Saturday, January 25, 2014

The madness of King Andrew!

Outdoor folk and environmentalists who keep a close eye on mountain news around the net, cannot have failed to have picked up on what has become an increasingly bizarre access dispute north of the border. A situation which this blog has already highlighted. The Ledgowan estate in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands in owned by a Yorkshire company, Rainheath Ltd,registered at (North Hill, Dishforth, Thirsk) which attributes 96% ownership to Andrew Simpson. Since acquiring ownership, the aforementioned Mr Simpson and his family has seen fit to control their shooting estate in the manner of Highland Clearance despots. The estates’ lickspittles and members of the Simpson family have been using intimidation and strong arm tactics to dissuade local inhabitants of the nearby village of Achnasheen (population 50) and hillwalkers from passing over the 11000 acre mountain estate.

A full account of the ongoing situation can be found in forensic detail on Andy Wightman’s excellent Land Matters website. The latest missive from Andrew advises that... all walkers met on Ledgowan will be asked for contact details, adding: ‘If this is not forthcoming or staff consider there is any reason for doubt they will take a photograph of the individuals and or their vehicle.

The Orwellian tone of Simpson’s latest intimidation tactic notwithstanding, what I ask will be the reaction of estate goons to those members of the public who refuse to have their photograph taken? Given the current confrontational stance of the Ledgowan Estate and their latest provocational stunt, I am left wondering what exactly is the local police force's take is on a situation which has the potential to boil over into violence ? 

In the mean time, the opprobrium directed at Simpson from outdoor organisations, the local authority and even other Scottish sporting estates embarrassed by this feudal relic, appears to be water off a duck’s back-if there are any ducks left on the Ledgowan Estate!- as far as this distinctly chauvinistic buffoon is concerned.

UKC Forum Debate

Monday, January 20, 2014

Snow Joke in North Wales

This winter's most popular activity.Scoffing a chip butty in Pete's Eats!

Winter certainly has a long way to go before it has run its course, but this winter, the lack of snow and ice in the mountains has been pretty consistent. Although there is some white stuff on the very tops above 2.500’ , the lower hills and upland valleys are totally bare. Driving through to the coast yesterday, it was remarkable that even the normally log jammed parking areas around Pen Y Pass were pretty quiet. Not surprisingly, the crags in the Pass were empty apart from a couple of lads playing about on the Cromlech boulders. The previous week I had wandered over the back of Siabod onto Carnedd Cribau. The ground was saturated and the air temperature distinctly balmy, despite reaching almost  2000’. Looking over into the Snowdon Horseshoe, there was little sign of snow apart from the very tops although I’m sure some winter activists, driven to the point of desperation, were giving the Trinity Face a go!

As far as walking and climbing goes, the winter of 2013-14 has been pretty rubbish. Too damp to trad climb and too warm and wet to winter climb or enjoy a snow crisp amble over the tops. Even mountain biking is little fun, grinding along through churned up mud. By contrast, it looks like the Scottish Highlands are enjoying a traditional season. I’ve noticed Andy Nisbet continues his one man blitzkrieg on the winter cliffs with an inexhaustible haul of first ascents. Meanwhile, south of the border in the Lakes and Wales...has anyone done anything of note so far? I expect the only outdoor activity down south that has benefitted from the weather is white water paddling. The parking areas twixt Pentrefoalas and Betws y Coed were pretty full yesterday with paddlers and there was no end of the number of cars to-ing and fro-ing up and down the A5 with kayaks strapped to roof bars. Unfortunately, despite enjoying a bit of sea kayaking, I’ve never been a white water paddler so I can’t make the most of this one positive aspect of the weather.

 A smattering of snow in the Glyders yesterday

For winter climbers there is hope though. Last year, we experienced the heaviest snowfall I’ve experienced in  the last twenty years in north Wales, in March. It started snowing in the first week and it lay thick on the ground for weeks. Making  back lanes impassable, closing schools, and isolating remote farms. It’s worth pointing out to those who do pray for snow and perfect winter conditions that there are those who last year paid a heavy price for those very conditions which make the winter activist’s heart sing. Thousands of sheep were lost last March with conditions so severe that farmers couldn’t bury their animals for weeks. It was pretty catastrophic in the marginal uplands so spare a thought for those who pay most heavily when the mountains and uplands are under a blanket of snow.

Perhaps though, this winter will be the winter which never was? A dank and sullen season of swollen becks and waterlogged paths. A winter of faces pressed up against cafe windows. Of wet dogs steaming in front of pub fires and drowned rats parading up and down Llanberis high street, wishing they were anywhere, but anywhere than in north Wales right now!
The Pen y Gwryd.Not exactly Everest training conditions hereabouts at the moment!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Once upon a time in the West

It’s two years since I broke the story in the outdoor media about the racist attack on Liverpool born outdoor instructor, Samuel Farmer and his family at St Agnes in Cornwall. The hate campaign reaching an appalling apotheosis with two arson attacks which destroyed a work shop and store which housed Sam’s outdoor equipment and his partner Carla’s art work. After being picked up on the UKC forums, the case quickly became something of a cause celebre for climbers who rallied around with financial donations and offers of equipment.

