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Happy International Women's Day

On International Womens’ Day I thought we should celebrate all the women who have inspired us and contributed to access in the UK. This is a subject close to our hearts at The Trails Shop, as the shop is entirely run by women. Our staff have all worked in access-related jobs, and we care deeply about encouraging as many people as possible to get out and enjoy the wonderful countryside we have in the UK.

Looking back through the history of the access movement in the UK the main players are often men, which is no surprise given the way society was in the early part of the 20th century. But women are there if we look hard enough.

Who should we really thank for the Pennine Way?

The idea behind the Pennine Way, the very first long distance walk in England, is credited to Tom Stephenson, a journalist and secretary of the Ramblers, who in 1935 wrote an article titled ‘Wanted – a long green trail’. In it he went on to suggest that we needed a trail akin to the Appalachian Trail, and proposed a Pennine Way should run from the Peak District to the Cheviots.

This was clearly an inspired and inspiring article, but where did he get the idea from? It came from a letter he received from two young American women who wrote to him for advice on where to walk in England. They mentioned the Appalachian Trail and wondered if anything similar existed in England. So, much as Tom Stephenson deserves his recognition in the access hall of fame, I believe those two women also do!

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Pennine Way

£ 14.99
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Pennine Way: Edale to Kirk Yetholm (Trailblazer) - 6th edition Pennine Way: Edale to Kirk Yetholm (Trailblazer) - 6th edition loading
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The Pennine Bridleway

The Pennine Bridleway came about because of tireless campaigning about the state of the bridleways by Mary Towneley who in 1986 rode from Northumberland to Derbyshire to raise awareness of the need for a long distance bridleway route. The first section of the Pennine Bridleway to open was named after her - the Mary Towneley Loop.

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A history of women walking

Women have been walking for generations, but their voices don’t always get heard. There is a fabulous book on the subject called ‘Wanderers – A History of Women Walking’ which is well worth a read.

One of the earliest women to document her walks in Scotland was Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt, who in 1822 was in Edinburgh to secure a divorce from her husband under Scottish law. This must have been an incredibly hard time for her, and she found inner freedom and peace exploring on foot, including walking 180 miles back to Edinburgh from the Highlands via Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond.

Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt’s walking diary was never intended for publication, nor were the travel accounts of Dorothy Wordsworth, who walked for thousands of miles, including a pioneering ascent of Scafell Pike in the Lake District in 1818 with her friend Mary Barker. In the early 19th century the governess Ellen Weeton enjoyed climbing the mountains of both the Lake District and Snowdonia. Her diaries were published long after her death in the 20th century, though they are rarely read.

There are dozens and dozens more women who wrote about their walking, from the 18th-century scholar Elizabeth Carter, to Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf in the 20th century, to Rebecca Solnit and Linda Cracknell in the 21st. You would not know it from published literature, but the history of walking is very much women’s history.

Today there are many more women writing about walking, and plenty of female guidebook authors. One of the best-selling walking books on the past few years was the The Salt Path, written by Raynor Winn, a true-story about Raynor and her husband's journey along the South West Coast Path National Trail.

Today, no-one questions seeing a woman walking on her own, but we all owe a big thank you to the women who went before us and who played such a big role in securing access to the countryside for everyone.