Winter Hill 125: commemorating the North’s biggest-ever mass trespass, Sunday 5 Sept 2021

Will yo come o’ Sunday morning?

The North’s largest ever mass trespass for the right to roam will be commemorated on Sunday 5 September with a 6 mile walk from Bolton to Belmont, over Winter Hill. Everybody is invited and the Hannah Mitchell Foundation will be there. Members and non-members are welcome to join us for the walk and for refreshments in the Black Dog, Belmont on completion. Diamond Bus will be laying on a fleet of special buses to bring the walkers back to Bolton.

10,000 Northerners marched in the original Winter Hill trespass in 1896, when landowner Colonel Richard Ainsworth of Smithills Hall closed off a claimed right of way across the moor for the grouse-shooting season. The story is well told in these articles in The Guardian and Big Issue North, as well as in full in Paul Salveson’s book Will Yo Come O’ Sunday Morning.

The event is more than a historical commemoration: it has political relevance right now in 2021. Although grouse shooting is no longer an issue on the Smithills Estate, managed as it now is by the Woodland Trust, the annual arrival this week of the ‘Inglorious Twelfth’ (the start of the grouse-shooting season on 12 August across the North of England and Scotland) is a reminder that so many of our moorlands are a wildlife desert cursed by the grotesque and absurd ecological and economic vandalism that is the grouse shooting business. The moors could be one of the North’s greatest assets in the battle against climate breakdown, and their better management is a matter of emergency, not least for regularly flooded-out valley bottom communities.

It is also a reminder that the right to walk in the moorlands and countryside is a right Northerners had to fight for. Sustainable and inclusive access to the countryside, especially the uplands, to enjoy fresh air and nature has a special place in Northerners’ hearts. But every generation needs to work to celebrate and renew our political rights and responsibilities. The criminalisation of trespass is one of many astonishing attacks on Northerners’ basic civil liberties contained in the Johnson Government’s repressive Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Bolton-born actor Maxine Peake attended the 1982 commemoration as an 8 year-old girl, and she will leading off the march on in 2021. Her memories of that occasion and her messages for this year’s marchers are included in this article in the Bolton News and in this video of a public meeting held online in March by the Winter Hill 125 organising group (Maxine’s contribution at 22:26-25:45).

The 1982 commemorative march passing up Halliwell Road, Bolton

How to join us on Sunday 5 September

The march will assemble on Sunday 5 September at the bottom of Halliwell Road (junction with Blackburn Road) in Bolton, at 10am for a 10.30am start, just as it did 125 years ago in 1896. The route is 6 miles with 1,200 feet of ascent, and of course the weather on the tops (and indeed in the bottoms) cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, although the pace will be easy, everybody will need to make their own judgement on whether the walk is for them. However, bus transport back from Belmont to the starting point (and Bolton station interchange for those coming to Bolton by rail or bus) is guaranteed.

Winter Hill 125: the route (map credit: plotaroute.com using OpenStreetMap.org)

The Winter Hill 125 commemoration is organised by the Winter Hill 125 Group on Facebook. If you plan to join HMF at the event, you can let us know via our contact here.

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