MoD has snatched the fells above Murton and Hilton. If they think that’s going to deter yours truly from walking there, well, they’re in for a shock!
Time, this coming year, for a bit more militancy in the rambling movement. Where was the big rally on Murton Pike against the thieving of common land? I’ve been active in the rambling movement for over fifty years, but it seems to me that rambling organisations have become too much part of the Establishment…
Where has the fight gone?
I remember the happy days of Forbidden Britain campaigns and trespasses. Where did it all go wrong? With our wild countryside and national parks and AONBs under threat why aren’t they out there battling? Apart from the worthy Open Spaces Society, I hear very little about actual active campaigning.
So this coming year I intend to be far more critical of threats to our countryside and our right to walk across it. It’s important not just to walk but to put something back. Our great outdoors is not just some vast gymnasium, but a precious resource that needs protecting.
I salute the good folk of Brighton who are fighting to stop building over their precious nature reserve. I applaud the farmers and villagers of Murton and Hilton who took on the MoD. Neither battle is over.
So lets get militant, folks…
Enjoy and celebrate our walks but stand up and be counted when our rights to walk and our countryside are threatened…
I’m appalled that the Ministry of Defence is applying to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop Commons near to Appleby -in what Commons campaigner Kate Ashbrook has described as “the biggest threat to Common Land Since the Enclosure Movement”.
Now we walk a great deal on these threatened lands, which are part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s stunning scenery and offers real wild walking of the finest quality.
I hope this will be vigorously resisted.
Friends of the Lake District say:
Cumbria County Council has announced a two day public inquiry into the applications by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop Commons, near Appleby in Westmorland.
These commons represent 3% of the stock of common land in Cumbria. 15 years ago the MoD applied to extinguish the common rights over the land to give them more control and flexibility. At that time, they stated categorically that they would not apply to deregister the land as common land. This is now precisely what they have done, with little or no evidence as to why. The applications are strongly opposed by ourselves, the Open Spaces Society (OSS), the Foundation for Common Land, the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners, and the local residents.
The inquiry will take place on 12 – 13 September and will be Barrister led. It will only focus on the legal issues surrounding the applications. This is very complex and the OSS has engaged their own Barrister to present their case which we support. There are issues of principle at stake here, namely the fact that the applications are completely at odds with Government policy on common land, that the MoD expressly undertook not to deregister the commons, and also that we believe the applications do not meet the legislative requirements.
Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary – The Open Spaces Society writes:
Local and national organisations(1) are campaigning to stop the Ministry of Defence from destroying a vast area of Cumbria’s cultural history. The MoD wants to deregister three large upland commons(2)and turn them into private land. Objectors say the deregistration would be unlawful and flies in the face of undertakings made by the MoD, at a public inquiry, to keep the commons registered in perpetuity(3).
MoD will privatise around 1% (4,500 hectares) of England’s total common land(4) if Cumbria County Council grants it permission(5). This would be the largest enclosure since the major enclosures of commons in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The threatened commons are to the north-east of Appleby-in-Westmorland, in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
If the land is deregistered, it will bring to an end hundreds of years of tradition of upland commoning, and the farming community, which used to have vital grazing rights over this land, would be denied any opportunity in future to graze their stock there.
The land would also lose protection against encroachment and development since works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in addition to any planning permission.
William Patterson of the Hilton Commoners’ Association said: ‘When the MOD negotiated the buy-out and extinguishment of the commoners’ grazing rights (known as ‘stints’) on Hilton Fell, Murton Fell and Warcop Fell, one of the fundamental issues was MoD’s agreement to leave the fells on the commons register. On the strength of this undertaking, the commoners accepted the buy-out. It is a breach of trust that the MoD now wants to cancel that undertaking without making a further agreement. I believe that to safeguard the future of these fells the land must remain on the commons register.’
Julia Aglionby of Foundation for Common Land commented: ‘Common land is the most valuable and protected type of land in England, an immensely precious resource for society that has already been reduced to a mere 3% of England’s area. The MoD’s arguments for deregistering 11,000 acres of commons at Warcop are spurious, legally contestable and not in the national interest.’
Viv Lewis of The Federation of Cumbria Commoners said: ‘The Federation is very much opposed to the MoD’s proposal to de-register Hilton, Murton and Warcop commons. Common land is important to hill farmers and makes up some of our most treasured landscapes. If the hills stop being common land and the commoners lose their rights to graze and the sheep leave the hills, what’s to become of the uplands?’
Jan Darrall, of Friends of the Lake District added: ‘The three commons of Warcop, Hilton and Murton amount to 3% of Cumbria’s common land. There is no foundation for the MoD to deregister our commons and destroy our cultural heritage and to deny local use. They gave undertakings during the 2001 Inquiry that the land would remain as common land and are now reneging on this so as to have total control over the land for who knows what? We need to fight for our rich common land to remain for all to enjoy.’
Hugh Craddock, of the Open Spaces Society commented: ‘For too long, the MoD has wasted taxpayers’ money ruminating on theoretical risks to the future of the Warcop training estate which have no substance in reality. Now the MoD is wasting more money, and other people’s time, on pursuing an application for deregistration of the Warcop, Hilton and Murton commons which is not only unnecessary and misguided, but entirely contrary to undertakings it previously gave. We shall fight the MoD in its pointless campaign which has dragged on for too long. We hope that the MoD sees sense and withdraws its application, and focuses its resources on managing the Warcop commons in accordance with the commitments it gave in 2002.’
1 The organisations are: Hilton Commoners’ Association, Cumbria Federation of Commons, the Foundation for Common Land, the Friends of the Lake District, and the Open Spaces Society.
2 Common land is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights. The public has the right to walk on nearly all commons, and to ride on many. Any works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, in addition to any planning permission.
