Arguably, the ecology and wellbeing of Snowdon and Snowdonia is under more pressure than any other UK mountain or range. the British Mountaineering Council has called for a well-funded and long-sighted strategy to tackle the very real problems caused by the booming number of visitors to the area.
During 2013 just under half a million people walked visited Snowdon itself. While we might see this as a success story in many ways — for this is clearly reflective of the increasing numbers of people taking to the hills more generally — it seems that the Snowdonia National Parks Authority are getting themselves in all kinds of messes.
Under pressure to do something about the number of ‘false paths’ that have been cut into the mountain Snowdonia National park has given some the impression that it is encouraging families with young children to stay away from the meeting. This would seem not to be a realistic reflection of their views which are that well-equipped and prepared families are welcome on the hill. The BMC reckons that a lack of clear and consistent messages means that a lot of people are seeing Snowdon as a tourist attraction or as a simple way marked trail. Anyone who has walked on Snowdon knows that, despite its popularity, it is a real mountain. Conditions here can be very inhospitable at many different times of the year. Over the years I’ve had cause to give up an ascent of Snowdon because of a dramatic change in the weather or because of dangerous ice conditions.
The focus on ‘false paths’ has come about following the death of a young climber on Snowdon. The corner investigating the death concluded that this unfortunate walker’s death was in no small part due to the following of such a path. As a result the BMC are suggesting that too much emphasis is now being placed on the tidying up of paths and not enough on publicising the real dangers of a mountain.
Jon Garside, BMC Training officer puts it this way:
“To some people it might seem easy to blame ‘misleading’ paths for accidents. But simply removing paths is not the answer.
“It is wrong to say that paths, summits or any other physical aspect of the mountain environment are inherently dangerous. The key factor is people themselves and their ability to deal with the hazards they encounter. To stay safe people must be taught to rely on their heads, not cues provided by artificial pointers.
“Promoting and teaching the skills needed to operate in mountain environments is not a quick fix, it takes time, patience and resources. But it is ultimately a far better insurance against accidents than ‘landscape improvements’. This is where the focus of the national park’s efforts should be.”
How right he is. Snowdon on a fine, summer day, can be a lovely place to be. At other times it is a high and challenging mountain for any inexperienced walker to tackle.
Sadly, it would seem that the Park Authority’s ability to properly educate is being impaired by finding cuts. It would seem that the National Park’s funding is inadequate to deal with the scale of its popularity. Elfyn Jones — BMC Access and Conservation Officer — adds:
“With continued cutbacks to national park funding, the park authority is clearly struggling with the resources it has available to deal with the considerable problems that managing an area such as Snowdon poses.
“Snowdon poses unique and special problems for any organisation trying to manage and conserve its special qualities. With over 477,000 walkers on its main paths each year it is arguably the busiest and most popular mountain in the world. It needs a vision and a funded work programme that’s agreed and shared with all stakeholders to provide the resources required to protect the special qualities of this unique and often abused mountain area.”
As the controversy rages it is clear that there is work to do in both educating the pubic and managing the extraordinary success of the National Park.
At the end of the day those running the park surely has a duty of care to those venturing into the mountains. This may run a little contrary to the experience — and the views — of many of us when we consider walking in other places. When I walk across wild land in the Scottish Highlands I am clearly doing so at my own risk but such is the tourist economy in Snowdonia that I think another set of realities and responsibilities come into play.
It is not easy to stroke a balance between access and encouragement with safety and responsibility. It may be simply too easy to blame funding cuts or this may be the reality of the situation. But the BMC is clearly right in calling for long-term plan to address both preventable accidents and environmental damage.
I now think long and hard about visiting Snowdonia. Up to four or five years ago we regularly stayed there a couple of times a year, using campsite or B&B’s. However, so busy has the place become that I now simply use Snowdonia as a place to walk through and wild camp in.
In my view, things cannot be allowed to simply carry on as they are.
Routebuddy’s new Coast to Coast Challenge Map utilises the company’s unique screen ‘stitching’ technology to reduce a new map and add-ons that will be useful to anyone planning a coast-to-coast walk across the Scottish Highlands.
On this occasion I thought it would be more useful to you if I produced a video review, as you really have to see it in action to appreciate what this system can do. The review is in html format and should be viewable by all up-to-daye systems including tablets.
The 1:50K base map is available at a reasonable £19.99.
