Sunday, August 20, 2017

Drone pilot enters the hall of the mountain king

It appears I am now a fully paid up member of the mountain environment desecration Society... (MEDS). Membership is quite expensive I’m afraid. Several hundred pounds, but hey...drones don’t come cheap! Yes...For a while now I have on occasion taken my modest Phantom drone into the great outdoors to shoot some aerial footage for use on videos, and perhaps use some of the stills for illustrative purposes. Thus far without causing any undue distress to the either the wildlife or hikers. You see, I’m pretty respectful of other mountain users and would never fly a drone on a mountain top or where other people have gathered. Especially since I saw what happens when a drone throws a prop and comes down to earth like an Exocet missile! Thank God, it came down in a neighbouring farmers field and not on the summit of somewhere like Tryfan!

However, today I was outed as an eco vandal by a countryside warden. You see, I was wandering up to a local mountain top to take some footage. As I approached I met a guy coming down whom I presumed, by the tripod and camera he was carrying-it was a telescope it turned out- was a photographer out for a bit of bird snapping. After a couple of minutes of chit chat, he asked what I was doing? The hard shell case on my back was a bit of a giveaway. I told him I was planning to take some drone footage over yonder. Then came ‘The Lecture'! I was informed that no drone flying was allowed anywhere hereabouts. Wildlife..blah blah..rare birds..blah blah..beautiful unspoiled environment blah blah...which was fine and I said I would respect that.However, he had to follow that up with a sneering comments along the lines of..’why anyone would want to spoil the peace and quiet of this special place with a drone...sneer, sneer ‘.

On my way back I was mulling over what had transpired and I got more and more miffed. The thing that irked me most was the fact that here was an environment which had been degraded by things like 4x4‘s, scrambler motor bikes and mountain bikes, but worst of all, it was an environment that to use George Monbiot’s words, had been ‘sheepwrecked’! The moorland was being grazed by sheep who were chomping their way through seedlings and young trees. Trampling the nests of ground nesting birds and doing what sheep do when they are left to their own devices. Create sterile, extremely limited ecosystems. Add to the fact that the area has been extensively degraded by the grouse and pheasant shooting industry who have left many areas hatched with stark breaks in the heather, and what you have is not a ‘special place’, but a degraded environment.

If the powers that be really wanted to create a healthy ecosystem hereabouts, they would start by removing the sheep and the shooters and let the land naturally re-wild. You can see in isolated pockets that trees will soon take hold. Fifty years from now, we would have an entirely different landscape where woodland flourishes which supports a far more diverse range of flora and fauna than it does at present.

Hindsight is a great thing but I’m sorry I am so slow-witted that I could not put these points to Mr Warden; the self-declared great protector of the moor and mountain. The idea that ten minutes of flying a drone on a despoiled, bare mountain top is somehow an ecological crime against nature when thousands of sheep grazing the area to the bone is accepted, highlights how far these agencies and quangos are from reality.


It seems that drones in the mountains are a bit of a thing at the moment. Even The Guardian had an article recently, berating drone users on the Isle of Skye.  Fair enough. No one wants to have their peace and quiet spoiled by thoughtless drone users. But 'thoughtless' is the operative word. Most drone owners who take their drones into the mountains do it to take aerial footage and not as my warden friend seemed to think, just fly them about like a model aeroplane. And most do it with an awareness of other mountain users. As I suggested above. I only take my drone far from the madding crowd and only fly for a short period. Just enough to get some video footage.

Every group who frequents the great outdoors has its share of idiots. From thoughtless mountain bikers who tear down mountain sides without a thought for walkers, to climbers who leave their crap littering the base of crags. As far as drone use in the great outdoors goes. A bit of perspective....please!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Climb is dead...long live Climb!

That was then and this is now
In the beginning was Crags. And Crags begat High and her bastard sister On the Edge, who in turn, begat Climb. And the Lord said unto its high priests, ‘take up thy parchments and make them light, for I have seen the future, and it is a light which can be read by people throughout this land and beyond’.

Yes.... Climb magazine is going digital! The glossy magazine which in one guise or another has been a staple of the British climbing scene for over 40 years, is being pulled from the news-stands by its publishers, Greenshires, and will soon become a free online media which leaves Climber as the only commercial climbing publication left. Other outdoor paper publications such as Trail and TGO continue of course and the BMC’s Summit magazine will still be available as a traditional paper journal but with such a respected publication as Climb joining the digital revolution, it seems only a matter of time before all outdoor publications are digitalised.

Of course, the digital revolution in journalism is not just confined to small circulation publications within the climbing media. A few years ago a senior editor at the Guardian told me that the paper will be a digital only publication by the end of the decade. With only two and a half years of the decade left, I would say that it’s more than likely that this forecast will come true by 2020. After all, The Independent went digital last year and around the world, many traditional newspapers and journals are also following this route.

It's not that hard to see why. The cost of putting out a digital publication is a fraction the cost of producing a paper publication. Furthermore, the circulation of a free to view digital journal will be far in advance of a traditional paper publication. When Rupert Murdoch put his Times newspaper behind a pay wall, it lost 90% of its readers. Pity the poor Times journalist whose work is seen by a tiny fraction of those reading an article written by a Guardian journalist. The inevitable knock on effect on advertising as yet, hasn’t persuaded Murdoch to drop his greedy and parsimonious policy but it's hard to see why an advertiser would want to pay the same rates to a publication hidden behind a pay wall with its limited readership, than it would pay a free to view site like the Guardian, Independent or any of the free to view tabloids? Murdoch's S*n being an obvious exception in the Tabloid market.

Returning to the outdoor media.For nearly two decades, traditional journals have seen online media like the leviathan that is UK Climbing eat into its readership. Young people are more and more likely to get their news, views and information from digital sources. Many of those who go on the UKC site would never consider buying a glossy publication for they would say, ‘what’s the point’. I can read articles and access forums on UKC so why pay four quid for a magazine which might only have a couple of articles in that interest me?


It's a problem for traditional climbing magazines in that over recent decades, climbing has splintered into ever more distinct sub categories. Traditionally a magazine like High or Climber just covered rock and winter climbing, hillwalking and maybe mountain skiing. Today you have to add, bouldering, sports, dry tooling, deep water soloing etc into the mix and very few people are interested in every area of activity. Some people purely boulder and never go near a rope while others wouldn’t be seen dead on a bolted sports route. Throw in the surge in interest in mountain and road biking which increasingly is attracting climbers into the ranks of the lycra brigade, and you have a difficult juggling act to perform.

On top of the competition from a commercial enterprise like UKC, is the continuing growth a development of non-commercial blogs and blogazines like Footless Crow which while in no way replicating the varied content of a magazine like Climb, given its specialised role, nevertheless, offers itself as another outlet for quality writing. For example, this week on FC, highly respected mountaineering veteran and former BMC president Dennis Gray, is reviewing Bernadette McDonald’s Vertebrate published ‘The Art of Freedom’. Twenty years ago a review like this would have gone into High or Climber, or at least a club journal.

