Saturday, December 16, 2017

Conservationists and profiteers battle it out in Lakeland.

If any evidence was needed about the absolute disconnect between a regions’ tourist agencies and environmental protection, then look no further than Cumbria. Specifically within the Lake District National Park. A region of Northern England known throughout the world for its literary connections as much as its pastoral beauty and rolling mountainscapes. In the last twelve months the district has been at the centre of two controversies which have set environmentalists against the Tourist agencies and political and business movers in shakers. 

In July The Lake District was designated a ‘World Heritage Site’. Much to the delight of Cumbria’s tourist, business and political community. Included in the bidding process was a report from ‘Reebanks Consulting’ described by George Monbiot in The Guardian as a company ‘owned and run by James Reebanks, a Lake District sheep farmer. He was paid £30k, in effect, to promote his own industry’s interests. The bid was riddled with errors and omissions: the claim that the park is in “good physical condition”, that the relationship between sheep and wildlife is “harmonious”, that farming there is “wholly authentic in terms of its traditions, techniques and management systems.’.

Reebanks is better known as ‘The Herdwick Shepherd’, author of a series of naff ‘Good Life’ books beloved of urbanites who wouldn’t know a Ram from a Ewe but who are content to live the country life vicariously through people like the Reebanks.

If the the World Heritage site bid was driven by those who sought to profit financially from the bid then the latest shenanigans surrounding an application by a private company ‘Tree Top Treks’ to build a zip wire activity centre above Thirlmere reservoir is even more blatantly driven by greed, ignorance and contempt. It was no surprise when Cumbria’s Tourist board backed the Thirlmere Project given that Tree Tops director Mike Turner is actually on the Tourist agency board! The application has not surprisingly set off an avalanche of objections from mountaineering clubs to wildlife groups. Now acclaimed local film maker Terry Abraham, best known for his popular ‘Year in the Life of’ mountain films has resigned in protest from the ‘Nurture Lakeland’ charity over their neutrality on the issue.

One thing which comes out of both the World Heritage and Thirlmere bids is just how out of touch the political and business community is from those ordinary people who are concerned with both preserving and indeed, improving the natural environment, and the increasingly threatened, fragile, natural environment itself.  Seen by many in the former constituency as somewhere to squeeze out a profit and to hell with the consequences. Thankfully there a lot of good people out there prepared to take on the Turner’s of this world, the grey politicians, the business community and the rest of their greedy ilk.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Winter Warriors are back Ted

A few years I upset a few people in the climbing world by questioning the ethics of making a winter ascent of a standard summer route, particularly in lean conditions given that ice axes and crampons are not exactly conducive to moving softly over stone and vegetation. Sure, popular summer rock climbs become polished and trees wither and die as they eventually succumb to thousands of hands, ropes and slings strangling the life out of them. However, anyone who has ever climbed a summer route and witnessed the tell tale signs of a winter ascent; those pale, jagged scratches ripped into dark stone, should be depressed by the prospect before them.

I’ve always felt with a fair proportion of winter climbers that there is an element of ‘Boys with their toys’ surrounding the activity. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of course, it seems as if 90% of winter warriors are male and males who like to boast about their big shiny tools! Yes.. Axes and foot fangs are sexy man!

As I write the first snows of winter have fallen above 600m in the North Wales mountains but it’s fair to say that conditions are still lean. Nevertheless, that hasn’t deterred parties from climbing popular routes in places like Yr Wyddfa’s Trinity Face. The desperation to log ascents onto the UKC route page and plaster pictures on Facebook and Twitter, overwhelming any semblance of common sense or recognizing the ecological implications of hacking your way up turf and barely covered rock. The mountain is home to some of our rarest plants like the Snowdon Lily which can only be found around the mountains inaccessible cliffs and the plant is said to be at risk of disappearing altogether.

Not that that sad fact would worry the Winter Warriors. What’s the extinction of a rare plant compared to getting several ‘likes’ on Facebook and lots of ‘awesome dude’..’looks cool man’..’Wow..great images dude’.  Thankfully, I’ve noticed that a fair few climbers have picked up on the negative ecological implications of their knuckleheaded bretheren’s winter activities and have not been backward with their criticism. Will this make a difference? Probably not. Without branching off into a socio/cultural analysis of why people these days, are more inclined to indulge in activities which increasing impact on wildlife and natural habitats-and this covers a vast area from Hunting and Fishing to Mountain Biking and Zip Wiring-then its fair to say that Hedonism rules OK.

When our National Parks fight for the right to call themselves ‘The Adventure Capital of the UK’ and tourism and profit is the name of the game, then conservation will increasing play second fiddle to recreation. With more and more people pouring into mountain areas to get their adventure fix, it’s little wonder that Tristram and Ben will throw themselves at the Trinity Face when there’s little more than a dribble of spit on the cliff. But you ascent is an ascent right?


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hashtag Vanlife...When fantasy takes over from reality.

