Out There column: Mountain to climb in land ownership fight

A view of Blencathra.
A view of Blencathra.
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Battles over land ownership are as old as the hills.

Historically much of our countryside has belonged to the privileged few who have used power, wealth and social position to claim land as their own.

But can anyone truly own such a thing as a mountain? Personally, I think it’s a ridiculous idea and that morally and philosophically our ancient land belongs to everyone.

I’m sure landowners would take issue with this but in an ideal world I don’t think any one person should have the right to lay claim to a mountain.

This subject arose when I was on a recent visit to the home of my friend and former Visitor colleague Tara Booth (nee Vallente).

Tara is originally from Lancaster and she now lives in the shadow of a mighty mountain called Blencathra near Keswick. Blencathra, also known as Saddleback, has hit the headlines in recent weeks as its owner – the Earl of Lonsdale – has put it up for sale for £1.75 million so that he can pay off some of his £9 million inheritance tax tax bill. There has been international interest in the mountain which was a favourite of the guide book writer Alfred Wainwright and a Russian billionaire is rumoured to be one of the prospective buyers.

As we sat in Tara’s garden, which has extensive views of Blencathra, she explained that an action group had been formed by local people who are now applying for the mountain to become a community asset. So far the group has raised more than £1 million and has celebrity backers including Ben Fogle, Melvyn Bragg and former Chancellor of Lancaster University Sir Chris Bonnington.

Tara said the locals who wish to set up a trust are extremely passionate about the mountain, but the Earl of Lonsdale has chosen not to enter into discussions with them.

However, I have my doubts about the idea of the mountain being owned by a relatively small community group. For many years Blencathra has been incorporated into the Lake District National Park. Development is restricted and walkers will always have rights of access. This is as it should be and I, for one, won’t be chipping in to buy it.