One thing I do hope the new digital Climb achieves. I truly hope given its status within the British climbing scene, it could offer itself as a thoughtful alternative to UKC which I’ve likened to a Soviet era supermarket in the past. ‘Come on in and buy all the pickled cabbage you like, so long as its UKC branded pickled cabbage’! Back in the day I vaguely remember a short lived rival site to UKC which I’m sure was owned by the Guardian’s current IT editor-whose name escapes me at the moment? Lack of competition reduces creativity in any field so I for one will be wishing Digital Climb all the success in the world as it strides into the future and hopefully offers itself as a quality all round mountain media with its own unique digital identity.

 

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Cock and Bull Story: An everyday tale of non country folk

A visual representation of recent National Trust policies.Note to NT legal representatives-Image not shot on NT property!
 
Well...that wasn't expected! The blog piece of a few days ago detailing the National Trust of England & Wales' controversial approach to image rights when dealing with commercial photographs, really put the cat amongst the pigeons!  The number of page visits went off the scale and I was approached by several national media organisations who wanted to interview the photographer in question who had approached me with the information after reading my blog about what we should call, 'The Glencoe Affair'. Sadly for them, my informant wishes to remain anonymous but he/she felt that my article more or less captured the essence of the NT's position on image rights in England and Wales.

With over 60 comments under the piece, it's fair to say the overwhelming majority of comments were from those who were, to put it mildly, not well disposed towards the National Trust. 'greedy', 'expensive', 'out of touch' and 'tartan rugs and overpriced wax jackets' featured amongst the comments! How did it come to this? This is an organisation with 4.2m members and among them 60,000 volunteers. Our political parties would die for those sort of figures. If the National Trust represents the wholesome embodiment of Middle England's 'Countryfile' view what constitutes a conservation and preservation organisation, then it's clear that many of those 4.2 million members, share the reservations of people like myself, who have been critics of the NT on several issues over the past few years.


The Glencoe and Image Rights issues in many ways are just the tip of a PR iceberg as far as the Trust is concerned. It's approach to hunting and bloodsports on its land, its hazy policies on wind farms and renewable energy projects on NT estates etc etc, are just some of the issues which have antagonised both member and non member alike. Whilst these latter projects are considered good PR and are generally well received by the average metropolitan Guardianist, many conservationists question for example, why a scheme like the Hafod Llan hydro-power development which was constructed on the Trust's eponymous estate, near Beddgelert in north Wales, was necessary?

Especially when the rash of these developments across Snowdonia-with ugly scars being torn out of the mountainside- are considered by many to be rather pointless, profit driven exercises, considering the minimal electricity output and the visual impact that comes in train with their development.

Compare the National Trust's management of the rural environment with a genuine conservation movement like the John Muir Trust. An organisation which is totally in tune with the natural environment and the people who live and work within this environment. Although compared to the both the Scottish and England & Wales Trusts, the JMT would be considered as small fry with regard to membership and land ownership. It remains a model of how a conservation organisation can sympathetically balance its role as a guardian and protector of the natural world on its estates while taking a realistic approach to social and cultural issues. NT take note!

Anyway...that's enough National Trust blog pieces for now. Normal service will be resumed asap!

 

Monday, August 7, 2017

National Trust targets photographers and film makers over image rights.

Looking towards Cwm Tregalan under Yr Wyddfa. An area owned by the NT and subject to a hefty image rights charge for commercial photographers or even amateurs who sell an image for profit.

Following on from yesterday's news that the National Trust for Scotland was pursuing through their legal representatives a small outdoor company-Hilltrek, based in NE Scotland- for using ‘Glencoe’ in a product description- the company have been making their Glencoe waterproof for 30 years- claiming that as the landowners they enjoy exclusive rights to the name. News has just reached of another quite frankly bizarre interpretation of land ownership by the National Trust; this time here in North Wales.

A commercial photographer who was planning to shoot some action photographs for an outdoor publication on crags which fall within one of the NT’s extensive Snowdonia estates, has been quoted £250 to £400 per hour to carry out his assignment. A fact that will surprise many who like myself believed that while private individuals and organisations like the NT can own the land beneath our feet, those iconic views will eternally remain ours to freely enjoy and capture as we please. The idea that a view be owned by a private individual, business or organisation is almost beyond credibility, I would imagine, to most people.

It's a little known fact that ANY commercial activity-including guiding- on land accessed through the cROW act can incur a charge and landowners can pursue retrospective damages against those engaged in a commercial activity on their land if permission was not granted in the first instance. This would suggest that even an organisation like the Plas y Brenin Mountain Centre would be liable should a private landowner or an organisation like the NT decide to start a legal action against them.

However, while charging for access to privately owned land and waterways is nothing new- even if in this instance, charging individuals, charities and commercial enterprises to climb, walk and paddle within the national park will ring alarm bells- Charging to capture an image within the park certainly rachets up the concept of ownership to a previously unheard of level. I understand that if ‘recognizable landmarks’ are included in an image taken by a commercial photographer, then this will automatically trigger a charge. I guess this could be anything from the summit cafe on Yr Wyddfa to a boat bobbing about on Llyn Gwynant.

As if to emphasise the point, The National Trust Photography Permits Secretary informed my photographer informant that the trust was ‘actively pursuing’ several landscape photographers for damages as they had taken photographs on the Trust’s Snowdonia estates without permission and were using these photographs as stock images. Of course, photographs and video footage taken within the SNP are not only being used in outdoor publications or in advertising features- witness the latest Skoda Octavia advert featuring Bradley Wiggins shot near Capel Curig and the Llanberis Pass. Photographs are also used for greetings cards, calendars and posters by professional photographers.

For every successful landscape photographer whose images might grace a calendar or coffee table book, there will be dozens of photographers who just scrape by a bare living through their craft. Charging an exorbitant £250-400 an hour will just not be an option in many cases for those who fall within this latter category.

Another aspect to consider is retrospective damages filed against individuals or the estates of deceased photographers whose iconic images perhaps taken 70 years ago, might still be being used today? Although I understand this draconian action is unlikely, it still has to be considered an option for an organisation who believes it owns not just the land but the visual perspective.

I also have to pose the question, if images taken on Trust estates are liable to incur a charge, will this apply to Google Earth, a global media giant who have photographed and published online, every inch of Snowdonia.Given that Google is a commercial enterprise I can only presume that they have either paid what would be a considerable sum or possibly, being US based, are exempt from these charges? Then there are organisations like The Climbers Club. As someone who was involved in the production of the last Ogwen guidebook which is liberally sprinkled with dozens  of action and crag images, will this non commercial club find itself liable for damages, for the guidebook is after all,a commercial venture. Being sold in book and outdoor gear shops?

What is self-evident is that the National Trust is once again acting in a heavy handed manner against small commercial enterprises who access their estates within the park. In this case, it’s not claiming exclusive naming rights to a Snowdonia location-although I guess it's a good job that Snowdon Mouldings don’t exist anymore! - It’s claiming ownership of a visual perspective and by any token, that is an incredible abuse of land ownership rights, and a move that is likely to disturb photographers and film and video makers who use the Snowdonia National Park regularly in a professional capacity.
 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The National Trust for Scotland: Sheep in Sheep's clothing.

