#RudeOutdoors: Fanny Bridge

The tweet below was shared by @cumbrianrambler a couple of month’s ago. One of the first things I noticed was the conveniently located #rudeoutdoors eligible location of Fanny Bridge in one of the maps in the thread. It’s included below for your sniggering pleasure. But, for once, I really did have an ulterior motive for sharing this particular #rudeoutdoors moment…

The question posed, and the replies to the thread, are a pretty textbook example of the range of views relating to Rights of Way questions. So I wanted to have a look at some of the proposed solutions.

No access to Fanny Hill, except by the back way…

The issue raised is simple: there is a Public Footpath running across a field (on the map below the green dotted line running through the middle of the large field below Bond’s End). But the farmer has not maintained it, and now there are crops growing on it to the point it’s indistinguishable. What do you do?fbridge

Plough on through? Not the most popular answer in the thread, with many commenting that this would be disrespectful to the farmer, who is, after all, only trying to earn a living. If you did chose to do this however, so long as you could show you have stuck to the route*, you are, legally, absolutely in the right. You do, however, risk an angry farmer challenging you – just because you are in the right, doesn’t mean you will always be treated as such!

Walk round the edge? This was possibly the most popular answer, with people feeling this respected the crop, while still finding a way through. But, this is also why I wanted to blog about this. Because I think it’s also the most problematic (at least at this location). Once you divert from the legal definitive route you are technically trespassing. None of the information presented suggests the farmer wants you to go round the field edge, no polite sign etc. So not only do you still risk an angry farmer, you have also left your legal Right of Way.

Use the other Public Footpath just to the south? It’s close by. It’s a legal route. Leads to the same place. Isn’t much longer. Perfect right? It’s possible this is even the intention, as this path actually runs more round the field edge. But, if the overgrown path is owned by a different farmer, increasing the footfall on Path B may well antagonise that landowner (the eagle-eyed will spot the risk of a grumpy farmer is a theme for this blog post!). The second path seems to run through a farm yard, or very close to buildings.

What would Theresa May do? Well, it’s a matter of public record what Theresa May would do. But we can’t all approach life with the kind of cavalier disrespect for landowners and farmers our Prime Minister, on her most naughty of days, shows can we? maxresdefault

What would I do? In truth, none of the options are perfect. The safest bet is probably taking the second path. But depending on what mood I’m in, what the conditions on the day are, I could see myself doing any of the three options. I do sympathise with the desire to keep the farmer on side – and it’s good to see so many walkers taking the farmer’s needs seriously. But, they do have a legal obligation to maintain the route – and it’s in their interests to avoid people randomly marching around/across their field when faced with an overgrown path. A politely-worded sign indicating their request (you are not obliged!) would be enough for most of us to happily, and confidently, divert. Of course, if all farmers do it you’ll soon be zig-zagging cross-country on every hike, but they won’t!

Report it! The one thing I definitely would do is report it. Again, despite respect and understanding for the farmer, this is a legal Right of Way. This option isn’t quick – but for the individual it is the safest. Take a photo, and send it to your local Council’s Rights of Way team. It’s also recommended to send it to your local Ramblers or Open Spaces Society reps. They will almost always, between them, have volunteers who pick up these issues with the council, and can often recommend suggested approaches to the route if they know the area. If you do, consider joining them too – they can’t help protect our network of Rights of Way with we don’t support them to do so! Most farmers will also be in receipt of a public subsidy that requires them not to be breaking any laws, such as not maintaining a Right of Way, so you could also report it to the Rural Payment’s Agency, though your chances of success this route are, erm, slim.

*Assuming in this blog the green lines marked on the OS map are consistent with the local council’s Definitive Map and so are legal Rights of Way

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A Principled Approach

This is a post I’ve been wanting to get around to writing for a little while. It’s an issue that comes up often, but one tweet yesterday (or the article it linked to)  really pushed me over the edge on this one:

“Do you agree,” they ask. No sirs. I do not.

The article is a diatribe on the subject of the management of our National Parks. Nothing intrinsically wrong there, it’d be a bit pot/kettle/black for me to decry a good diatribe. They do work best, however, when you agree with the steam being vented.