In addition, Routebuddy has created a number of specific 1:25 add-ons which stitch into the base map. These range in price depending on the ground covered. They start at £4.99 for part of the Torridon hills to £25 for the Cairngorms — good value for money.
Any other Routebuddy map can stitch into the base map and this review also displays a Harvey/BMC 1:40 working with the base map.
Not only can you view stitched maps on the same screen but you can print out the stitched maps on the same sheet of paper.
As we approach winter I know that a lot of hikers begin to reappraise their kit and think about new purchases for the winter or the spring. I’ve had a lot of interest in the Exodus pack. I’ve reviewed it before — Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 2011 Backpack — but this ha the benefit of prolonged use.
I’ve also written this as an introduction to lightweight packs and their use in UK or cooler climate conditions.
From the world of books you could easily get the impression that treks and trail walking are things of great extremes, undertaken by athletes who suffer significantly for their art! But, of course, it does not have to be like that and the mere mortals amongst us can still enjoy the thrill of a trek albeit one that is measured in weeks rather than months, where camping is often on campsites or where gites or B&Bs are used frequently.
New technology and the internet has made small run publishing — or self publishing — very popular over the last few years. I have reviewed a number of self published books in these pages, books that I have very much enjoyed reading. At the bottom of each review I include an Amazon link. This link allows you the reader to quickly check out other reviews and, if you choose to order the book via this route, I can see how many have been sold. By far the most ordered book from this site using the Amazon system is a self published book. These books fill a real niche somewhere between a travelogue and a conventional guidebook; they can give us a good idea of life on a particular trail.
Every Day Above a New Horizon is another successful self published book which centres around a walk on the Stephenson Trail in France. A few weeks ago I reviewed Max Landsberg’s A Call of the Mountains a book which described the project of a Munro bagger; Max’s book while having a strong narrative also gave many hints and tips that will be useful to those beginning to Munro bag. In this book John Davison does much the same thing for trail walking combining a strong narrative with quite a lot of useful information about wild camping, treating water and so on.
Like John I have had the Stephenson Trail on my list of to do walks for years. The Trail has been developed to commemorate the walk undertaken by Robert Louis Stephenson from the Massif Central to the South of the Cevennes just above the Mediterranean. Stephenson wrote a short book about his trip. Travels in the Cevennes with a Donkey is often considered to be the first modern travel book.
My problem with this trail is that I never seem to be able to find the time to slip this walk into my annual schedule. I have the route planned almost completely but there it sits until, well, one day …
I was pleased to read that John has had the same experience. He too harboured the dream of walking this trail for many years. He even carried around some text from Stephenson as a poster which sat on his office wall. It sat on a number of different walls over the years before he found the time and space to walk the trail.
So, Every Day Above a New Horizon, not only focus on this walk but on those trail expeditions that led up to it. In building up to the Stephenson Trail John walked and backpacked in Derbyshire, Wiltshire and in the Highlands. He then graduated to longer trails including the West highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the East Highland Way before moving on to tackle the big one.
The really great thing about this book is that John writes well. He has a sparse and simple style and is successful in avoiding the flowery language we get from many inexperienced writers. He has a nice gentle sense of humour and a keen eye for important detail. Anyone who has regularly trailed walked will recognise many of the experiences and characters that are encountered along way. There’s the gear bore who carries massive weights and dominates every meeting at a campsite. There are walking companions who value the pubs along the route more keenly than they do the landscape and who sometimes hail down a taxi and thumb a life to get from one place to the other. There are hotels and B&Bs who, faced with a smelly and muddy trekker, suddenly decide that they are full. And there are honest pieces about the horrible nature of the early stages of the West Highland Way which is often more reminiscent of a rubbish dump than of a national trail. I agree with John’s observation that the decision to ban camping in the Loch Lomond area has been a disaster as it simply encourages improvised bivouacs which leave behind tons of debris.
The Stephenson Trail takes up the second half of a book. For me, this gives a pretty open and honest account of a first time excursion on a French Trail, including that rather touchy issue of the French and their dogs!
The Stephenson Trail is not a particularly difficult trail in itself although some of the days are long. However, John makes it clear that UK walkers need to respect the upland areas many of which are higher than any territory in the UK and which can (often) be subject to pretty dreadful weather conditions. Although this is a trail that can be broken with very comfortable evenings in lovely villages it is one which needs to be prepared for properly.