Image: Hilltrek Outdoors
Anyone who has read some of my past blogs will know I’m not a huge fan of the National Trust. I see them as an out of touch organisation that should stick to managing stately homes and gardens and keep well away from managing our wilder areas. Particularly mountain environments where their approach to access and conservation is lamentable. The NT in Wales has shown great skill in being ripped off by greedy landowners when purchasing estates-witness their purchase of part of Yr Wyddfa and a Nant Gwynant estate at vastly over the market value. Furthermore, on many NT owned estates, access and a right to roam is no more advanced since they took over than when these estates remained in private hands.

However, if the NT in Wales is failing in its duty of care to the natural environment, then its Scottish counterpart, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) is making the English and Welsh branches look like Earth First! by comparison. Take a look at the letter it sent out to a private company-Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing of Aboyne, Aberdeenshire. In the letter posted by the NTS’s legal representatives-Shepherd Wedderburn of Edinburgh- the Trust is threatening legal action against the company for using the name ‘Glencoe’ for one of its products. 


In this case, the ‘Glencoe DV Jacket’ which Hilltrek have been making for 30 years. The NTS is claiming that the name ‘Glencoe’- if you are outside of the UK is the name of a mountain district in the Scottish Highlands-as a registered trademark which can only be used in the manner of an appellation d'origine contrôlée .That is, the name can only be used by those within Glencoe and even then, it is within the gift of the NTS who own the naming rights.

Naturally, those for whom the mountains and wilderness areas are natural environments which should be above such base human matters as litigation and commerce, are overwhelmingly outraged by the crude and insensitive actions of the NTS, and furthermore, asking how on earth a place name can be owned by an organisation? A charitable organisation no less, which is resorting the legal threats and intimidation towards a small Scottish business.

The valley that dare not speak its name!
Once again the National Trust is exposed as an out of touch organisation, run by crusty relics with a 'Middle England’ mentality. Here’s hoping the Hilltrek company can face down this ill conceived legal challenge by the fossilised NTS and those who are currently members of the UK wide National Trust will consider their membership of such an out dated and ill equipped organisation.

Friday, August 4, 2017

iPhone Photography....The Imperceptible Seduction

Go-Crow Camera
 
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away


Paul Simon: Kodachrome 

Remember the 70's? Well, if you weren't around then you will still probably be aware that all photography in those days revolved around rolls of film that had to be carefully threaded onto a camera spool- in a shaded area of course-wound on and then you could fire away. When the film had reached the end of the spool, it had to be carefully rewound back into the canister-unless it was medium format which used plastic spools and light proof paper-and unless you could develop and process the film yourself, the film had be taken to somewhere like Boots the Chemist and sent off to their processing lab. 

These days, if Paul Simon were to write a song about photography he would more likely pen..I got a iPhone camera, I love to take a photograph, So mama don't take my iPhone away
 
Although I would never describe myself as a photographer-more a happy snapper- nevertheless, I do take thousands of photographs and hours of video over a year. Traditionally using half decent cameras although certainly not top of the range models. Most recently I’ve used a Nikon  D Series DSLR, A Canon G series super compact and more recently a Sony mirrorless camera. I’ve always been somewhat sniffy about those who generally just take images with a smart phone. But in the last week something strange happened. I went to the North Yorkshire coast armed with a drone, the Sony and a Go Pro style sports cam, and ended up taking 99% of the hundreds of shots I captured, with my iPhone 6+. I hadn’t planned it this way but for some reason, it just became easier slipping the phone in my pocket and snapping away when the opportunity arose.

It appears I’m not alone. None other than Chris Bonington admitted recently that after a lifetime of using Olympus 35mm film and digital SLR’s, he too found himself taking more and more shots on his iPhone 6. I can feel the photography purists bristling with barely concealed contempt as we speak!  If the digital camera transformed photography through its instant accessibility-take photographs and download immediately- no waiting a week for your developed prints and slides to come back from Boots!- then smart phone, photography takes the instant communication element one step further.

The latest iPhones have really improved dramatically as far as capturing still and moving images,compared to the early versions. The iPhone 6S plus has a 12mp camera for example. The on board editing is pretty good too. Of course where the phone camera really comes into its own is when it comes to the social media. Particularly sites like Instagram. Although a lot of people use ‘real’ cameras to post images on Instagram, that almost feels like cheating as the original concept was created for iPhones-with Android devices added two years later. Posting images taken on a £3k Canon DSLR to a site created for the sharing of phone images, is a bit like dressing for dinner when you visit Kentucky Fried Chicken if you ask me!

The iPhone has become a part and parcel of many professional vloggers on You-Tube where by using a device like the DJI Osmo Gimbal/stabilizer, they can create smooth video footage which looks particularly good when filming action sequences like snowboarding/skiing, running, hiking etc.

 
Throw in accessories like Holga lenses, zoom clip ons, remote shutters, Gorilla mounts and tripods and all of a sudden, the humble point and click iPhone is starting to get serious.
Recent iPhone photography convert,Sir Chris Bonington: Image CB Collection

Anyway...this is starting to read like an advertising feature and that wasn’t the intention! I was more interested as an image taker in the continuing evolution of still and video capture and in my own unconscious seduction by the medium. With smart phones become ever more sophisticated and technically advanced, you can only see ‘real photography’ becoming more niche and the preserve of the professional and keen amateur. Even then, many within this latter constituency will also be shooting on phones as well. What would William Henry Fox Talbot think?



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Tame and the Wild

Landslip!...No Problemo for this family of lawless anarchists!
In the UK we have a pretty muddled system with regard to access. In Scotland they have technically at least, an open access policy although some feudal landowning relics still attempt to keep the public off their sporting estates through threats, intimidation and obstruction.

An increasing problem which I’ve encountered several times in the past few months has been a situation where local authorities and agencies like Natural Resources Wales-formerly the Forestry Commission and National Trust- have imposed access restrictions or complete lock outs on traditional public paths and bridle ways. In this litigious age the old ‘Health & Safety’ guidelines are wheeled out with undue haste it seems, as soon as a potential problem is detected. Notably, when a pathway suffers damage through landslip erosion and/or subsidence. 

Port Mulgrave
My experience of these restrictions in recent months suggests an over zealous approach is inevitably adopted by the powers that be whereas ‘the problem’ where it exists, is often little more than a minor disturbance-a fallen tree,debris cover or a collapsed section of wall- which can usually be by-passed with very little effort.

A perfect example of this came last week when I was up on the North Yorkshire coast between Scarborough and Whitby. I was planning to lead a small group of younger family members on the short but spectacular walk from Port Mulgrave to Staithes. Taking advantage of the tide being out to pick a way under the tottering, friable cliffs to follow the shoreline and return via the Cleveland Way. I’d been down to Port Mulgrave before and found it a fantastic spot. A circular bay backed by verdant cliffs with an amazing collection of raggle-taggle fishing huts dotted around the shore resembling a Jamaican shanty town!

Reggae Reggae Yorkshire!

I’m not sure if planning permission applies hereabouts given its location! The shore is reached via a steep fisherman’s path which follows a serpentine route through the undergrowth before it escapes the greenery to spill out on to the wide bright bay. An old jetty slices the slaty shore just beyond the path. Sadly it was partially destroyed in WW2 when the paranoid authorities feared it might be used by a German landing force. The idea that the Nazi troops would choose Port Mulgrave to launch an invasion is pretty crazy given that any landing party would be totally trapped within the steep and crumbling cirque of 400' high cliffs with no prospect of escape.


