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Walking Class Heroes

Pioneers of the Right to Roam

Roly Smith


The twentieth anniversary of the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act in 2020 provides a good opportunity to look back on the doughty band of campaigners who fought for so long to give ramblers their cherished right to roam. This century-old battle brought to the fore a number of larger-than-life characters who were prepared to go to extreme lengths–in some cases even imprisonment–to reclaim the right of access which were taken from the people by the hated Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This book describes the life and work of twenty of these “wilderness warriors”, retelling the battles they fought against seemingly intractable politicians and the Establishment and includes memories of personal encounters by the author with many of them.

From the nature-loving romantic poet John Clare and access pioneers such as Tom Stephenson and Benny Rothman, to present-day activists and writers such as Jim Perrin, Fiona Reynolds and Kate Ashbrook, Walking Class Heroes describes the contributions made by philanthropists, writers and political militants. Their battlegrounds included the Peak District, Dartmoor and Scotland and their tactics encompassed campaigning journalism, legal dexterity and even mass trespass. Some are no longer with us of course, but several others are continuing the fight for the same kind of public access to the countryside currently enjoyed by our neighbours in Scotland and the rest of Europe.

Roly Smith was recently described by a reviewer as “one of Britain’s most knowledgeable countryside writers”. He has written over ninety books on the British countryside and is vice-president of the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild, having been its president for twelve years, and is also a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. A journalist by training, Roly was Head of Information Services for the Peak District National Park for thirteen years, where he became known as “Mr Peak District”.


Signal Books



Publication Date:

2020 November


Paperback; 215 x 138mm




Black and white photographs throughout