How I trespassed on the duke's forbidden moors

ROTTEN HILL and Johnny Pye's Clough Top are wind-blown features on a vast tract of heather moorland one of the richest men in Britain wants to keep strictly private.

They are not the most shapely of hills and it is hardly likely that ramblers' boots will erode scars across them even if a "right to roam" is granted. Yet the fell tops beckoned.

As the Government was unveiling its cautious approach to achieving public access to some four million acres, The Independent was advance testing the right to roam in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. Despite its name, this is open moorland, home of grouse and birds of prey.

We chose Bowland, and specifically the Abbeystead Estate of the Duke of Westminster, because it has been a classic example of "forbidden Britain" for decades. Tom Stephenson, the father of the Pennine Way who died 10 years ago, spent most of his life angry about the denial of access in Bowland.

No bailiffs appeared as we walked the moors. We reached Grizedale Head and descended to Abbeystead on a private track beautifully maintained for the comfort of grouse shooting parties. Then we sampled the south side of the estate, following a vehicle track before crossing the moor towards Johnny Pye's.

Intimidation rather than confrontation seems to be the way of Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the sixth duke. I know of no part of upland Britain where the "Private" signs are so thick on the ground.

The 46-year old duke has bankrolled the Countryside Movement, set up to defend hunting and country sports and to oppose a right to roam, to the tune of pounds 1.3m. The public has gained a boothold on the estate: the duke's predecessor allowed an access strip along the highest ridge over Clougha Pike and Ward's Stone and this duke has added a little more. But at least 90 per cent of the estate remains barred.