History lessons and military strategy aside, what met us at the start of our descent  were several ‘Path Closed- Landslip’ signs. Erected by the local authority- although truth be told, it could have been the National Trust who own large expanses of the coastal environs.  Signs which would have deterred most casual walkers-my own party included-from venturing down. However, experience has taught me that when faced with these official looking edicts one should always adopt the Walt Whitman ‘Resist Much-Obey Little’  strategy!


Climbing passed the Keep Out signs we soon came upon two families with young children who like ourselves had chosen to investigate for themselves. They had reached the landslip and discovered that far from being impassable, fishermen-presumably?- had erected steps and ropes over the unstable section which several members were already descending. One couple even had toddlers in papooses which I thought showed great spirit.

Pretty soon we reached the slate strewn shore and carried on around the coast to Staithes. If you’ve never visited this beautiful little fishing village then rounding the cliffs to see the tumble of red roofed pantile houses and old sail lofts stacked up in front of you, sure is a great way to see it for the first time.


Partaking of a Cappuccino and bagel in Staithes we returned under swollen blue skies along the Cleveland Way from whence we came.So..the moral is, if the powers that be tell you not to proceed......proceed!

 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Counting Mountain Crows

Image: Fine Art Museums of San Francisco
When I was exploring the craggy little Snowdonia peak of Yr Arddu after a typewritten climbing guide to the mountain’s diminutive little cliffs, written by Showell Styles, had fallen into my hands, my visits were inevitably greeted by a posse of raucous crows who-as crows generally do- were just hanging around the crags before taking off and wheeling around the sky before landing on a nearby outcrop and lettering rip. 'The clapperclaw of crows’ was Edward Abbey’s poetic description of their vocal powers. Of course the correct collective name for a group of crows is ‘A murder of Crows’, and sadly, this reflects society’s negative view of corvids in general, as dark, menacing necromancers. Black as coal and with a refined taste in rotting flesh.

British folklore had long condemned corvids to the dark margins of myth and imagination, long before Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Ghastly grim and ancient Raven’. Even Ted Hughes, a poet of rare perception and respect for the natural world, painted the crow as the ‘King of Carrion’....’His palace is of skulls. His crown is the last splinters of the vessel of life. His throne is the scaffold of bones, the hanged thing’s Rack and final stretcher. His robe is the black of the last blood. His kingdom is empty’.

Referring to ‘Crow: From the life and songs of the crow’. Professor Neil Roberts, Emeritus professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield’......

‘Crow holds a uniquely important place in Hughes oeuvre.  It heralds the ambitious second phase of his work, lasting roughly from the late sixties to the late seventies, when he turned from direct engagement with the natural world to unified mythical narratives and sequences. It was his most controversial work: a stylistic experiment which abandoned many of the attractive features of his earlier work, and an ideological challenge to both Christianity and humanism. Hughes wrote Crow, mostly between 1966 and 1969, after a barren period following the death of Sylvia Plath. He looked back on the years of work on Crow as a time of imaginative freedom and creative energy, which he felt that he never subsequently recovered. He described Crow as his masterpiece.’

Despite the traditional misplaced fear of crows and those within the Corvus genus- Ravens, Jackdaws, Magpies and Rooks- in recent years there has been a marked upturn in the amount of attention and respect these birds are now receiving. Acknowledged as possibly THE most intelligent of bird species and one of the few capable of using logic and tools to solve problems, the crow and the Corvus clan in general are finally losing their sinister image and gaining a new legion of admirers.

Perhaps those in the outdoor community can claim to be in the forefront of the crows rehabilitation, given how we’ve shared the mountains with them for as long as man has frequented the high places. For climbers in particular, the sight of a crow perched on a nearby rock. Casually surveying his mountain kingdom, cannot fail to diffuse tension and lift the spirits. This extract from Guido Rey in ‘The Matterhorn’, written in 1946 in the immediate aftermath of one of the darkest periods in mankind’s history exemplifies this perfectly.

The Crows of the Matterhorn

The crows of the Matterhorn are strange,large birds with jet-black shiny feathers, with long bills and beautiful blood-red claws. They are a strange tribe, who live up in the heights in summer, concealed in unexplored recesses on inaccessible precipices of the Zmutt and Furggen faces. They are well disposed towards the few men who climb the mountain; they know they are harmless folk and much too busy with other matters to wish to go after them.


When the weather is fine, they watch from above, parties of climbers as they make their toilsome ascent; they fly down to meet them and circle about them, as dolphins in the sea swim about in the wake of a ship. If the weather be threatening, they utter their sad, unpleasing cry, as if to tell me of the coming tempest. They restlessly come and go, and beat up against the wind with their strong wings,sometimes hovering almost motionless in the air; then they dash headlong into the mist with folded wings, dropping like stones to flee the storm.

As will be discerned by the titles and imagery associated with these blogs, my fondness and respect for this most attractive, entertaining and beguiling of bird species, echoes the sentiments expressed by Guido Rey above.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Unesco's Lake District award: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.



The news that The English Lake District has received UNESCO World Heritage status-up there with Machu Picchu and The Great Barrier Reef- has been met with mixed reactions depending on one’s perspective. For environmentalist, George Monbiot, writing of the possibility back in May, it would be...and now is presumably..’a disaster!’. For like a lot of environmentalists, George sees the Lake District as one of many UK ‘Sheepwrecked landscapes’. An artificial environment where a once healthy and diverse ecosystem has been bludgeoned to near death by the heavy hand of man. All in the interest of profit above ecological sustainability.

In particular, the farming and landowning community who own so much of the Lake District and who have left the mountains and valleys tamed and de-wilded through their agricultural and forestry activities. Hillsides once richly laden with trees now grazed to the bone. Valleys similarly tamed, manicured and reworked in the accepted contemporary tourist chocolate box image.

For the Lake District Tourist Chief Executive, Richard Leafe, it’s ‘Great News!’ which will see at least a 20% increase in the number of Lake District visitors. Great News indeed...if you are looking forward to sitting in an 8 mile tailback on the Kendal By-Pass approaching Windermere, instead of a 5 mile tail back! The thing is, the last thing the Lake District needs is more tourists. As someone who does in fact like the Lakes, even though it is in effect a manicured park as opposed to a wild mountain area-like many people, I wouldn’t go within a hundred miles of the place during the summer holidays. Winter and late autumn are the best times to visit although compared to North Wales and Scotland, it’s still fairly busy. Spring is an option although by then it becoming noticeably busier, but come the third week in July....Release Hell!’

Places like Bowness, Ambleside and Keswick resemble London’s Oxford Street for crowds and who in their right mind would put themselves through that?? So...what exactly will UNESCO World Heritage status bring to the table? Actually...nothing really. The same planning laws will apply. The same wages will be paid to Polish bar staff and Romanian hotel chamber maids. The car parks will still be full. The B&B’s and self catering cottages will still charge an arm and a leg and the pubs will still sell their beer at marked up prices compared to northern town and city prices. People will still queue to climb on Raven crag, walk in a slow convoy up Helvellyn, tear arse around Grizedale Forest on mountain bikes and picnic in great numbers on Catbells.