I enjoyed reading this book. It had the right air of authenticity to it. As I’ve already mentioned John writes well and this is an easy book to digest; I read it in two sessions over a Sunday afternoon and earl evening.
If you are thinking of tackling one of these trails for the first time I think you would find this book useful. If you have a lot of experience of trail walking then there is also a lot to enjoy.
I think this is only available in paper cover at the moment, but it is easily bought through Amazon.
There is more to life than backpacking tents — honest! Sometimes a bit more space is welcome, when you are camp site camping or, perhaps, spending a few days at a music festival. In these situations the Mega Horn II is a great option.
Sawyer Mini and Syringe Tool; Sawyer in Mineral Water Bottle
For anyone contemplating a backpacking trip, or hiking in wild land, a water filter is a pretty must do buy. True, there are some areas such as the Highlands of Scotland where the dreaded Guardia virus has not yet appeared but for much of the UK and beyond a water filter is useful thing to have around. You only have to drink dodgy water once to take them seriously! I always carry one when hiking in the UK — unless I am near the top of hills. Wherever there are animals grazing ou are best advised to filter your water.
The problem is that water filters can be very clunky and a pain to use. The Sawyer mini filter is hands-down the best water filter that I have ever used. The Sawyer Mini is light, easy to use and exceptionally easy to clean
There is something about walking in heat. Yes it can be exhausting but I like the way the body just works better, like a motor engine where the lubricant is at its most efficient in the warmth. Our current warm summer should be an inspiration to hikers but on yesterday’s walk — eighteen miles or so across Shropshire’s Hills — I encountered only one other walker! We stopped for a while and talked about this phenomenon. He assumed that most people thought it just too hot but up on the tops — with a gentle and lilting breeze — was he most pleasant place to be.
The earliest train out of New Street saw me walking through Craven Arms early enough for only the keenest of shoppers to be about. In this weather the hiker is advised to make an early start; strong sunshine warmed the limbs but the humid of the day had yet to excerpt its grip.
In high summer this landscape is at its most inspirational. Gentle hills rise to provide stunning views of small fields, lanes almost buried in hedgerows, copses and woodland. Horses grazed on the hills. Sheep sheltered under fine old oaks and chestnuts. Red kites glided effortlessly above patiently searching for breakfast. From the highest hills it is almost obligatory to take a breather and gaze out to the mystical land of Wales to the west.
These views have inspired many artists, painters, musicians and writers amongst them. But probably the most famous artist associated with these hills is the poet and ’Shropshire Lad’ Alfred Edward Housman. It is widely assumed that Housman was a local lad but he grew up in neighbouring Worcester and only discovered the county later in life. As a boy he would set out on summer evenings to climb local hills and to gaze out in wonder at the Shropshire landscape of patchwork fields and hills stretching out to the horizon. These images stayed with throughout the years and provided inspiration for poems and life, love, romance, death and the destruction of war. Today, these same hills remain a place to linger in the warmth and reflect on all life. Housman wrote A Shropshire Lad while living in London’s Highgate, never having set foot in his idealised county. Walk through any South Shropshire village today and it is hard to ignore any many of restaurants or coffee shops named after the county’s most ‘famous son’.
Shropshire’s landscape provides no less inspiration for a growing army of walkers and hikers. While there was no sight of them yesterday evidence of them was all around. Tracks and paths are now far more regularly walked these days than even they were ten years ago. Narrow paths have flattened and widened. Stiles and maintained and often replaced by kissing gate to make walks more accessible to many more. The evidence on the ground about the growth of hiking is matched by academic analysis of the tourism industry.
Most of the thinking about the future of tourism rests with the European Union who’s expert seminars and programmes look to capitalise on what is increasingly the major economic earner for the rural world. A friend of mine who is big on these things tells me that walking and hiking is one of the biggest growth areas in European Tourism. That the biggest growth of all is to found along pilgrim trails shouldn’t surprise us combining as they do stunning landscapes and the unmistakable heightening of spiritual awareness that comes from self powered travel through stunning landscape. But, he tells me, there is another factor in the growth of hiking.
The generation that few up in the late fifties and sixties became the first that had access to significant leisure time and who began to engage in sport and other physical pursuits en masse. Now these same folks are at the age when the strains of five a side football, running, squash and the rest, have simply taken too much of a toll. Hiking and backpacking is increasingly the physical challenge that the baby boomers are moving to.