VanLife?.....Yeh...right!!!Image: You Tube
One of the most fascinating developments I've witnessed in the 25 years since I bought my very first camper van- a 1972 VW Type 2 Bay in two tone light blue and white- has been the transformation of a cheap to buy, easy to maintain, quirky piece of German engineering, into a multi million pound industry. Hashtag van life is now sold as a lifestyle and fashion statement through a host of channels. From Youtube vlogs to advertising features; Social media outlets like Instagram to four wheeled glamping in vintage buses.

Of course, the world of Van Life or simple Campervan culture is not these days restricted to VW's.  Those who style themselves as van life nomads drive a whole range of vehicles from Fords to Mercs; Renaults to Fiats. However, if you are talking about the vehicle which still sits at the apex of van life culture then the old Air Cooled VW Camper still reigns supreme as the ultimate iconic  vanlife vehicle.

 Now I enjoy many You Tube vlogs as much as anyone. I've followed Ben & Co's excellent adventures through his slickly made Kombi Life/Hasta Alaska  series and in the last year have really enjoyed Theo and Bee's Indie Projects series which like Kombi Life are really well made by two likable thirty somethings travelling mostly in the UK, from their narrowboat base in the English Midlands. With the occasional foreign sojourn. The latter Kombi Life Crew by contrast, have recorded their travels through the Americas. Starting in Chile and over four years, travelling up to Alaska. Both channels have passed 100.000 subscribers-in fact Kombi Life have passed a quarter of a million- which goes to show. For many people I guess, van life is a vicarious existence lived through a screen.

The Indie Projects have increasingly branched out into showcasing other vanlifers vehicles and I notice the viewing figures for these vlogs dwarf those which document their own adventures. Funny that? Personally I prefer seeing their road trips to yet another Sprinter which looks like it should feature in a Van Life equivelent of Country Life. Is it me or are these sooped up vans with bathrooms, ornate woodwork, woodburning stoves, complex electrics and chintzy interiors, a million miles away from the original idea of using a campervan for the freedom it brings when exploring new horizons?

In this regard, a special shout out to Camervan Culture and the main dude-Jed- a plasterer who now runs a successful VW Campervan parts business darn sarf. Jed drives  a 1980's VW T25 Synchro which he has driven through the Moroccan deserts and up to the Arctic Circle. Charting his trips on a series of entertaining You Tube vlogs which are well worth watching if you haven't seen them. The point is, Jed's vehicle is a proper job! Not some Harrogate tea room on wheels!

Which brings me to the gist of this piece; how hashtag vanlife has moved from being a hippy ideal to a corporate branding exercise. I was flicking through the You Tube channels and I couldn't fail to be taken by a thumbnail showing an attractive thronged female arse standing next to an old Type 2. In the interests of research you understand, I had to investigate further. It turns out the channel is Wandxr Bus and that particular video is fast approaching two million hits. Wandxr Bus are not averse to showing lots of bronzed flesh on their thumbnails and who can blame them you might say. 

Sex sells. These guys turn out to be Sabrina and Jimmy. She an LA model with lets face it, a pretty stunning, voluptuous figure which is usually spilling out of a tight bikini, and he, a tall handsome slice of beefcake. How can you not resist these guys!
Just your common or garden,every day vanlifers!Image-You Tube
Well some people can, not least You Tuber Dave2D who calls them out as Bullshitters. You see, the suggestion is that in an age of Fake News, Sabrina and Billy are fake Vanlifers and its not just Dave who is calling them out. I must admit, there is something about them and their videos which just doesn't ring true. Apart from the fact that the characters look like they've stepped out of a multi million dollar advertising campaign. 

Two gorgeous people gamboling around under endless blue skies, driving their bus over empty white sands with a dog or two who appear and mysteriously disappear from their adventures at will? There's also the fact that their van is always spotless. Where are the dirty pans and plates..the sleeping stuff rammed under seats, the general crap that you need on a road trip, even if its only for a weekend?  These are people who claim that this tiny van is their only home. Where do they store all that camera gear and drones? Is this fake van life which is in effect a well orchestrated commercial advertising campaign?

One film making vlogger claimed their videos are just too slick and professional for two supposedly self taught vloggers. The 'actors' themselves, the cinematography and the music are selling something but what is it? I recently discovered a feature about them on the Vice YT channel and sure enough, in the video they admit that commercial companies are paying them to promote products. In one scene, Sabrina steps out of the bus on the Boston waterfront in a black mini dress slit down to her waist to reveal her assets in what turned out to be an Instagram shoot to promote a watch. 

Dave2D takes aim: You Tube
With their Instagram account and YouTube channel ratcheting up subscribers by the thousands, it's pretty clear sex plus the hashtag vanlife culture sells and little wonder that businesses are getting on board to exploit what is after all, an artificial idealised interpretation of vanlife which for most people who own and drive campervans, can be quite often, grimy, frustrating, cluttered and involving mud. Especially if you live in Europe !