Several UK outdoor equipment manufacturers also donated gear and even top rock jock, Johnny Dawes dropped in on Sam to offer his support. When Sam’s Hope Project took its first outdoor group since the attack, I managed to get a piece on The Guardian’s Northerner Blog  which brought the story to the attention of those outside the outdoor community. Since then, I have kept in touch with Sam and I’ve been following developments down in Cornwall with a keen interest and fingers crossed for a happy outcome. His plans for a new structure on the site which would act as a store, gallery and horse/Llama trekking centre, has thus far been mired in the painfully slow planning process. However, with two youth groups already booked in for courses this coming summer, things are looking reasonably positive for the future of The Hope Project.

Factor in requests from certain national media organisations including journals to film companies wishing to follow up and expand on Sam’s story- including an interview in Cornwall’s West Briton newspaper next Thursday- then it could be that the further publicity could provide the impetus needed to speed up the snail like planning procedures.

On the conservation front, the Barton Moss Anti Fracking campaign have also been in touch with Sam this winter, offering mutual support and expertise in areas such as developing foraging, winter survival and first aid skills. The philosophy linking both The Hope Project’s work with inner city youngsters and Anti Fracking groups like Barton Moss being their shared commitment  in opposing exploitation. Either for profit or political expediency. With these values in mind and as a victim of racism, Sam sees his project extending beyond its original remit as a provider of outdoor education for socially excluded youngsters, and offering support and social justice for any individual or group who has suffered discrimination or exclusion based on their ethnicity.

Including indigenous Cornish born residents who are now a minority in their own region and largely excluded from the housing market by their lack of economic clout. Particularly compared to the wealthy incomers who have turned Cornish villages into ghost communities in winter by buying up properties as second homes.

This summer, Sam is planning a big get together for all his friends and supporters down at St Agnes, as a thank you for the generous support he has received from all over the country. If you want to help or donate to The Hope Project, follow the links below which includes a link to Sam and friends album on iTunes.
JA/Photos Sam Farmer

Friday, January 3, 2014

Homage to Patagonia

The Old School

With the new year opening with a continuous elemental onslaught- winds on the coast up to 109 mph and driving rain-it hadn’t  exactly been ideal conditions to get out into the hills and start burning off the seasonal excesses. However, a brief window of opportunity presented itself yesterday when the odd shower predicted to break through the cloud cover was an improvement on the vicious battering we had received in North Wales on New Year’s Day.

I chose a six mile or so wander through the Gwydyr Forest from Betws y Coed to arrive at 'The Lost Village’ of Rhiwddolian. An isolated old quarrying hamlet where in the mid 19th century, virtually the entire community emigrated en-masse to Patagonia. Seeking a new life far from the economic and cultural oppression they experienced back home.

Rhiwddolian's bustling High Street.

For the villagers of Rhiwddolian about to sail into exile, life on the margins was just about as hard as it got. Working in the dangerous and economically fluctuating slate mining industry where the miners earned a pittance and every day risked life and limb in all weather conditions. Living in homes provided by the slate companies and where the families risked immediate eviction should the main bread winner fall victim to injury or death. Factor in the oppression of their language and culture where the use of Welsh was discouraged to the extent that schoolchildren using their home language in the classroom were forced to wear ‘The Welsh Not’- a block of wood hung around the neck- it all added up to a pretty grim existence. Little wonder the idea of creating a Welsh Eden far removed from an oppressive British state in the empty Patagonia region was appealing to so many.

The first time I walked up to Rhiwddolian, it was a perfect early summer’s day. The narrow lane running up the side of the little valley, was overhung with oak branches and the moss coated old stone walls separated what would have been a cart track from lush hay meadows and sheep pasture. The ruins of terraced and detached cottages stood at the valley head with habitable dwellings-now holiday cottages- dotted about here and there beneath the bands of conifers which defined the tops. Thankfully, the ugly serried ranks of Gwydyr Forest’s coniferous plantations had not been allowed to penetrate the valley and it retained its timeless qualities.

Yesterday it was all too different. The lane ran like a river. Catching the previous night's deluge which sluiced off the steep hillsides.The ochre fields were bare of sheep and grass... Skeletal trees bore the recent pale scars left by storm snapped branches. Not a living soul to break the monotonous empty landscape. Despite the grey skies and the sour waterlogged earth, there was still a quiet beauty about the land broken only by the occasional bark of our excited hound. Ecstatic in the rich pungent moment. Badgers, Foxes, Rabbits and even wild goats provide a olfactory smorgasbord of delight for dogs who delve into the undergrowth or follow the wild tracks hereabouts.

We left the dead village behind and followed the old stone lane-impassable now but for those on foot- back to the outskirts of Betws y Coed as the winter afternoon descended into night. I wondered, what time would it be in Patagonia right now?