Sunday, February 07, 2010

Right to Roam

The singing of songs has continued apace, particularly after the results of a short TOEIC practice listening test at the end of January. Out of about 75 people who took this test, only two scored 5 out of 8. This 62.5%, if averaged across the board in an actual test, would net the test-taker a score in the low 600s--which would easily be 100 points up on most people’s 2009 score. However, 36 people scored 6 out of 8, 28 scored 7 out of 8 and an elite group took full marks. As the realization of what this meant sank in, grins became broader and broader. They are beginning to believe in ‘Yes We Can’, so thank you President Obama for that.

As it is February now, we have a new song to sing. This month I have chosen The Manchester Rambler, which has an easily acquired melody and an interesting history.

I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept up on Crowden,
I’ve camped by The Wainstones as well.
I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burned to a cinder,
And many more things I can tell.
My rucksack has oft been my pillow,
The heather has oft been my bed.
And sooner than part from the mountains,
I think I would rather be dead.

I’m a rambler, I’m a rambler, from Manchester way,
I get all my pleasure the hard moorland way.
I may be a wage-slave on Monday,
But I am a free man on Sunday.

The day was just ending, and I was descending,
Down Grindsbrook just by Upper Tor.
When a voice cried “Hey you!”
In the way keepers do,
He’d the worst face that ever I saw.
The things that he said were unpleasant,
In the teeth of his fury I said,
Sooner than part from the mountains,
I think I would rather be dead.

He called me a louse and said “Think of the grouse”
Well I thought but I just couldn’t see.
Why old Kinder Scout and the moors round about,
Couldn’t take both the poor grouse and me.
He said “All this land is my master’s”
At that I stood shaking my head.
No man has the right to own mountains,
Any more than the deep ocean bed.

I once loved a maid, a spot-welder by trade,
She was fair as the rowan in bloom.
And the blue of her eye matched the June moorland sky,
And I wooed her from April till June.
On the day that we should have been married,
I went for a ramble instead.
For sooner than part from the mountains,
I think I would rather be dead.

So I’ll walk where I will, over mountain and hill,
And I’ll lie where the bracken is deep.
I belong to the mountains, the clear running fountains,
Where the grey rocks lie rugged and steep.
I’ve seen the white hare in the gullies,
And the curlew fly high overhead.
And sooner than part from the mountains,
I think I would rather be dead.

Ewan MacColl 1933

The song recalls the heady days of the early ’Thirties and the mass trespass movement.
The first mass trespass was a notable act of willful trespass by ramblers. It was undertaken at Kinder Scout in the Peak District of England, on 24 April 1932, to highlight weaknesses in English law of the time. This denied walkers in England or Wales access to areas of open country, and to public footpaths which, in previous ages (and today), formed public rights of way. Political and conservation activist Benny Rothman was one of the principal leaders.

Kinder Scout from the North

Although the event was originally opposed by the official ramblers’ federations, the vicious sentences which were handed down on five of the young trespassers actually served to unite the ramblers’ cause.
It is now recognized as a major catalyst not only for the Right to Roam, but the creation of the National Parks, of which the Peak District was the first in 1951.
In 2002, Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire (who owns the land), publicly apologized at the 70th anniversary celebration event of the Kinder trespass at Bowden Bridge for his grandfather’s ‘great wrong’ in 1932:
“I am aware that I represent the villain of the piece this afternoon. But over the last 70 years times have changed and it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome walkers to my estate today. The trespass was a great shaming event on my family and the sentences handed down were appalling. But out of great evil can come great good. The trespass was the first event in the whole movement of access to the countryside and the creation of our national parks”

Which all goes to show how much things have changed.

Ewan MaColl has been gone from us since 1989, but the collection of great songs he left with us will last for a lot longer, of that I am sure.

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