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Ogre-Extract from Chris Bonington-Mountaineer

Image-Vertebrate Publishing
In Baltistan, on my first visit to the Karakoram, I was struck by the contrast with Nepal, Garhwal and Kishtwar. It is a harsh land of deserts, rock and steep snow peaks, relieved by the occasional emerald jewels of terraced  fields and orchards, eked out of the landscape by irrigation from the turbid glacial waters. The people reflected the land. There was none of the humour of the Sherpas or the gentleness of the Nepalis. The Baltis were volatile and argumentative, with a hint of violence. Though resourceful in their agriculture, they were yet to fully tap the trading potential of the many expeditions that passed their villages. There was little relaxation on a Karakoram approach march.

The Ogre, with its three summits and serried rock walls, presented a superb unclimbed challenge. Doug Scott’s plan was for us to tackle it in pairs, each by a separate route. He partnered Tut Braithwaite to try the central spur, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland had the west ridge, and Nick Estcourt and I had designs on the south face. This unstructured approach worked well with such a group of individualists and, as the expedition developed, we adjusted our plans according to circumstances.

From the camp on the col Nick and I made our summit bid by the south face. We took the glacier terrace and climbed a band of slabs to gain access to the face, then, after a rest day in a snow hole, made a dash for the top, only to find when we gained the summit ridge that the rocky central summit was too difficult as we had brought too little rock equipment. We settled for the first ascent of the west summit, and retreated.

Doug had joined Mo and Clive on the west ridge. With Nick fatigued, I joined the west ridge team and after a two-day climb we crossed the west summit and bivouacked in a snow hole. Next day, Doug and I tackled the summit tower. The climbing was difficult and strenuous, requiring pendulums to make progress. We reached the summit on a wonderfully clear and still evening. During the abseil descent, Doug slipped on verglas, pendulumed and broke both his legs in the impact. The climb now became a struggle for survival and, after a bivouac, we regained the snow hole to face the long descent.

We were now in a desperate position and, to make matters worse, the weather broke, forcing us to remain in the snow hole for two days, eating the last of our food. On the third day, with the storm still raging, we forced our way back over the west summit. Mo broke the trail and Doug was able to crawl behind, helped by Clive and me. We could never have carried him. After another bivouac we began the descent of the pillar where, on the first abseil, I fell, breaking my ribs. 

At the foot of the pillar the situation became critical, for we couldn’t risk crossing the col in a white-out. We had no choice but to wait in tents for a further two days before we could finally escape. I was very weak, coughing, and worried about catching pneumonia which would have finished me. Doug had to crawl across the col and descend the fixed ropes and then make a punishing three-mile crawl across glacier and moraine.

Chris Bonington 

Chris Bonington Mountain is available direct from Vertebrate Publishing

Friday, October 27, 2017

Doug Scott: the truth behind the dramatic first ascent of the Ogre.

Forty years on from Doug Scott and Chris Bonington’s death-defying first ascent of the Ogre, Scott reveals the whole truth behind their epic fight for survival in a new book set for release this autumn.

Predating satellite phone communication, when an accident that resulted in Scott suffering two broken legs and Bonington smashing ribs turned their 1977 climb into a desperate fight for life, the isolated pair had only the bravery of their team members, Mo Anthoine and Clive Rowland, to count on. When word reached the national press, the selfless roles played by Anthoine and Rowland in shepherding Doug and Bonington off the mountain had been essentially written out of the story to focus on the two already-famous mountaineers – household names thanks to their exploits on Everest.

Using newly discovered diaries, letters, audiotapes and film footage created by Anthoine, in The Ogre Doug Scott sets the record straight for the first time.

Speaking about the book’s impending release, Scott said, ‘The Ogre is the most difficult high mountain in the world to climb and when both Chis and I were incapacitated on the descent, the eight-day journey to reach Base Camp was only made possible by the selfless support of Clive and Mo. Marking forty years since our near-fatal climb, The Ogre will bring the whole story to light’.

Subsequently, after several more trips to Pakistan, the combination of being rescued by the local people from the Ogre and a porter falling into the Braldu River and disappearing, encouraged Scott to do something about the fifty per cent child mortality rate in the village of Askole, the last village before K2 and the Ogre. One of the benefits of the Ogre expedition was that it raised Scott's profile enabling him to raise funds to facilitate such projects to provide clean water for Askole residents, reduce child mortality and, within just a few years, far more children were living beyond the age of five.

The success of the project in Askole gave him the confidence to respond positively to requests in Nepal, where he had done most of his climbing, and Community Action Nepal is the result. Currently there are fifty plus projects so this accident produced some positive and long-lasting outcomes.

The Ogre is now available to pre-order from Vertebrate Publishing ( ahead of publication on 23 November 2017.

