‘On the first Saturday after starting work I climbed Pendle Hill and from the summit, 1,831 feet above sea level, I beheld a new world. Across the valley were the Bowland Fells; and away to the north Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and other Pennine heights, all snow covered stood out sharp and clear in the frosty air. That vision started me rambling…’
Wainwright is much better known, but for walkers and countryside campaigners, Tom Stephenson has been just as seminal a figure. An autodidact from a working class family, he had his epiphany at the summit of Pendle, and it inspired him to a lifetime of campaigning for free access to the countryside. The UK’s first, longest and most iconic long distance walk is his magnificent, lasting legacy.
Starting work at 13, Tom developed his love of the outdoors on Pendle Hill. A socialist and pacifist, he self-educated at night school, won a scholarship and achieved a degree, although this wasn’t awarded as he served time in prison (with Sydney Silverman) for refusing to fight in WW1.
Tom was a lifelong, vigorous campaigner for footpaths and access to the outdoors. Whilst writing for the Daily Herald in 1935 he wrote, ‘Wanted. A Long Green Trail.’ This was his rallying cry for the creation of the Pennine Way, Britain’s first long distance footpath. He wrote the first official guide for the Pennine Way shortly after it was opened on the 24th of April 1965.
Tom was working in the Ministry of Town & Country as a press officer, when the Labour Party was elected to government in 1945. He was instrumental in promoting the idea of National Parks to the new minister, Lewis Silkin, an Independent Labour Party member as was Stephenson.
He campaigned alongside Tom Leonard and served on the Ramblers Association and The Commons, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society. An avid believer in access to the countryside, he was photographed by Mike Harding, then president of the Ramblers Association, at the age of 93 on private land behind a no trespassing sign.
‘The Pennine Way was just the first of many, so if you walk any of the country’s long-distance paths (official or otherwise), doff your cap and raise a glass to Tom Stephenson; surely the father of long-distance walking in the UK.’
For Pendle Radicals
The Radicals research team are developing a themed walk. The Two Toms will link Whalley (Tom’s home when he walked up Pendle aged 13) to Colne, where the Reverend Thomas Arthur Leonard was a minister at the Congregational Chapel when he was pioneering low cost accommodation in the countryside for working people.
The Ramblers have an archive of Tom’s writings. You can find out more about their history here
Tom’s book Forbidden Land is a wonderful read.