“Is the world getting hold of you?” asked the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers in the opening remarks of their now legendary 3” x 5” handbooks. “Do troubles and sorrows and worries press on you unduly? Then go and find these woods and hills and moors and find your heart’s ease there.”
The Clarion folded in December, after 115 years of promoting rambling as a way of people discovering their ‘heart’s ease’ in the countryside around, as they put it: “This grimy city - this ugly picture in a glorious frame.”
Last week, the last members of the Clarion made a final contribution to that cause by donating £400 to the Peak District National Park Authority’s ‘Access Fund,’ joining the local Ramblers Association and Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland to add over £1,300 to the fund’s initiatives to improve and increase access throughout the Peak Park through new and improved gates, paths and access areas.
“On one hand we’re sad and disappointed we had to close,” said Carl Baxby, a lifelong Clarion member, along with his father and uncle before him. “But we know that more and more people are getting out to the countryside, often in smaller groups now that access is a lot easier, and I think my father and uncle would be very pleased about that.”
It’s quite easy for the students and young families making up the new generation of Peak District ramblers to take for granted their rights to walk and explore in the ‘wild west’ of Sheffield, as veteran access campaigner Terry Howard calls the moors next to the city.
“Between 1800 and the year 2000, many of the moorlands were no-go areas because of grouse shooting,” Terry said. Before that time the moors were more like common land where local people could travel, and some could even keep animals there and forage for wood and food. Groups like the Clarion, the Ramblers and later on SCAM campaigned for several generations to regain the right to walk on the grouse moors until finally the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed 16 years ago.
“We had to take the moors back, and we regained them again in the year 2000,” said Terry. “But now we have to make sure we keep that access and improve it, so we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
The Peak District’s chief executive, Sarah Fowler, and access manager Mike Rhodes thanked the donors at a special ceremony at Longshaw’s Moorland Discovery Centre last week. Access to the open moorland is about “exploration and discovery,” said Mike Rhodes, and the donations to the Access Fund were particularly welcome at a time when the National Park Authority was “not flush with money.” Sarah Fowler also thanked the three groups for their work over the last century to help set up and encourage public access, and in setting up the National Parks in the first place.
Access Fund donations will also help new groups of people enjoy the Peak, such as school groups, immigrant communities and people with disabilities, said Mary Bagley of the Peak District NPA. Forty pounds repairs a metre of pathway, £150 pays for a new stile, £250 pays for a new gate and £100 pays for a volunteer group to work on access projects.
Mary noted the ‘spiritual’ benefits of the wild western moors for the people of Sheffield. “It can change people by coming here. We want to show them that this countryside is theirs to discover for themselves, and that it can change their hearts, that they’ll see things differently after they access this land.”
A fact well known to the Clarion, said Terry: their early walk leaders had to negotiate bus and cafe facilities, plan and lead an interesting walk, select and read an uplifting poem during the ramble, and lead the walkers in a song on the day.
Foregoing poem and song on this occasion, Terry Howard led the veteran ramblers on a quick tour off the beaten track at Longshaw.
The black soil of the molehills showed the land had been moorland for centuries, he said, like parts of Sheffield now commemorated in their names, like Pitsmoor and Ranmoor. And the two guide stoops at Longshaw showed the nature of 18th century literacy, when stone markers wrote Sheffield, Chesterfield and Tideswell as they spoke: there are said to be 20 spellings for Sheffield on the guide stones of Sheffield’s moorlands, he said.
For Terry Howard, the chance to legally step off the beaten track and explore an ancient, once-common, landscape was well worth the years of campaigning.
As Clarion founder GHB Ward put it: “The man who never was lost, never went very far.”
Visit www.peakdistrict.gov.uk for more information and details about donating to the Access Fund.