But it will give Tourist advertising agencies another angle to sell the dream. The images will inevitably show snow topped mountains, a boat gently bobbing on empty waters, red squirrels, daffodils and long dead poets. The UNESCO award could though be seen as rewarding farming bad practice. Furthermore it rewards a ruthlessly exploited property system, driven by wealthy outsiders, which has led to social cleansing of local people. Victims of sky high property prices and the second home boom which brings in train the inevitable social consequences. Lake District second homes equals school closures, shops and post offices closed down. Bus services ended. Once living villages reduced in winter to slumbering film sets where no dog barks, the windows are shuttered and the chimneys are dead and cold.  It rewards short sighted bureaucrats who are more concerned with profits and numbers than sustainability, and it uses a very narrow market definition of what constitutes a site worthy of world heritage status.

I will still visit the Lakes to pick off some of the summits I’ve never done and take a sup for old times sake in the ODG, but the whole UNESCO thing leaves me quite cold I’m afraid. You do have to question the credentials of UNESCO officials AND the Lake District blow in Petite bourgeoisie who have driven this ill conceived exercise in self promotion over environmental impact.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Waterway access rights: A river runs through it.

The late great Mike Jones
If the hikers Right to Roam is still a distant dream for walkers in England and Wales, the canoeists' right to paddle is right out there in the distant realms of the galaxy. Remarkably, what used to be a common right-the right to travel freely upon UK waterways- has been eroded to such an extent that in 2017, paddlers and other recreational waterway users, enjoy access to just 4% of our rivers....FOUR PERCENT!!!

What paddlers are up against is the all powerful landowner/fishing lobby backed up by the government, who enjoy absolute control over waterway usage. Those free spirited paddlers who do risk so called ‘bandit runs’ do so at risk of incurring the wrath of the landowner/angling lobby,and the very real risk of  being on the receiving end  of often violent retaliation. Stones have been thrown at paddlers, barbed wire stretched across fast, inescapable sections of river. Canoeists have returned to their cars to find their tyres slashed...etc etc. Not surprisingly, for most canoeists, its just not worth the aggro and expense. Hence the Riparian lobby continue to exercise their complete control over waterway usage through violent acts of intimidation and political indifference.

Naturally, the government and its agencies of state, including the police, continue to display contempt for the basic freedoms and rights of ordinary people and in matters of dispute, inevitably side with the Riparian lobby. Several years ago I took part in a memorial paddle down the Upper River Dee in North Wales- The Mike Jones Rally- which was a charity paddle in memory of the eponymous paddler who drowned  in Pakistan when paddling on the Braldu River that flows off K2.  I remember the great buzz I had as a non paddler at the time, joining with hundreds of other paddlers in various boats- from little slamon kayaks to great hulking Canadians- and exploring this ‘forbidden’ river for the first time. My friend and I were just about the last people on the water that mid November afternoon in our ancient two man boat as we set off from the village of Cynwyd, heading for the Horseshoe Falls, 12 miles away at Llangollen. We arrived when it was almost dark but it was wonderful, paddling in the fading light, seeing all those secret places from the water. By then, everyone had finished and would be happily engaged in the apres paddle festivities as we held up the rear in the quiet gloom.

It was an all too rare glimpse of what open access on our waterways could be. Free to travel these quiet water roads. Enjoying a rare glimpse of our land as no one else can see it. A few years later, I got into sea kayaking and have since travelled most of the Cornish creeks by sea kayak and what a great experience it has been. Winding off the main creeks to explore the shallow side creeks. Inaccessible to all but the paddler. At times it is like being on an Amazonian tributary with just the quiet swish of the paddle, the chatter of birds and the splash of leaping mullet to disturb one’s reverie.

The Mike Jones Rally finished on the Dee that year I believe. Despite being a charity event, the Landowning/Angling lobby were not minded to let it continue as an annual event-for one day a year for God’s sake!- and I understand that’s now being held up on the upper Tyne in the North East of England.

Somewhat bizarrely for those climbers and hikers who do at least enjoy their activity without any incurring any financial penalty, paddlers who do wish to exercise their limited rights of access, have to pay for a licence to do so. British Canoeing who oversee the activity offer this advice on their website.

“If you want to canoe on many of our rivers and canals you will need a licence to do so. British Canoeing has teamed up with navigation authorities who manage the waterways to offer British Canoeing members a great rate for a waterway licence in England. Included with your British Canoeing membership is a licence to paddle over 4,500km of rivers and canals.’

Adding...."As a British Canoeing member, you are given a membership card which also serves as your waterways licence. A lanyard is also provided for ease of display. Carry your British Canoeing membership card with you at all times, as you may be asked to show this to authorised navigation officials. You can see the list of included waterways in the list below.’

Imagine the uproar if climbers, mountaineers, hikers, surfers etc etc, had to pay a licence to carry out their chosen activity! A jobsworth wandering under the cliff at Cloggy checking a climbers’ licence or being met on the summit of Cader Idris by an employee of the BMC..’ Can I just see your hillwalking licence sir?’.

Pity the poor paddler, Screwed over by Landowners, Anglers, The Government and even their own body. In instances like this I always reach for my Edward Abbey book of quotations; 'A Voice Crying in the Wilderness'. How about his classic, ‘If wilderness is outlawed,only outlaws can save the wilderness’. That’ll do....... Bandit Run down the Dee anyone?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

'Rise like Lions after Slumber'


The Good Guys
What is it that attracts people to engage on outdoor activities? Is it the thrill and pleasure in the activity? The tenuous move that delivers success for the climber; the buzz a mountain biker feels as they wheel full pelt through forests and streams, the crunch of gravel in their ears and the rush of air in their faces. The quiet contemplation the hiker finds as they take in an empty vista from upon high? Of course the activity itself delivers an almost spiritual awakening for the participant following a day considered well spent. However, underpinning the actual activity itself and a vital component  of the whole experience is that most abstract concept...freedom.

On the face of it, there is nothing which connects climbing a route on a remote crag where you only have the crows and sheep for company, and attending a music festival like Glastonbury with 200.000 other people. As I write it is indeed the Glastonbury weekend and as usual, I have just been a distant observer on TV and following the Guardian blogs. By coincidence, the paper also carries a feature on camper vans. What is noticeable-more especially after the wildly enthusiastic reception Jeremy Corbyn received yesterday where he drew a record crowd-has been the vitriol and hated emanating from the Tory/UKip trolls towards young people, festival goers and even campervan owners. In fact their hatred is for anyone who values freedom, creativity, self expression and who has a social conscience.

People having fun, enjoying the festival or living off grid in a campervan, drives these bitter and twisted little bigots nuts! And you can see where these Tory Party useful idiots are coming from. I have a picture of your stereotypical freedom hating troll. Living in a bungalow in some nondescript Midlands town. Trapped in a career they hate and a loveless marriage. Never in their entire lives have they even been to a live music event, climbed to the top of a mountain,smashed through the surf in a sea kayak; spent a night looking up at the stars, ridden a horse; Parked up a camper in a quiet forest in the dead of night. In short, the most exciting thing these people will ever in their sad lives is to wash their 10 year old Honda Civic on a Saturday instead of a Sunday or visit a different garden centre to their usual Sunday haunt.

