Maps reveal thousands of acres of private land now open to walkers

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It has taken 120 years and more, but on Sunday week the Right to Roam finally arrives. Thousands of acres of mountain, moor and downland become available to walkers when the first great stretches of private land are opened up under the new legislation.

It has taken 120 years and more, but on Sunday week the Right to Roam finally arrives. Thousands of acres of mountain, moor and downland become available to walkers when the first great stretches of private land are opened up under the new legislation.

For groups such as the Ramblers' Association, and especially for the Labour movement, September 19 will be a historic day, marking the climax of what has probably been the longest-running campaign in British social history.

It originated in the desire of workers in grim Victorian industrial towns to enjoy the beautiful countryside which surrounded them, but from which they were barred by great landowners and gradually became an organised crusade.

In the 1930s, there were violent clashes between would-be ramblers and gamekeepers on northern grouse moors such as Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, and subsequently, the Right to Roam became a talismanic objective for organised labour. Its passing into law in 2000 with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW Act) delighted backbench Labour MPs, and has been the principal Old Labour achievement of Tony Blair's government - along with the minimum wage.

The intervening four years have been spent carefully mapping the 3,200 sq miles (830,000 hectares) new "access land" on which the public will now have a right to walk, under the five categories of mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land, and hearing appeals from objecting landowners - the singer Madonna having been the most high-profile.

The access land will become available to the public in a rolling programme between now and November 2005. The first two regions - south-east and north-west England - will be opened up next week. Special new Ordnance Survey maps for both regions (in the 1:25,000 Explorer series) have been rushed into print, showing the access land as yellow with a brown border. They carry the new access logo of a figure on a horizon.

The north-west, in particular, has provoked most emotive reaction so far. Areas that have been contentious in the past include the moors of the Derbyshire Peak District, and the Forest of Bowland in north Lancashire, where much of the land is owned - and has been kept closed - by the Duke of Westminster.

The Rural Affairs Minister, Alun Michael, will be joining ramblers in both areas on September 19 to mark the day, which he said yesterday would be "a landmark in the social history of Britain."

"This will be a very special day for everyone who loves our countryside as, for the first time, people will be able to enjoy some of Britain's most beautiful scenery that was once off-limits. It introduces a major new right for which people have campaigned for well over a century," he said.

Nick Barrett, Chief Executive of the Ramblers' Association, which from 1985 led the modern campaign that resulted in the CROW Act, said: "It's true to say that this will be a genuinely historic moment."

"The landscapes being opened to the nation under the CROW Act are as much a part of our national heritage as Stonehenge. For many the joy of walking is getting off the beaten track; we all now have a right to do just that."

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