"Mad Meg was a witch who lived on Kinder Scout many years ago, by the rocks they still call Mad Woman Stones,” said Terry Howard gesturing to the distant horizon while slipping a hank of sheep's wool out of his pocket. “And it’s said that on dark nights Mad Meg still flies high over the moors".
Three rapt Junior Rangers gazed across the Burbage Valley respectfully as Terry leaned over for emphasis.
"And if you look carefully, even now, you can sometimes find bits of her hair - look there's some here.” And the Rangers grinned as Terry whisked out a grey tangle of witch hair from behind his beard.
Terry, Henry Folkard, Dave Sissons and Roly Smith have over 280 years of moorland heritage between them, while junior rangers Ben Cooper, Robyn Rooney and Lucas Da Silva have just over 30.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the legislation founding the Peak District National Park, and the National Trust’s People’s Landscapes project is celebrating generations of protestors and activists who campaigned to open up the countryside to everyone, and helped inspire the creation of the UK’s National Parks.
Part of the People’s Landscape project in the Peak District is the LoudsPEAKer initiative, developed by artists Trish Evans and Nick Humphreys of Instar to bring young and ‘elder’ campaigners together to discuss the Peak District’s past, present and future.
“Before we came I looked on Google and learned how people like Benny Rothman went to jail at the trespasses, and how they were trying to get away from all the smoke in the cities,” said Lucas.
“It’s hard to imagine, but it must have been really hard for them to see the moors but not be able to do anything there,” said Robyn. “I think I’d have trespassed myself.”
Jackie Wragg from Moors for the Future leads the Edale Moorland Junior Rangers team of 21 young people aged from 10-14 on conservation projects in the Peak District. The rangers usually work off the beaten track, she said. “We like to explore, it’s in our nature.”
Roly Smith pointed out that in the past, they’d have been ushered back onto the path by ‘gamekeepers with cudgels.’
“If it wasn’t for them,” said Ben about the greying trespassers round him, “we couldn’t do what we do now.”
All four elder campaigners have lobbied and trespassed for access rights for much of their lives within organisations like the Ramblers, the BMC and Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland, (which many say was the prime mover in finally winning the ‘right to roam’ in England’s open countryside under the 2000 CROW act).
In the 1980s, Roly got to know Benny Rothman well.
“He was a highly principled man. I can remember walking with him over Kinder, and we heard the grouse calling: ‘Go Back, Go Back’ as they do. And he said: ‘No my friend, I’m not turning back.”
Henry explained how the moors were open to everyone until the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th century, when they were “appropriated by rich people who turned everyone else off.”
Terry said the signs of the commoners who used the moors thousands of years ago can still be found by anyone who strays off the main pathways.
The LoudsPEAKer team have produced a series of patches (launched at last weekend’s Spirit of Kinder rally at Winnats Pass) inspired by rambler’s backpack badges.
Each represents an important issue identified by schoolchildren and older campaigners, including moorland conservation, the freedom to roam and how climate change is already affecting the local landscape.
The battle against climate change is one of the new challenges faced by her own generation, said Robyn, who added her approval of the “simple actions to influence everyone” of fellow teenager and campaigner Greta Thunberg.
“We need to try and stop global warming,” Robyn said. “Which will be hard.”
Terry Howard addressed the younger conservationists and campaigners: “We saw a battle won in 2000, but what is there to be done now around the moorlands? Now the ball is in your court.”
“We’re ready,” said the Junior Rangers.
Five walks to try this week – see page 47.