Could the South Pennines become England’s first regional park?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 November 2018

Walkers search for the end of the rainbow on the high fells of the South Pennines Photo: Arron Adams

Walkers search for the end of the rainbow on the high fells of the South Pennines Photo: Arron Adams

Arron Adams

The time is right to claim the South Pennines as England’s first regional park, say campaigners

Mist shrouds  woods in the South Pennines near Hebden Bridge  Photo: Steve MorganMist shrouds woods in the South Pennines near Hebden Bridge Photo: Steve Morgan

Patience is a virtue but everyone has their limits and campaigners in the South Pennines have reached theirs. It is now more than 75 years since the moors and valleys straddling the Yorkshire and Lancashire border were first considered for national park status. Since then they have seen parks created to the north in the Yorkshire Dales and in the Peak District to the south. That was followed by other neighbours, like Nidderdale and the Forest of Bowland, being officially declared Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. But for the South Pennines? Nothing. So now they are planning to take matters into their own hands by declaring themselves England’s first regional park. Such areas already exist in Scotland as well as elsewhere in Europe but this would be a breakthrough south of the border. Helen Noble, chief executive of Pennine Prospects, which promotes the area, says recognition is long overdue and now is the time to shake off the Cinderella status.

The South Pennines were put forward as a potential national park as long ago as the 1940s, she says, but were turned down because with its then still-working mills it was considered too industrial compared with places like the Lake District. Since then many others have been given official designation, leaving the South Pennines as the only extensive English uplands not to have their beauty and character formally recognised. And it is high time that was put right.

‘In the past it was thought the area was too industrial but we believe that very industrial heritage, including all those mill villages tucked away in the cloughs and valleys, is one of the main reasons we deserve to be recognised as well as for our superb landscape. There is also a very strong artistic tradition here,’ she said. That stretches right back to the Bronte sisters in Haworth, via more modern writers like Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Heptonstall right up to the present day with poet Simon Armitage, whose work is closely connected with Marsden, while artist Ashley Jackson’s watercolours of the bleak, windswept moors have made him one of Britain’s most successful and sought-after landscape painters.

Helen believes that one reason the area has been overlooked is that it is simply so vast that many people are not even sure exactly where it begins or ends. It stretches from Skipton and Keighley in the north down to the Peak District boundary and from industrial West Yorkshire to the mill towns of East Lancashire and Greater Manchester. It is governed by more than a dozen local authorities and even its tourism effort has been fragmented into smaller honeypots like the Bronte Country around Haworth, Summer Wine Country centred on Holmfirth and, across the border, the Pendle Witch Country.

Exotic kites ready for the South Pennine Kite Festival Photo: Craig ShawExotic kites ready for the South Pennine Kite Festival Photo: Craig Shaw

She stressed: ‘We don’t want to take over things like planning as a national park would but becoming a regional park would let us speak with one voice and promote the area as a single entity just as they do in the Dales, the Lakes and the Peak. The South Pennines has so much to offer as an area to visit, to work, to play or simply to have fun. We have the highest density of public rights of way in the country, some of them packhorse trails dating back centuries. We have tremendous mountain biking routes and fantastic horse riding here. We also have a first class network of canals which have been restored and are now very well used, as well as fine rivers. Two of the best-known long distance trails, the Pennine Way and the Pennine Bridleway both pass through the South Pennines. It all adds up to a tremendous leisure resource, which many locals already love but which a lot of people do not realise is here,’ she said.

The campaign has now been given fresh impetus by the National Heritage Lottery Fund with a grant of more than £180,000 to develop the idea, something that Pam Warhurst, chair of Pennine Prospects has described as ‘a game changer’ for the campaign.

Helen added: ‘This is something which has come from the local area rather than the government and I think the time is now right to make it happen. We have had a lot of top down things coming from governments but this is something that has bubbled up from the grassroots and all the stronger for it.’

Ashley Jackson whose home and gallery are both in Holmfirth threw his weight behind the idea. ‘I’m all in favour of it. I love all of Yorkshire but these moors are special. People here are very proud of the area – and rightly so – but others don’t know about us. Yet when visitors do come and stand on those moors they look around and just say: “Wow”. I would not want to live anywhere else,’ he said.

10 great walks in the South Pennines

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