Born in Nottingham in 1941, Doug Scott began climbing in Derbyshire when he was thirteen. He completed his first Alpine season at the age of eighteen. In 1965, aged twenty-three, he went on his first organised expedition, to the Tibesti Mountains of Chad. It was to be the first of many trips to the high mountains of the world. On 24 September 1975, he and his climbing partner Dougal Haston became the first Britons to reach the summit of Mount Everest, via the formidable South-West Face, and they became national heroes. With the exception of his ascent of Everest, he has made all his climbs in lightweight or alpine style and without the use of supplementary oxygen. Scott was made a CBE in 1984. He is former president of the Alpine Club, and in 1999 he received the Royal Geographical Society Patron’s Gold Medal. In 2011 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Piolets d’Or, during the presentation of which his mountaineering style was described as ‘visionary’. Scott continues to climb, write and lecture, avidly supporting the work of Community Action Nepal. He is the author of five books, including Up and About, his first volume of autobiography, published in 2015.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Climb Magazine's Twitter announcement
The end when it came was unexpected and rather shocking in its brutal finality.
’With regret Climb Magazine will be ceasing publication. Thanks to all our readers, contributors and commercial partners for their support’ Less than two months since editor Ian Parnell announced that the magazine will be the latest tradition publication to become only available in digital format, the publishers, Greenshires, decided to pull the plug completely. Presumably, the essential advertising revenues which are the lifeblood of a small circulation publication like Climb, were not stacking up as traditional advertisers, presumably? got cold feet.

You could say the digital revolution has become a double edged sword. On the plus side, it is revolutionized and democratized writing in every field. Not least in the area of outdoor activities. Now anyone can sign up with Blogger or Wordpress and put out a blog which as in any field, will either live or die by the quality of output. Most blogs will die and be deleted with a few months. Its hard work keeping a blog going and finding enough interesting material to stimulate interest. The best of these however, can thrive and attract a regular loyal readership. The Footless Crow blogazine-blogazine in that it is a multi authored media rather than a personal blog-has been going for eight years now and although it hardly attracts UK Climbing numbers, has nevertheless gained enough regular readers and respect in the climbing world, to make its continued presence in cyber space, a worthwhile project.

The other side of the blade however,is the cold and unforgiving manner a worthy publication like Climb has been put to the sword. Of course magazines have often been pulled by the publishers after briefly raising their heads above the commercial parapet and finding a limited audience. Anyone remember ‘Gravity’ , ‘Footloose’, ‘Outdoor Action’ ? The difference now is the fact that these days, the commercial publishers are not just in competition with other commercial companies. They are also in competition with thousands of world wide blogs and websites. Many of which are free from of those essential yet annoying advertising features which clog up the commercial digital media. In some ways it is this ‘clutter’ which many people reading a digital magazine on a laptop, phone or tablet, find off putting.

Its easy for a non commercial digital outlet like Footless Crow which puts out one article a week. People can read it in ten minutes and move on. In my experience, people are less likely to trawl through a multi essay online publication which is padded out with advertising. It’s a Catch 22 situation for publishers and it looks as if Greenshires decided it wasn’t worth playing the game anymore.

The genie is well and truly out of the bag of course and reading media online will become the accepted manner of consumption for most people in the future. Some paper publications however, will be still be around for probably longer than we think. Just as Vinyl records survived Cassettes, CD’s, Mini disks and Spotify, the traditional magazine will hopefully live on in some form or other, and defy those who predict total annihilation for the paper tigers!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Crag at the end of the World

Worlds End -Craig y Forwen
It must be at least twenty years since I visited World’s End. The delightfully situated limestone crag at the head of the beautiful. Eglwsyg Valley in North East Wales. It was one of my regular haunts when I started climbing in the 80‘s and Stuart Cathcart’s little Cicerone guidebook- Clwyd Limestone was my bible. It was a great crag to roll up to for an evening session. Offering short, single pitch routes of all standards on three tiers of cliff which rose up from the sylvan ravine like an enchanted castle. Thinking about it, many of those little limestone venues were pretty stunning in their locations. Pot Hole Quarry, Maeshafn, Pandy Outcrop-not limestone more a granite crag but popular with NE Wales climbers all the same.

Then there were the impressive Eglwsyg cliffs themselves; Craig Arthur, Dinbren, Twilight Towers, Pinfold and further east to the popular Trevor Rocks. I only climbed once at Craig Arthur- surely the biggest limestone cliff in north Wales apart from the Ormes on the coast?- but I remember it being pretty intimidating place. I well recall climbing Swalbr, named after a track on 60‘s supergroup, Cream’s Disraeli Gears album, and the first pitch which I led re-defined to term ‘chossy’ ! It was pretty nerve wracking, tossing every other hold over my shoulder! Thankfully the ‘out there’ final corner pitch was pretty wild although I’ll admit to grasping the final hold like a drowning man clutching at a lifebuoy.

The upper reaches of Eglwsyg Valley: Abandon hope all ye who seek to park here'
What struck me this time on my visit, was the fact that despite the valley being a pretty spectacular,with the great pale crags rising high up above the narrow lane, which weaves its way towards World’s End -or Craig y Forwen to give its original name- through woodland tinged with early autumnal colours and fields dotted with the ubiquitous small Welsh ewes, was the pitiful lack of parking hereabouts. Despite the fact that the valley lends itself to so many outdoor activities, including rock climbing, hill walking and mountain biking, the landowners and political powers that be have conspired to make the area as unwelcoming as possible. Every gate is marked ‘Private Land-Keep Out’ and there is absolutely nowhere you can park in the valley.