My walk ended at a village that announces itself to be a Walker Friendly Town; they are rightfully proud that they were the first place in England to carry this designation. No matter how muddy, grubby or smelly you are there will always be a welcome for you here. The true end of my journey was the Buck Inn which has been welcoming walkers for most of my adult life. The Buck remains a real pub and although the beer garden is popular and the restaurant tables may carry reserved signs there is nothing pretentious about the place. Locals include you in conversation in the most natural of manner without expecting much back. And when you leave there is a courteous thank you. There’s no need to develop faux friendship here for you will simply find the place as welcoming next time you arrive.
This solitary yet inspirational walk was just the thing to set me up for a family evening event as well as the rest of the weekend. There was only one real downside. Without thinking I had planned a walk that was water free for the first three quarters of its length. By the time I made my way up the southern edge of the Long Mynd the humidity had begun to take its toll. I decided to abandon the usual good paths down to follow the line of a small stream that cuts its way, invisibly at first, down towards one of the major access batches the cut their way through the stretched-out Eastern side of this ridge. This detour would have me in sight of cool, running, water half an hour earlier than otherwise. The water was welcome and I drank litres of it as I made my way slowly down the bed of the emancipated stream, hacking through the densest bracken that I have seen here for many years.
As the mountain streams flattened out small children paddled in the shallows and the rock pools while Mum, Dad and Grandparents dozed in their portable camping chairs. At the campsite high canopies and awnings were the congregating places for those who had little energy than to open the beer bottle. Barbecues had been lit and the Shropshire air was filled with the smells of burgers and sausages.
It was all that high summer should be.
- When I was one-and-twenty
- I heard a wise man say,
- “Give crowns and pounds and guineas
- But not your heart away;
- Give pearls away and rubies
- But keep your fancy free.”
- But I was one-and-twenty,
- No use to talk to me.
- When I was one-and-twenty
- I heard him say again,
- “The heart out of the bosom
- Was never given in vain;
- ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
- And sold for endless rue.”
- And I am two-and-twenty
- And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.
Ben Waddington’s ongoing walking festival, Still Walking, reconveenes later this week. This urban walking festival continues to grow all kinds of fascinating, weird and wonderful ways. The combination of a good walk and the chance to learn smoothing new and quirky seems to be a winner.
Some of the highlights of the events coming up include:
As long as the public can maintain conscientious behaviour, then they can have access to public access spaces. Various signs across Birmingham warn against loitering, which is apparently spending fifteen minutes to two hours in a public space without intention, according to officials.
Still Loitering will visit areas of Birmingham with these signs in place in order to question and challenge the notion of what it is “to loiter” in a flash mob-esque exploration. Is there such a thing as loitering? Is to enforce a “no loitering” rule criminal and unjust in a public space? Will we elicit threat, irritation or curiosity?
Sights in Motion — Pedal Powered Invisible Cinema
Birmingham Bike Foundry follow up their 2012 round up of the city’s former cycle factories with a cinema-themed trek starting from Stirchley, moving through Kings Heath, Moseley and Balsall Heath, winding through Small Heath and East Birmingham before finishing approximately 3 hours later in the centre of town. The route includes 17 former cinemas which have variously been re-made, remodelled, regenerated or ruined and the unusual route allows a great opportunity for some genuinely new discoveries. The route presents a rapid-fire presentation of the buildings, focussing on their atmospheres, and on the details not discernible in photographs, rather than a presentation of historical data, final screenings or seating plans.
And, my favourite …
Waylosing: a Guide to Getting Lost
Waylosing is a walking tour which explores what it means to lose your way. Some people have a special talent for getting lost, others have a compass-like sense of direction. Rather than viewing being lost negatively, this tour will consider it as a unique state in which places, people and objects all appear detached from their familiar matrix.
The tour will be guided by the ideas and poetics of losing one’s way while at the same time following an indeterminate route through the city. We will use a variety of techniques to take us well off the beaten path. The starting point is agreed and the end of the walk is back in the city centre but where we go between these two points will be determined by just how well we succeed getting lost.
This walk is led by performance artist Bill Aitchison who is gloriously bonkers!
There were other great session as part of this festival but they are now sold out!. So book your places quickly !!
During the Challenge John Jocys (JJ) asked me about a photo he had seen here last year. Where was it taken he asked?
Well, it wasn’t in Shropshire, or in the West Country or Mid or North Wales.
Nope, this was taken on the Thames footpath somewhere between Kew and Richmond. I did use a tripod though!