Having a tame and servile populace who do not as a rule, seek to express themselves outside of those narrow parameters defined by the state as ‘normal’ conduct is of course an essential pre requisite of a state and society which functions in the interests of a privileged few. You will have noted with the Grenfell Tower disaster that it was the marginalized who had been shunted into inadequate accommodation. The poor, the asylum seeker, the immigrant, the ethnic minorities. Most people of a certain age will remember how another minority who expressed different values to the state and who sought a life of freedom outside of the narrow confines of production and consumption. Who rejected the unthinking blind acceptance of knowing your station and accepting your lot.  The New Age Travellers in the early 1980's totally rejected the norms and values of Thatcher’s Free Market philosophy and chose poverty and freedom as infinitely preferable options to  just being just cogs in the machine.

Who could forget the vile treatment dished out by Thatcher’s state goons at the Battle of the Beanfield and at other locations, where this most peaceable of communities had gathered. Brutally beaten by baton wielding state thugs who had been ordered to remove their ID tags by those who sought to cover up their nefarious activities. A pregnant woman dragged through a broken window of a bus, long haired crusties with shattered skulls and blood matted hair. Confused, frightened and lost. Children screaming as they watched their parents set upon by faceless thugs. Their twisted features hidden behind sweat dripping visors. The long convoys of smashed buses, campervans and coaches accompanied by bare footed travellers carrying their pathetic belongings on their backs or in wheelbarrows. It was a scene reminiscent of historic  war time displacements or the more recent refugee convoys which have shamed Europe in recent years.

This was their country as much as the pin striped gangsters who unleashed this terror against ‘The Enemy Within’. The Thatcher government further legislated against freedom by rushing through laws on trespass and making it illegal for more than a limited number people to gather in one place. Designed to prevent the large convoys and free festivals which had spread like wild fire throughout the land that summer. Once freedom takes hold, it is an intoxicating draught which inspires and seduces those with open minds and open hearts. In this respect, the brutal suppression of this alternative lifestyle community which had rejected the values of the market driven state, could not be tolerated by a right wing authoritarian government. In hindsight, it was always doomed to fail given how powerful the Thatcher government was in terms of a parliamentary majority and how ruthlessly they were prepared to be to protect the status quo.
The Battle of the Beanfield
Which brings me back to 2017 and the ties that bind the free spirited outdoor community with those who seek to live an alternative lifestyle. As Buffalo Springfield once sang...There’s something happening here...what it is ain't exactly clear?. The endless cycle of political, economic and social crisis which currently grips not just the UK but Europe and the US in its dark maw, is a challenge for all progressive,radical individuals and movements. The rise in popularity of left wing populists like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Saunders is a positive sign to be sure. However,there is a long road ahead. The UK/US/EU states will continue act as a dead hand on those who value freedom, self expression, alternative lifestyles and progressive ideals. 
As Orwell observed Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. Its a long way from Worthy Farm to Llanberis Pass but in their way, each location embodies the spirit of freedom,adventure and the desire to live a life less ordinary. Climbing in particular has always been considered an anarchic activity which has attracted many great minds and free thinkers. Its probably the most cerebral 'sport' of all and as such, that unique mountain spirit captured in word and deed by so many gifted individuals within the field, chimes with that spirit of hope and quiet determination. Once freedom is out of the box you cannot put it back in.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Keswick Mountain Festival boycott call after 'Chaotic 2017 Festival'.




A small outdoor businessman, Ethan Thomas who owns and runs Summiteer Equipment, has called for a boycott of the annual Keswick Mountain Festival by other outdoor businesses after describing  'one of the worst weekends of my life' at a chaotic 2017 festival in the Cumbrian town. Writing on his Facebook page, the young outdoor retailer described the events organisers as 'self centred, chaotic and rude'. His full statement in full went on.....

"I've just had one of the worst weekends of my life at Keswick Mountain Festival. I don't think I've ever come across an organisation as self centred, chaotic and rude as Brand Events who run the place.

I had to fight like crazy to be allowed to get my stock and the van off the field today in order to go home. This was after they shut down the Festival because of the weather and told all exhibitors that they would have to come back and collect their things tomorrow. Not even allowing them to check if their stock was ok.

A lot of the staff and organisers were incredibly rude but after a weekend of being treated like shit even I was appalled when one of the main organisers stormed off shouting at me (in front all the other organisers) "you're irritating me now!" when I was merely trying ask him for a solution so I could get my van (that I needed to drive down to Yorkshire for this evening) and collect my stock in the bad weather. The bad weather was now about a 20mph wind with the occasional gust. However a "health and safety manager" which was simply a man wearing a caving suit and a helmet, making over the top decisions, decided to treat it like a war zone.

And this was just the icing on the cake.

On Friday they trapped me on the field until 11:15pm because their policy was that they couldn't let exhibitors on or off the field whilst the public were on it. This might make sense, until you find out that we were parked outside the public area and would have driven down a cordoned off track mat for exhibitors only.

On the Saturday, having got to bed at 2am the previous night (due to having had to restock so late) and having had to get up at 5:30am to finish restocking, we rang the festival office and asked when we would be allowed on until. The answer was "until just before 9." So when arriving at 8:25am we were amazed to find that they had decided to close the road leading to the festival so they could run a triathlon on it. There solution was that we paid for their parking at the other end of town and walked our down sleeping bags back and forth to our stall in the rain. After yet more complaining and tireless arguing we were eventually allowed to drive our vehicle to our stall and unload it at mid day (missing out on morning sales).

It feels a shame that a company like mine, which goes out of its way to do good things and treat people fairly, has had this experience. We've paid nearly £800 to basically be treated like we're dirt on someone's shoe and just a necessary nuisance in order for the organisers to make a bit more extra money. I will also add that we only got a day and a half of exhibiting done on a three day event and I wasn't allowed to collect my display marquee, stands and anything else other than stock. The answer being "you will have to claim this on insurance". And just to let you know, I think it is very unlikely that I will be refunded for this having already spoken to most of the (incredibly arrogant and rude) senior organisers who seemed very reluctant to take any liability for anything what so ever.

All these above events are just the highlights but right now I am too emotionally drained and tired from it all.

All I will say is this....Please boycott Keswick Mountain Festival.It is a festival run by greedy, selfish people who really don't care about anyone or anything other than their own pay checks.....

Ethan Thomas:

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Walt Unsworth: Death of a Mountain Man



Image: Cicerone
When I first started getting into climbing and hillwalking,Walt Unsworth was one of the first names I came across as I began to read outdoor publications. As the editor of Climber magazine and author of numerous mountain related books, his name became synonymous with the great outdoors. Appropriately in the circumstances as he was the founder of The Great Outdoors/TGO, hillwalking magazine. Now Uncle Walt has gone. He died at the fine old age of 89 at his Cumbrian home last Tuesday. I must admit,apart from his books and editorial stints, I never really knew that much about him, and I guess that’s true of most outdoor folk who knew the name but nothing about the man.