Around the time I stopped coming to the valley and World’s End, word came back that a new landowner had taken over the estate who turned out to be...what’s the word I’m looking for?..Oh Yes...A Twat! The traditional parking area under World’s End was blocked off and draconian parking restrictions kicked in. Furthermore, a compliant local council marked all the lay-bys along the valley and beneath the crag as ‘Passing Areas-No Parking’ restrictive. You can in fact carry on up the hill and pass beyond the estate and walk back but overall, the parking hereabouts, is redolent of the restrictions at The Roaches in Staffordshire.

The whole thing I’ve got to say is typical of the small minded parochialism of north Wales local politics and policing. With Freemasonry rife amongst local politicians, North Wales police hierarchy and landowners, little wonder feudalism is alive and well in North Wales. Imagine if the Eglwysg Valley was in the Lake District? I’m pretty sure its rich potential would be appreciated and exploited by landowners and politicos alike, and parking areas would be created, trails opened up and visitors welcomed. Instead of being met with brutal ‘Private- Keep Out’ signs every few metres.

80's Bible
So...The valley is stunning in every way and well worth a visit; just don’t expect the locals to be keeping 'a welcome in the hillsides'!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Outdoor Vloggers Camera: the Sony A5100 v the Canon 750D

Time was when anyone making a video used a standard Camcorder and a DSLR camera for stills. These days the tech choices are mind boggling. DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, Super-Compacts,Go Pros and mini sports cams, drones and i/Smartphones. However, in the last year or two, I’ve noticed that more and more serious Vloggers are using DSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras like the Sony Nexus and Alpha range cameras for their work. I blame Casey Neistat, the hugely successful New York vlogger who until recently, was shooting a lot of his incredibly slick vlogs on the Canon D70...I think he’s moved on to the D80 at the time of writing. Despite their size and obtrusiveness, the aforementioned vlogger still managed to skate board around New York’s busy streets with a chunky DSLR on the end of a flexible Gorilla pod.

The reason?  Well quality has to be the primary reason.The D70 is a seriously good camera which takes pin sharp stills and video and offers a range of features more often found on cameras costing a great deal more. In fact, in one vlog Neistat calls the D70 ‘The best Camera in the World’. Quite a claim for a camera costing well under a thousand pounds in the UK.

I’ve recently had the chance to evaluate two highly regarded vloggers cameras; The Sony Alpha 5100 and the Canon EOS 750D or T6i Rebel in the US. Both cameras fall in that entry/Mid price range- retailing at under £500- and both cameras are well regarded by both reviewers and users alike.

First off, The Sony A5100 which is a mirrorless camera with a handsome 24-megapixel sensor with 179 integrated phase-detect auto focus points and although it's not exactly pocket sized, it is still a hell of a lot easier to lug about than a DSLR. With a tip up articulated screen, its great for anyone who wants to talk to camera or take a selfie. It does have a touch screen but this feature is very limited in terms of creative control. As you would expect, The Sony takes pretty good photographs and sharp video. It does however have one serious drawback which really put me off the camera. No viewfinder. Unlike the highly rated A 6000, the 5100 only has a led screen and trying to use a creative mode like aperture or shutter priority or manual is next to impossible in bright outside conditions.

Also,taking a photograph or filming outside in bright sunlight makes it more a point and hope action. As you would expect from Sony Mirrorless stable the Alphas offer a range of interchangeable lenses but the problem still remains. If you have to control your filming through the back screen, snapping on a zoom lens is not going to change things. If you are considering the Sony, then go for the A6000 which does have a viewfinder and although technically, its pretty much identical to the A5100, its old fashioned controls and viewfinder make it much more attractive to the outdoor photographer or vlogger.

The Canon 750d has become one of the most popular cameras in the Canon stable by virtue of its pricing, features and quality. Currently selling at £560 in Currys/PC World, the camera can be bought brand new on the grey market for just £420. Unlike the Sony, the 750d feels like a real camera. Chunky, solid and offering a highly intuitive range of creative features. Despite being in the same ball park as the Sony with regards to its 24mp sensor, the Canon is a totally different beast when it comes to versatility. A fully articulated screen and touch controls which leaves the Sony’s limited screen movement and touch screen functions in the dirt I’m afraid.

With live view and touchscreen focusing and shooting, as well as the option to link your smart phone to the camera and control the functions and shooting externally. Although this probably won’t appeal to the average user, it will appeal to the more serious amateur. Both cameras have wi-fi and you can download images to your phone, but actually, the Sony Play app which needs to be downloaded first is pretty crap to put it bluntly! Despite several attempts to transfer images, I never got it to work once so I gave up. To be honest, I haven’t used this feature on the Canon yet so I can’t comment.

