A tribute to former Peak District National Park Chief Ranger Ken Drabble

Ken (right) rescuing sheep from the snow in the bitter winter of 1962

Ken (right) rescuing sheep from the snow in the bitter winter of 1962 - Credit: Archant

Out and about with Roly Smith

The sunny smile of Ken Drabble

The sunny smile of Ken Drabble - Credit: Archant

Former Peak District National Park Chief Ranger Ken Drabble, who has died at the age of 79, was my best friend when we worked together at the Park. I was Head of Information Services at the time, but I think it’s true to say that neither of us were natural bureaucrats.

You might say we were two square pegs in round holes, and we supported one another whenever we could. The truth is, we both preferred to be out on the hill rather than in the office shifting paper and writing reports.

We would sometimes escape the stifling burden of administration in the office and just go for a walk to remind ourselves what the National Park was really all about. I remember one particularly beautiful day we spent exploring the Black Cloughs, when we were supposedly attending ‘a meeting’ in Longdendale.

It was only when you were out with Ken that you realised what an outstanding on-the-ground ranger he was. Everyone we met seemed to know him – from landowners, gamekeepers and farmers, to ramblers and climbers. Without exception, they all liked and respected him.

Above all, Ken realised that the ranger was the public face of the National Park to most visitors and local people. Because of that, he was the finest ambassador the National Park ever had.

Proud to be born and brought up in New Mills, Ken was the son of a collier and was apprenticed as a carpenter. He came to the National Park after National Service, where he served with the Royal Marines in Suez and elsewhere. He started as the first warden at Crowden in Longdendale, then at his beloved Fieldhead at Edale as Northern District Ranger, and was appointed Head Warden in 1970 and Chief Ranger in 1986.

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In this role he made many innovations; in footpath restoration, especially on the Pennine Way, where he brought in flagstones from demolished mills to pave the Way, and set up the Pennine Way Officer post. He also set up other ranger posts in partnership with the Water Companies and introduced the popular Walks with a Ranger programme.

Mountain rescue was always very important to Ken. Following the Four Inns Walk tragedy in 1964, in which Ken had been involved in the ultimately futile search for the three missing Rover scouts in the Alport Valley, he was instrumental in setting up the co-ordinated Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation. He also came up with the idea of the ‘snatch squad’ – quick-response teams formed among working volunteers – which is still in use today. Ken was awarded the British Empire Medal for his services to mountain rescue in 1978, and he married his wife Erica after his retirement in 1994.

Beneath that apparently sometimes grumpy exterior, there beat a heart of gold. I’ll miss his loyalty and kindness; his wicked, dry, sense of humour; that sunny, ear-to-ear smile, and the cheery ‘G’day’ with which he’d greet you. They broke the mould after they made him, and there’ll never be another like Ranger Ken.