Walt Unsworth-as his name suggested-was very much the archetypal northerner. A Lancastrian by birth and a Cumbrian by residence. The lure of the hills inspired him to follow that well trampled path taken by working class northerners which leads to the crag face and in the words of Ewan McColl, the ‘Sun-warmed rocks and the cold of Bleaklow's frozen sea...The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains’.

Writing on the Outdoor Writers and Photographers website, outdoor writer Roly Smith who knew him better than most, offers this rich appreciation of Walt’s life and times....


                        ...............................................................
 
Walt Unsworth, who has died after a short illness at the age of 88, could justly be regarded as the father figure of British outdoor writing. He founded the respected Cicerone Press with his climbing friend Brian Evans exactly 50 years ago this year. Frustrated at the lack of practical climbing guides to the Lake District, they got together to produce their first independent guide in 1967. Together they made an ideal team, with Walt as the writer and Brian as the artist, designer and printer. The guide sold well, and the proceeds of each new book went into the production of the subsequent one.

He was born at Ardwick, Manchester and educated at Abram, near Wigan, where he first met his wife, Dorothy. Walt began fellwalking in the Lake District as a youth during the Second World War. Rock climbing was a natural progression, and during the 1950s, he was one of many other young tigers, such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans, for whom the “bob-a-night” (5p) Wall End Barn in Langdale became almost their second home. After conscription and service in the Army, Walt was offered an assisted place at Chester Teacher Training College and his first teaching job took him to as a science teacher to Wolverhampton. Later he became Head of Physics at Birch Road Secondary Modern School at Walkden, Manchester.

But his first and abiding interest was always climbing and the outdoors, and he introduced many of his pupils to the hills. While at Birch Road he also introduced one of the first Duke of Edinburgh Schemes, a fact recognised by a visit from the Duke himself. He eventually achieved his ambition of becoming a full-time writer, specialising in walking, climbing and travel. He wrote several climbing guides himself, notably to Anglezarke Quarry, near Horwich, where he made many first ascents. His English Outcrops (Gollancz, 1964) was described as “one of the seminal books of post-war climbing.” He eventually became editor of Climber (later Climber and Rambler) magazine on the recommendation of Chris Brasher in 1962. As editorial adviser to the publisher, Holmes McDougall, he also named and helped launch the revamped magazine as The Great Outdoors (now TGO).

He was also a founder member of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild – now the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild – in 1980, and later became its first president. Cicerone Press produced over 250 well-respected guides “for walkers and climbers, written and produced by walkers and climbers” under his leadership. Walt gave many Guild members their first opportunity to be published, and he was always fiercely supportive of them.

Tom Waghorn, outdoor journalist and a friend for over 40 years, said of Walt: “He had a tremendous ability to discover talent, and as a canny businessman, he knew how to spot a gap in the market.” Kev Reynolds, who wrote more than 20 guides for Cicerone, commented: “Walt was both my mentor and my friend. When I did my first book for him – Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees in 1978 – I had no idea that I would be able to make a living at it, but Walt encouraged me at every step.” Mark Richards, another of Walt’s protégées, said: “He was my guiding light – the man who gave me a start and encouraged my creativity. I’ll always be grateful to him.”


Among Walt’s many publications were Portrait of the River Derwent (Robert Hale, 1971); Encyclopaedia of Mountaineering (Robert Hale, 1975), and his definitive history of Everest, first published by Allen Lane in 1981. As a former teacher, he was justly proud of the fact that his trilogy of childrens’ books based in the Peak District during the Industrial Revolution – The Devil’s Mill, Whistling Clough and Grimsdyke (Gollancz, 1968-70) – became recommended reading as part of the National Curriculum. Walt’s Everest won the ITAS Prize for Mountain Literature at the Trento Festival in 1992, and he was awarded the OWPG’s Golden Eagle Award in 1996.

As a travel writer, Walt and his wife Dot visited many countries around the world, either privately or as a guest of tourist boards or travel companies, and he wrote up his trips for many national newspapers. The couple married in 1952 and had two children; Gail, a retired radiologist and now garden plant specialist and Duncan, a former BBC cameraman and photographer. Walt had five grandchildren and one great granddaughter. In later years, he delighted in running the annual Milnthorpe Art Festival from Harmony Hall, his elegant Georgian home, raising thousands of pounds for local artists and charities.

Walt’s quietly-spoken Lancashire burr always communicated good, no-nonsense, northern common sense, and he was immensely supportive of me when I became chairman of the Guild in 1990. He was the mentor and guiding light to many prospective outdoor writers, and will be sadly missed by the entire outdoor community  




Roly Smith (OWPG) 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

All aboard for Desolation Road



We need to talk about politics. For some in the outdoor community, that’s a signal to run for the hills. Let’s keep friction and controversy out of the equation and instead talk about how many hours you need to spend on the wall to maintain standards or wax lyrical about Jet Black’s awesome new sports route in Mugglethorpe Quarry. For many others though in the outdoor community, talking politics an essential part of who they are. Especially through the conduit of the social media. I recall a well known North Wales climber was once sitting in a club hut surrounded by excited young companions discussing politics when, unable to contain his frustration any longer, he slammed his fist on the table and exclaimed..’enough of this...let’s get back to talking about climbing!’

For anyone brought up immersed in politics, its an odd perspective. As outdoor activists, politics informs everything we do.From access issues to ecological degradation; Climate change impact to regional instability in traditional destinations. How can anyone who climbs, rambles, paddles, sails, bikes etc, not be interested in issues which impact upon their chosen activity?

The advent of social media,particularly Facebook, has changed the game of political communication completely. Whereas in the recent past, forums like UK Climbing were the only places you could have a good old rant. These days the ranter can unburden themselves in the Guardian or Independent comments section, but more especially, on their Facebook page which has the advantage of being uncensored and unlimited. This of course is a double edged sword. Although we tend to be attracted to those who generally share our political beliefs, it can spill over into quite bitter acrimony. Especially when others outside of your own circle pile in with comments.

Probably even more of a problem than a spot of verbal aggro in the comments section is the way the social media distorts one’s political perspective. ‘The Facebook Bubble’ is that phenomena where a member of a friendship circle gains a false impression of political reality by only reading comments and seeing ‘likes’ from those who share their point of view. Despite evidence to the contrary being all too readily available, there is often a refusal to confront the obvious truth when it appears that all the evidence points to a different truth.

This was most obvious in the post Brexit social media world. Despite the result being close, the 4% margin was pretty conclusive and it soon became clear that both the Tory government and a future Labour government would respect and implement an exit from the EU. Despite this, many liberals became convulsed with emotions which all to quickly bore all the hallmarks of the Kubler-Ross model for the stages of grief. Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Depression, and twelve months on, for the majority at least- acceptance.

Remarkably, just after the Referendum vote, previously ‘right-on’ Liberals were wishing the elderly dead and fermenting with anger against the working/underclasses and the under-educated. Constituencies whose rights the left were traditionally supposed to champion!  Even the Welsh and Northern English received the sort of bigoted abuse from metropolitan europhiles which previously had only been used by right wing knuckleheads. For months this constituency believed it could do something which had never been done since democracy was first established in Great Britain. Overturn a democratic vote and award victory to the side with the least votes. This curious example of velveteen fascism was vigorously pursued without any concern it appeared, of the brutal irony. Those supposedly on the left who felt that middle class voters with qualifications and careers should have their votes weighted favourably against the underdogs. It was turning back the clock a hundred years to a time when the same arguments were used against women having the vote.

