Why We’re Having ‘Fun on the Fells’

By Rachel Roberts, Assistant Curator, Collections and Access

The Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry presents our new exhibition, Fun on the Fells, 11 March – 28 October.

The exhibition examines the history of walking and climbing in the Lake District and researching and writing it gave me a whole new perspective on these popular pastimes.

Every year, millions of people go walking and climbing on the fells of the Lake District. They might be thinking about whether they have brought the right map, whether they are supposed to go left or right, or even where the nearest pub is, but they don’t have to worry about their right to use the footpaths of Lakeland. However this hasn’t always been the case.

Since the enclosures acts of the 1700s, Cumbria was separated out into large farms with strict boundaries. Crossing these boundaries could result in clashes with the landowner. Throughout the 1800s, as more people lived in overcrowded and unhealthy cities, the countryside became seen as a place to escape the smog and take healthy exercise. Bills were introduced to parliament to gain access to footpaths and mountains for everyone but none were successful. By the 1930s more than 50% of the land in the UK was privately owned and off limits to most walkers and climbers.

Between the wars, the campaign for access to the countryside intensified with high-profile protests, for example the mass trespass at Kinder Scout in 1932. Finally, in 1951 the Peak District became the first National Park in the UK, with the Lake District being designated just 3 weeks later. National Parks continue to give access to footpaths and access land to all visitors, they now account for 10% of the land in the UK across 15 parks.

Today, when we walk in the Lakes we are following a much more turbulent path than we might think.

Visit the Fun on the Fells exhibition at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, 11 March – 28 October 2017.