So...I think you will have caught my drift thus far. The Canon 750D pretty much blows the disappointing Sony out of the water with regards to features, ease of use and hands on, on board tuition. Both cameras offer excellent results and produce sharp photographs and video, but nevertheless,the 750d is an excellent option for those whose pockets don’t stretch as far as a 70 or 80D.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Stealth Camping in a Van

Coming to the end of 'The Raider's Road'-Galloway Forest
We don’t really refer to parking up a camper for the night in a quiet, off the beaten track location as ‘stealth camping’ in the UK. Wild Camping usually suffices although its fair to say, some people do use the term for parking up for the night in an urban location. A couple of weeks ago I was up in South West Scotland in my V Dub T4 and as usual, avoiding campsites like the plague. One of the pleasures of owning a camper for me is discovering some quiet place in a pleasant rural location where I can hunker down for the night. Blissfully free of the nerve shredding realities of social camping. Doors slamming, couples arguing, kids crying, dogs barking, the stench of Asda burgers barbecuing etc etc. And people pay for this!!!

On my way home I dropped in to see an old friend who was parked up on a campsite in his T4 and who was paying £22 a night to stay on a massive site that resembled a 1970‘s Pontins holiday camp! So...on that basis, wild camping for four nights in Scotland saved me £88. Which easily covered my fuel costs.

One of the best ways to make wild camping work-as I’ve mentioned before on a blog piece- is a bit of forward planning using OS maps and Google Earth to suss out wild camping spots. Always have a back up plan in case that attractive looking clearing in a Forestry Commission plantation is actually gated and locked. It’s pretty frustrating to arrive somewhere where you hope to spend the night as darkness begins to fall and discover that you are in a no go situation.

Driving around in the dark looking for somewhere to park up can on the odd occasion, turn up trumps. I was watching a You Tube video recently where the couple, Scott and Ellie, who go under the moniker ‘The Explorer Buddies’, rolled up in the dead of night at the tip of Pen Llyn (The Lleyn Peninsula) in a NT car park, in thick fog and woke up in the same pea souper the next morning. No one around to disturb their peace and quiet and if the fog had lifted, it would have revealed a most spectacular view of Bardsey Island just across the Bardsey Sound. The other side of the coin though is that you are just as likely to end up parked up in a litter strewn layby; wedged between an Eddie Stobart lorry and a caravan!

Many of our best wild camping sites carry ‘No overnight camping' signs. These can be erected by private landowners, the local council, organisations like the NT and Forestry commission. The latter bodies don’t usually have the legal powers to enforce this or generally won’t bother. Most NT and FC employees want a quiet life and don’t want to get into a situation with someone they can see is just passing through. A convoy of Travellers arriving en masse is a different kettle of fish! Private landowners are more tricky. Certainly large landowners are more likely to employ forelock tugging goons to do their bidding and often will try to move you on. As for local councils; like the NT and FC, they generally don’t have anyone to enforce these regs and certainly the stretched local police have better things to do than pester a middle aged couple rustling up a curry in their camper and harming no one.

I’ve often pondered what the situation would be if someone tried to move you on after you had parked up for the night and drunk half a bottle of wine? If they were insistent that you move on then they would be encouraging you to commit a crime! I would interested to see how the police would arbitrate this if you contacted them and told them that a surly gamekeeper was encouraging you to break the law?

Finally...we need to talk about London! I was recently reading the travails of a Facebook friend who found himself unexpectedly £250 poorer after innocently straying into London in his 2002 VW TD and falling foul of the city’s draconian emission charge. Not everyone realizes that most pre 2006 diesel campers and vans have been subject to a £100 a day charge if they stray inside the M25 perimeter, for some time now. Short of sticking on false number plates and flicking the V’s at the city’s CCTV cameras as you enter the zone, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Just don’t go there. If you fancy a city break in your camper, go to somewhere like Edinburgh instead. It’s much nicer anyway and is surrounded by proper countryside and mountains. Not the endless, featureless sprawl that passes for countryside in the Home Counties!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Adventure climbing: Beyond the world we know

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

The Beatles

One thing that’s always struck me about Pen Llyn-The Lleyn Peninsula- is just how relatively unexploited the areas climbing potential is. True, in the past, people like Joe Brown and Tony Moulam have thrown up a few routes and Pat Littlejohn has certainly made a mark on the sea cliffs hereabouts, but apart from visits from latter-day rock jocks like Calum Muskett and James McHaffie, there is still whole swathes of rock which awaits exploration.

Take the area around
 Nant Gwrtheyrn on the north-west coast. Driving down into the village I’m always amazed by the massive cliffs which capture the eye as you negotiate the zig-zag bends. These admittedly rather dank and vegetated cliffs which face out towards the sea must be at least 400‘ high. A cleaner section on the left-facing in- certainly looks like it would go but belays at the top look worryingly hard to find on the steep, heathery ground above.

If this section looks too much trouble to clean and equip with anchor points for an abseil return to base, what about the natural outcrops and quarries which sit above the village to the west? Looking up, its hard to take in just how much rock there is up there. Buttresses abound. Pale granite cliffs and man-made quarried areas tumble down the hillside in such a haphazard way that it’s difficult to focus on a particular area. It’s as if the climber’s brain cannot compute this much information and becomes literally stoned!