Despite having a remarkable belief that democracy could be overturned by petitions, marches and repeating the mantra ‘it was only advisory’, the mathematics of the vote only told half the story. It has become clear in recent months that the true margin between the Euro Sceptics and Europhiles is far greater than the vote suggested. For a start, a large number of Leave voters stayed at home after being convinced that it was in the bag for the Remain. Also, a large section of Remain voters were reluctant Remainers. Either convinced by government propaganda that the UK would sink into immediate chaos, or sticking with the principle , Better the Devil you know. The recent polls showing only one in five now think the UK should stay in the EU is a striking example of how social media delusion can mask reality and shows that sometimes, even such an apparently indisputable statistic often masks a deeper truth.

Meanwhile, back here on June 8th, 2017 and the General Election promises more of the same. Hope and optimism trumped...sorry to use that word... by its old foes,disappointment anger and confusion. Like most people in the Outdoor Community, I would love to see a Labour Government tomorrow replacing the vile, self serving Tories.  Even better if it was supported by a the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens. The Tories worst nightmare..... 'A Coalition of Chaos’! However, I fear that remains just a faint hope. I expect a comfortable Conservative victory followed by five more years of austerity, division, bitterness, acrimony and the predictable diminishment of public services and the NHS.

At least there’s always to mountains to escape to.


So.....24 hours later and it appears there probably will be a 'Coalition of Chaos' but not the one we hoped for. A Tory/DUP minority administration. Delivered as a Pyrrhic victory to a soon to be ex Prime minister who was hoisted by her own petard. An arrogant, hubristic attempt to destroy the Labour Party which ended up exploding like a firework in May's face. Corbyn and his Momentum followers were brilliant while the majority of his back stabbing MP's should just crawl back under their stones and let real Labour candidates fight the next election for Labour.
It was pretty devastating to see the SNP lose so much ground in Scotland, but as I've suggested above, that in part was due to the SNP rather foolishly allowing themselves to be a zealously pro EU party when a large chunk of the electorate are Euro sceptic.
But the real winners of the June election-expect another one in October- have been the young. A previously maligned constituency who finally got their act together and voted in large numbers. In the main for Corbyn's radical brand of politics.


All of a sudden, the future looks a lot brighter.






Monday, May 29, 2017

Boardman Tasker celebratory evening announced


A BoardmanTasker celebratory evening will be held on October 11th 2017, commencing 7.30pm at the Buxton Opera House Arts Pavilion. This will be a truly unique event, with readings and talks by some of those closely involved with the charitable trust that administers the mountain literature prize, and two leading mountaineers who have each won the award.

The evening programme will commence with a reading by Martin Wragg from ‘The Shining Mountain’, Peter Boardman’s award winning first book, followed by a similar delivery ex Steve Dean from Joe Tasker’s great work, ‘The Savage Arena’.

Andy Cave a BT winner will talk and lecture from his own master work, ‘Learning to Breathe’ and Stephen Venables another BT winner will explain about how this bolstered his adventurous life, and his latest climbs in South Georgia and Antarctica.

There will be an interval between Andy and Stephen’s talks, and a short appropriate fund raising entertainment will ensue!

Tickets are on sale at the Opera House, details on the Heason Events web site. Photographs of the speakers, for publication can be obtained via



Dennis Gray: BT Trustee


 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tryfan's game of ghosts



The news last night that a daughter in her early 20's watched her father fall to his death on Tryfan yesterday, was a terrible reminder of the perils of descending unfamiliar ground on a mountain. Although the circumstances haven’t been made public yet, North Wales Police have revealed that the man in his early 60‘s, fell when he was descending the East Face’s North Gully. For those unfamiliar with Tryfan-and there can’t be many walkers and climbers who haven’t set foot on the mountain- the east face of the 3000‘ peak above the Ogwen Valley in northern Snowdonia- is essentially five buttresses. Each separated by a gully.

The main summit is situated on the Central Buttress where the monoliths, Adam and Eve stand proudly against the skyline. Tradition has it that a true ascent of the mountain involves leaping from one block to the other, although the consequences of a slip here, high above the Central Buttress doesn’t bear thinking about. Separating the Central Buttress from the neighbouring North Buttress is the deep defile of North Gully. For those familiar with the mountain and with experience, it is a tempting quick way down to Heather Terrace. Providing you locate Little Gully with is an offshoot of North Gully on the right-facing out-and approximately two thirds of the way down.

Even if you do locate it, it is still a steep and polished down scramble which requires care and confidence. Problems arise if you miss this deviation as the continuation of North Gully is lethal. A steep drop which at the very least requires an abseil descent. Several years ago when I was helping out with the CC’s Ogwen guidebook, I got to know the mountain as well as anyone. I seemed to be up there all the time. Checking out the West face climbs and scrambles. Often on my own- and helping the guidebook author locate and climb many of the East Face’s ‘lost’ routes.

Usually a day on the East Face involved coming down North Gully. One early evening after we had reached Heather Terrace we noticed a middle aged couple coming down after us. Despite being warned that they were heading for a potentially catastrophic section of gully and being directed back up to the start of Little Gully, macho man decided he knew what he was doing and ignored all warnings with the inevitable consequences that saw his wife fall and smash herself up quite badly and requiring being airlifted off the mountain. Luckily she survived.

Not that I haven’t been similarly cavalier myself on Tryfan in the past. About twenty years ago I found myself on the summit with my young son one late afternoon in late November. At that time of the year, late afternoon turns into night before you know it. Nothing for it but to come down North Gully. Unfortunately I missed the start of Little Gully and in the gloom decided to pick a line across the North Buttress. Weaving across rock climbs, scrambles and unfrequented terrain. Going down carefully then helping the laddo negotiate the frequent rock steps and awkward passages. We made it to the terrace as night was really setting in. Even then, its an awkward descent getting back down to the A5 in the dark and little wonder every year walkers get benighted or phone the MR Team to bail them out.

I was once told that more people have been killed on Tryfan than on the Eiger. Whether this is true or not I cannot say, but the mountain certainly features heavily in the MRT incident stats. For those with experience both faces can be  wonderful playgrounds. From the lonely multi pitch mountaineering routes and scrambles on the rarely frequented West Face, to the hustle and bustle of the east buttresses. Don’t believe all the scare stories you hear about Tryfan. After an incident on the west face several years ago, a MR spokesman said it was so dangerous..’even the mountain goats don’t go there!’ . Well that’s a bit over the top and once again, if you are an experienced outdoor person who is familiar with technique on steep terrain and who is properly equipped then you’ll find your way up or down the West Face. The East Face though is a different proposition.


Because it is generally steeper and rockier than the west face, those descending the mountain-if they are not experienced rock climbers- will inevitably be restricted to the gullies and as you’ve been reading. Unless you have your wits about you, it could be the last descent you ever make. Take care.