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Beautiful places in Britain that show why our right to roam matters

Walking in the North Yorkshire National Park in Swaledale
Campaigners are stepping up efforts to protect our right to freely roam in Britain's national parks and trails - Alamy

Campaigners say there are about 2,500 “access islands” in England where the public have a right to roam, but there is no open path to get to them.

On Saturday, hundreds of people will gather on Dartmoor for a mass trespass to highlight the contradiction in the law.

At the same time, they are preparing to go back to court to fight a legal challenge by a landowner. Last year, the Dartmoor National Park Authority won an appeal against a ban on wild camping on the moors – but on January 10 the Supreme Court granted permission for Alexander Darwall to bring a case against it.

The right to roam has a long and heroic history in the UK, and underpins the creation of our national parks and national trails. Here are seven beauty spots that might have remained closed to the general public if our working-class forebears hadn’t taken a stand.

Kinder Scout, Peak District

Dovedale stepping stones in the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire
The Peak District, founded on April 17 1951, was Britain's first national park - Alamy

The highest point in the Peak District has gone down in trespass history and for many marks the most important watershed to date. This was the site of the 1932 Mass Trespass, when ramblers from nearby cities peacefully protested on what was then private land. Their march eventually led to the formation of Britain’s national parks – the Peak District was the first, founded on April 17 1951 – and Edale, below Kinder Scout, is the southern start/end point of the Pennine Way. The area has great views of the North and the Midlands, beautiful moorland, peat bogs, gritstone escarpments and a waterfall.

Latrigg and Skiddaw, Lake District

Latrigg path with Skiddaw mountain above
Skiddaw is the sixth highest peak in England, making it a popular hiking spot - John Finney Photography/Moment RF

In 1887, the Spedding family of Greta Hall closed the route that connected Keswick with the ascent of Latrigg and Skiddaw via Spooney (sometimes Spooning) Green Lane. This led to a mass trespass with more than 2,000 protesters, including Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, and social reformer Samuel Plimsoll, MP for Derby. The party crossed the Spedding land and made the summit of Latrigg. The fight for access became national news and eventually the Speddings were compelled to open access. It was an early local victory in the right-to-roam story and helped put Keswick, now a hiking hub, on the map. The hike and variations of it are considered among the more straightforward staples for fellwalkers. Skiddaw is the sixth highest peak in England.

Winter Hill, West Pennine Moors

Rivington Pike on top of Winter Hill, West Pennine Moors, Lancashire
Winter Hill remains a beacon of the right to roam for Lancastrians - Wirestock, Inc/Alamy

For Victorian residents of built-up Bolton and other nearby towns, Winter Hill was a place to breathe in clean, fresh air and get some peace and quiet after a busy week in the mill, mine or factory. Many people used the footpaths just to get from A to B. When the Ainsworths of Smithills Hall decided to remove access so that the uplands could be used exclusively for grouse shooting, the locals rose up. On Sunday, September 6 1896, around 10,000 people joined in a protest march along Halliwell Road. A scuffle ensued, but Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth’s lackeys were no match for the army of demonstrators; the gate was smashed and the procession continued onward and upward. Incredibly, it wasn’t until 1996 that public access was formally secured here but today Winter Hill is a beacon of the right to roam for Lancastrians.

Swaledale, the Coast to Coast path

When legendary fellwalker Alfred Wainwright published his 1973 book, A Coast to Coast Walk, landowners complained that as much as 40 per cent of the route in the western section involved trespassing across private land – including Lord Peel’s estate in the Yorkshire Dales. Undeterred, thousands of ramblers have taken up the challenge to tramp from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire, across the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. Thanks to their efforts, legislation was passed in August 2022 to make the Coast to Coast a fully-fledged (and signposted) UK National Trail – with infrastructure scheduled to be in place by next year. There are many gorgeous sections along the way, but Swaledale – the most northerly of Yorkshire’s Dales – is widely regarded as being among the loveliest of the non-mountainous stretches.

Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms

Devil's Point and Corrour Bothy
Backpacker bothies offer hikers places to stay overnight and views of sights such as Devil's Point - Nature Picture Library/Alamy

During the 1940s and 1950s, in a process that has been described as the “Proletarian Revolution in Hillwalking”, workers from the cities in the Central Lowlands of Scotland began to walk up into the hills – hitherto the preserve of the wealthy and landed. They often stayed in what remained of the crofters’ cottages left over from the time of their grandparents. These were typically isolated and so left unlocked by landowners. These would evolve into what we know today as the network of backpacker bothies: free-to-use shelters in some of the most dramatic areas of Scotland. Corrour, in the Lairig Ghru – one of Scotland’s most impressive mountain passes – is one of the most famous bothies in the Cairngorms. It’s an ideal stopping point for anyone on a multi-day hike, is surrounded by Munros and affords a view of the Devil’s Point.

Cemaes Head, Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Cemaes Head rock formations and coast path, Pembrokeshire
The Pembrokeshire Coast was designated as a national park in 1952 - Drew Buckley/Alamy

Once the Pembrokeshire Coast had been designated as a national park in 1952, Cardiff-born ornithologist and naturalist Ronald Lockley – a member of the Park’s committee – had the idea of piecing together a path round its 186-mile coastline. He carried out a detailed survey of the route and wrote a report for the Countryside Commission. Sections of the walk were existing rights-of-way, but most parts were in private hands, and gaining access involved lots of wily negotiation. Most landowners were in favour, and they benefited from the erection of new fencing; over 100 bridges and 500 stiles were built. The path was officially opened in May 1970. Many sections pass along clifftops; the highest sea cliffs are between Cemaes Head and Pen-yr-Afr, where walkers can see dramatic folding in the rocks. In 2012, the Wales Coast Path was opened – the first footpath around an entire nation.

Hangingstone Hill, Dartmoor

Hangingstone Hill on Dartmoor
The lofty Hangingstone Hill is topped by a small, rocky outcrop and an army hut - Michael Dutton/Alamy

At 603 or 604 metres above sea level, depending on your map, Hangingstone Hill is the joint third highest point in Dartmoor National Park. It’s topped by a small, rocky outcrop and an army hut. It’s the sort of place that is probably better for big views than for picnics – the wind can get lively up here. Also, walkers must always check if there are any military exercises – including firing – planned in the area. But the hill matters to hikers and all lovers of the outdoors as it lies within the area where wild camping is not only allowed but very popular. Pitching on the slopes of the hill and tors to the north and south enables multi-day hikes and awesome dark sky experiences. Currently, Dartmoor is the only place in the UK where wild camping is officially permitted.