Perhaps that is why there is no history of climbing in these parts as there is just too much to take in? Although I suspect that more prosaic reasons are behind the areas’ neglect? For a start, access is not easy. The crags and quarries are scattered across the steep hill side in such a haphazard manner that getting from one area to the next is not easy. When I set off to look at a promising face, I found myself on a moving belt on loose scree and ankle snapping larger rocks which had me most of the time on all fours. Grasping at larger rocks, heather, and bracken as I set off small avalanches of scree with every footfall. Once I had reached my destination, weighed up the potential and set off across the hillside to look at other areas which looked promising, it became easier said than done. Some of the quarries had sheer drops which meant that you had to re trace your steps and try and find a way down. 

Finding myself on one quarry face, I noticed that it tapered down towards a gully at the far end. Perhaps I could scramble down and reach the scree at its foot. Taking my iPhone out of my back pocket in case I slipped back and smashed it, I carefully put it in a lower front pocket of my cargo pants. ‘Carefully’..not quite. Next thing I noticed was my phone tumbling down the gully to fortuitously land in the bobbing fronds of a clump of bracken which had rooted on a ledge. Tantalisingly out of reach, I downclimbed as quickly as possible and just reached it at fingertip length before it disappeared down the gully.

All these exertions were taking place on the lower reaches of the hillside. Exploring the higher slopes was not an option with the autumn sun fast disappearing over the horizon.It would take an age to take in every possible area of rock with climbing possibilities.

I doubt very much that the climbing potential of this area will ever be realized given how modern climbing is increasingly focused on accessible, established areas and no one these days is interested in the type of adventure climbing that the crags and quarries hereabouts, lend themselves to. Perhaps a new climbing ethic will develop in the future? Climbers will tire of polished crags, sports climbs, and chalk-stained boulders and actually seek out these obscure, unexploited areas?

Virgin Llyn Granite

Perhaps in 2050, adventure climbing involving death-defying approaches, gnarly descents, dubious rock etc, all undertaken without having reference to information online or in a guide, will appeal to future climbers? That voyage into the unknown. Where just reaching a virgin cliff is an achievement in itself.Even before the climbing begins. Possible I guess, for as the world becomes more overcrowded and the great outdoors shrinks evermore. Battered by tourism, wind farms, pylons, dams, new roads, housing, forestry, shooting, and fishing, etc. Perhaps by then, these hard to access places will come into their own as places of sanctuary and sanity in an increasingly mad world and become-in a tiny country like the UK at least-the last redoubts of adventure.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Buying cameras and gear through the Grey Market.

When I was looking to buy a Phantom drone, I did what most people do. I checked out the reviews and then shopped around for the best price available. As to be expected Amazon and outlets through eBay appeared to be the cheapest.However, it was a supplier I'd never heard of who were offering the drone at a good £50+ less than the nearest dealer. So..I placed the order and in about 8 days the drone arrived. It was set up and performed as it should without any problems. It was only when a few months later, when I was looking to buy a Sony mirrorless camera and discovered that once again, this supplier was the cheapest around-a good £100 cheaper than anyone else- that I realised that the supplier was based in Hong-Kong and selling through the so called 'Grey market'.

What is The Grey market? borrow from an article about the market in The Guardian.

'A Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge mobile phone for £530 instead of £619, or an iPad Pro for £650 when it’s almost £800 elsewhere – these are some of the tempting offers you can find online if you visit websites selling products without the manufacturers’ authorisation. Goods such as these are known as “grey” products or parallel imports. According to the International Trademark Association (INTA), these goods are genuine in that they have been manufactured by, or for or under licence from, the brand owner. The discount comes because they are not being sold through official channels, and are usually brought in from another country.'

So, basically the buyer is bypassing EU and UK import tariffs by buying directly from a market which operates outside of the conventional laws and legislation applied by states such as the UK, to outlets based in Europe, The US or Japan.Thereby avoiding import duty and taxation.

So what's the catch? appears that if say my DJI drone had developed a fault within a couple of weeks, it is questionable if the supplier would play ball and supply a replacement or refund. Then you would have the hassle of sending the item back to China/Hong Kong. Furthermore, a manufacturer like Apple, Sony or Canon, would not offer any guarantee on a product which was not sold through an officially recognized outlet. In a nutshell.'you pay's your money and you takes your chances!.

That being said, a camera like the Canon D70- superseded by newer model but still being sold new- selling through the aforementioned grey market outlet for £661 compared to up to £1000+ through an outlet like Amazon puts into perspective the massive mark up that manufacturers and governments apply to products sold in the regulated market.

Worth a punt? Well....that's for the individual to decide.Is it a risk worth taking?


Monday, September 4, 2017

Too Many People

Release Hell!: Yr Wyddfa Summit.Image- The Telegraph
The recent news that police were advising that the Isle of Skye ‘was full’, must have surprised even those of us who live in tourist destination areas and who have become used to the annual nightmare of gridlocked roads during the school holiday season. An event which sees many like myself just keeping way out of central Snowdonia for the duration and getting our outdoor fix in the areas which have yet to be discovered by the hoards. The situation on Skye this summer can be seen on vloggers, Tim and Mandy ‘Saved Purple Cat’ video linked below where they found themselves unexpectedly rolling up in their Mazda Bongo in the middle of the tourist tsunami.