The three registered Commons are Hilton, Murton and Warcop. The applications to Cumbria County Council are listed as CA14/3 -CL26 Murton; CA14/4 -CL27 Hilton Fell; & -CL122 Burton Fell and Warcop Fell.
3 A public inquiry, held in Appleby in 2001, led to all grazing rights on the commons being bought out by the MoD. In return the MoD created some additional access opportunities on Murton Common and undertook not to deregister the Commons. It also undertook to create new common rights to ensure that the commons would exist in perpetuity. These limited rights were never delivered by the MoD.
4 Cumbria contains around 31% of the registered common land in England which is mostly in the uplands—the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North Pennines. The area covered by commons in Cumbria is 112,786 ha and these three commons cover some 4,500 ha.
5 Cumbria County Council is the commons registration authority for the county and has received three applications from the MoD to deregister the commons of Murton, Hilton and Warcop. The Council will determine the applications but the objectors believe that if it approves them, it would not be in accordance with the Commons Act 2006.
Look on the Ordnance Survey map and you’ll often see paths going apparently nowhere. Marked clearly and then stopping dead. But don’t be deceived, for paths which don’t seem to connect to anywhere can often lead to a fascinating walking trip – contrary to my title, all paths go somewhere.
A fortnight ago, we used one of these tracks leading from Murton village in the North Pennines to access Murton Pike – the surrounding fells were covered in snow. Yesterday, we did it again on the best Spring day this year.
If you look at the map of Murton and its Pike, you’ll see the track clearly marked, winding round the south-east side of the Pike and petering out just south of Burnt Crag. Or so you’d think… In fact the line of the track on the OS map bears little resemblance to the actual track, which winds far more than the marked route.
A beautiful morning as we set out from Murton, so odd to see these hillsides without snow. We talked to a villager about the fells on either side of Gasdale and picked up some useful walking information. This walk is at the edge of the army’s Warcop Firing Range, which we stayed outside, though we flirted with its boundary.
Climbing up the track, a gradual ascent, gave us some wonderful views across the Eden Valley to the distant Lakeland Fells and the high country towards Stainmore and Kirkby Stephen. But this time we didn’t leave the track for the summit of Murton Pike, determined to find out just why it seems to stop dead in the middle of nowhere.
Only of course it doesn’t stop dead at all. True, the hard-surfaced track ends and the map’s public right of way with it. But as the track ends, several paths take off in varying directions, offering an opportunity to explore these quiet Pennine hills.
If the Lake District didn’t exist so close nearby, these hills would be thronged with walkers. But we saw nobody at all on these neglected highlands. So do come and explore…
One path from the end of the track leads across to High Cup Nick – we’re saving that for another day. Instead, we took a faint path around Gasdale Head, so that we might see White Mines – an extensive area of ancient lead mining. We briefly passed through the outer military range warning notices for just a few yards, but you are safe enough as long as you don’t go further in.
On the way across the fell, we saw frogspawn in puddles, put up a black grouse and heard endless skylarks and a peewit. This is an area much frequented by jackdaws.
White Mines is a wonderful example of Pennine industrial archaeology. The whole level of the hillside above was torn asunder by a Hush – where miners would dam water at the top of the hill and release it in one great torrent to clear the topsoil and expose the ore. The remnants of the Hush are there in a torn apart, jagged and craggy landscape.
But the miners tunneled into the hillside too – one of their beautiful and stone-lined adits is there awaiting exploration. We went in, though you can only journey some thirty feet before a fall blocks your way. Worth doing though, to see how skilfully made was this entrance to the mine.
Above its entrance was a wrecked tractor. The villager told us that a local farmer was driving it above the Hush when it fell in. Luckily he was able to jump clear before it tumbled down.
Hard to imagine the noise and the intrusion made by these mines when they were in use. So peaceful now, especially on a balmy Spring day when the bees hum.
We strolled down on old miners’ track back into Murton after a morning’s walk into a different world from the busier valley below.
Which all goes to show that you should never ignore a path that seems to come to a dead end. You never know what wonders await you.
I’ve written on previous blogs about the dramatic Murton Pike, which rises above the village of the same name, on the River Eden edge of the North Pennines.
The mightiest of the three great pikes you see as you travel along the A66 through the Eden Valley – the others being Knock Pike and Dufton Pike.
It’s an easy climb from Murton Village. We did it the other day when this grand hill was covered in snow, taking the track leading away from the village which leads to the back of the Pike. An interesting track, which probably came about as an access route for the many lead mines which once worked the neighbouring fell.
The view from the summit is quite spectacular: wild stretches of the Pennines to the east, the lush Eden Valley to the west and Wild Boar Fell and then the mountains of the Lake District in the distance. High Cup Nick – that iconic Pennine landscape – looked particularly spectacular.
Apart from the high Pennines, only the Lakeland fells were showing any sign of our most recent snow.
From the summit, we descended the steepest slope of Murton Pike heading towards our start at Murton village.
The last time we were on the summit, several months ago, we met a local villager concerned at the prospect of the Ministry of Defence grabbing this bit of precious fell as an extension to their nearby Warcop military range.
This would mean the deregistration of Common Land, an attack not only on the ability of farmers to freely work the land, but also possible restrictions on access for walkers and riders. At the moment Murton Pike and the surrounding fell, being Common Land, is open under Right to Roam under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
How long that would continue under an MoD land grab is debateable.
Given that we now have the tiniest standing army since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, I’m baffled as to why they need more training land? The MoD has yielded very few of their existing training lands since the end of National Service.
Surely better to spend the money on properly equipping our existing troops…
Our morning walk took just a couple of hours. By late afternoon, the pleasant and crispy snow we’d walked through had completely gone.