All across the UK in the tourist hotspots, it’s the same story. Cornwall, The Lakes District, The Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia. Too many people crowding into too small an area with the predictable consequences. This comes at a time when the Lake District National Park has just been awarded Unesco World Heritage Status which caused Park National Executive Richard Leafe to boast how it would boost tourism in the Lakes by at least 20%. As I commented at the time, should we really be getting excited about 8-mile queues on the Kendal by-pass over 5 miles queues? If there is one thing the LDNP doesn’t need it’s more tourists, and for some years now I’ve applied the same summer criteria to the Lakes as I do to central Snowdonia...just don’t go there! The Lakes are far better in autumn, winter and early spring anyway.

Last bank holiday in North Wales we had a 13-mile tail back on the A55 Expressway.. ‘Expressway'!!! Who could not smile at the dark irony of that description? Meanwhile over on the creaking A5 which brings the bulk of English Midlands traffic into North Wales, those traditional bottlenecks, Llangollen and Corwen, continue to funnel traffic into their narrow, rat trap streets where a convoy of cars, campers, caravans and motorbikes, wait in frustration at traffic lights. An experience which if anything is even worse on the journey home.

Does it have to be like this? Well...Yes and No. There’s no getting around the fact that the UK is a heavily over-population island with limited space for the 65 million population to escape to, from the urban jungle for even a short space of time. It is predicted that the population will have exceeded 70 million in the next ten years and is on course to overtake Germany as the largest state in Europe by 2050 with a population of over 82 million. When this stat was reported in The Guardian, the writer could hardly hide his excitement. As if winning the population race was like winning the European football championship, instead of the sober reality which in effect condemns the country to a pretty depressing Bladerunner-esque future!

The Migneint: Far from the Madding Crowd 
Getting back to where we are now in relation to our crowded great outdoors. Thankfully there are still plenty of opportunities to avoid the crowds and many beautiful areas where it is still rare to bump into another person. Crags in the back of beyond which rarely see a climber, Hills where the hiker or wild camper is almost guaranteed to have the place to themselves. Quiet lakes set on pathless moors, caves and old quarries returning to nature, forest trails where the mountain biker will be all but guaranteed a lonely ride. All it takes is an OS Map and a bit of imagination-(Tip- Google Earth is a great resource too)- and it’s still possible to find yourself far from the madding crowd. As the population and car ownership increases, it will certainly take more effort in future to stay ahead of the pack, but I’m pretty sure it will still be possible to enjoy the outdoor experience in relative peace and quiet in the near future at least. Leaving places like Skye, the Central Lakes, Snowdonia and Cornwall to an ever more hellish and overcrowded future.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Guys win Prizes! :Mountain Writing and the Gender Gap

Boardman-Tasker 2017 shortlist: Image BT
So...the Shortlist has been announced for the 2017 Boardman-Tasker Award for mountain literature and in contrast to recent shortlists, there is a surprise entrant on the list....a woman! Yes, Canadian writer, Bernadette MacDonald who actually won the award in 2011 with ‘Freedom Climbers’-  which charts the disproportionate impact Polish climbers had on post war mountaineering, despite their isolation behind the iron curtain- has climbed mountain literature’s slippery slope and planted a flag for female writers amongst the usual BT cast of male hard nuts and romantics. In fact, you have to go back to 2013 to find a female writer on the shortlist and as it turned out, Harriet Tuckey’s biography of her father, Griffith Pugh, took the first prize with her ‘Everest-the First Ascent'.

But this is not to have a go at the Boardman Tasker committee who select their long and short lists from books generally submitted by publishers. You can only deal with the hand that you are dealt, and if books penned by women are not forthcoming, or if those which are, are deemed not good enough, then that’s no fault of the powers that be. The lack of successful female mountain writers should come as no surprise I guess, as a lot more men climb at the extremes of the sport. Both as rock and winter climbers and as extreme mountaineers, and it seems as if literary committees are more inclined towards favouring what I’ve described in the past as 'tales of derring-do’ over more mundane fare.  However, that begs the question, why should climbing at a lower technical standard or writing about people, places and experiences which are set in say, the English Lake District or Snowdonia, be considered as lesser works of art?

Personally, some of my favourite climbing books have been autobiographies which were firmly rooted in a world which is familiar and accessible to the everyday journeyman or women, Bill Peascod's Journey after Dawn, David Craig’s Native Stones, Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, Harold Drasdo’s The Ordinary Route, Harry Griffin’s Coniston Tigers, Gwen Moffatt’s Space Beneath my feet, even John Redhead’s esoteric, and one for the crow.

For the creative female writer there is material aplenty to fashion into a worthwhile literary work-as all of the above have done- without having to explore the greater ranges or describe being benighted at 24000‘, surviving avalanches or watching helplessly as a partner falls down a 2000' Himalayan ice face. With more women than ever taking part in mountain activities and more than holding their own with most men, I am left wondering how long it will be before female mountain writing really starts to make inroads into the macho world of mountaineering and climbing literature?

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.