The two bits that particular ruffled my feathers were:

“It is shameful that the National Park Authority have to be reminded of their fundamental duty as guardians of perhaps our most-loved National Park but as FLD point out, much of the Local Plan “conflicts directly with the Sandford Principle, which prioritises the environment and landscape of the Lake District over damaging development” (Emphasis added)

And:

“Their primary responsibility is to care for the natural beauty and cultural values of the National Park, and that responsibility comes way before anything else. This is what the Sandford Principle means…” (Emphasis added)

What is The Sandford Principle, and what are the duties of National Parks?

Ah, the Sandford Principle. Much quoted. Much abused. The principle, as coded into legislation, attempts to create a balance between the conservation remit of a National Park and its remit to promote access to them.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

National Parks in England and Wales have two statutory purposes. These are defined in the Environment Act 1995. This amended the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 and defined these two purposes:

“(a) of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the areas specified in the next following subsection; and

(b) of promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of those areas by the public.

Now. There will always be some situations where such dual roles clash. So, for the first time, the Environment Act 1995 also codified into law the Sandford Principle, which had been around since the 1960s, using slightly different wording to that proposed originally by Lord Sandford. The Act states that relevant authorities should:

“have regard to the purposes specified […] and, if it appears that there is a conflict between those purposes, shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area comprised in the National Park.”

So what does this mean?

The two quoted sections from the legislation have clear, but often misunderstood, and frequently misused, interpretations and effects:

Conserving and enhancing: This is fairly clear*. National Parks have a legal duty to work to conserve and enhance the environment – both natural and cultural.

Promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment…: This is less clear, and sometimes misunderstood. The word ‘access’ doesn’t appear in this sentence. But it is widely accepted that promoting and improving access to the landscapes within a National Park is at the very core of this purpose. This is so well established that any claim otherwise is simply disingenuous.

Both of these hold equal weight: These two purposes are statutory requirements of a National Park. They aren’t ‘nice to do’ or ‘so long as everyone is happy’ – both purposes carry equal weight and National Park Authorities (and other Authorities with remits within National Parks) are legally required to work on both.

Sandford does not mean conservation has a greater priority than sandfordaccess/enjoyment: This is what so riled me about the article quoted at the start of this post. As a reminder this stated, “that responsibility [to conservation] comes way before anything else”. It does not. The Sandford Principle is a subtle tool for getting out of the occasional rock-and-a-hard-place situations having two equally-weighted purposes can bring. It isn’t a silver bullet to kill dead any new development or initiative just because someone or some group doesn’t like it.

Despite this, it is often claimed that  the law means conservation is the primary purpose. But my question would be: if the legislation had intended one of the purposes to be primary, and one subservient, would the Sandford Principle really have been the best way to achieve that? After all, the legislation also states:

“A National Park authority, in pursuing in relation to the National Park the purposes specified in […] this Act, shall seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities within the National Park, but without incurring significant expenditure in doing so, and shall for that purpose co-operate with local authorities and public bodies whose functions include the promotion of economic or social development within the area of the National Park.”

This is legislation speak for ‘try to create economic development as you carry out your duties’. This is a duty, but clearly defined by the legislation as being secondary to the two purposes. If the legislation had intended one purpose to hold a greater priority it would have made that explicit. It wouldn’t have used (nor would it have needed) a clever backstop like the Sandford Principle.

This is fundamental to our National Parks. Sandford doesn’t mean that conservation has overall priority – just that where careful management, clever engagement, proactive co-operation are not enough to mitigate against an irrevocable** conflict between the two purposes than then conservation should carry greater weightIt’s nuanced to have two rules with equal weight, but with a release-valve mechanism to settle an intractable clash. But that doesn’t mean we should lose the nuance – we should protect it. But it is hard to challenge the now deeply entrenched view that the Sandford Principle prioritises conservation such that National Park Authorities (and others) are obliged to attach more weight to conservation than anything else.

So why does it matter – I’m a conservationist aren’t I?

Yes, of course I am. It feels very uncomfortable to be making an argument when I know it could be interpreted as a belief that access should have no limits, or that I’m anti-conservation. That is one big reason why this matters so much. The Sandford Principle is a quite neat little bit of legislation that actually helps access and conservation work together for the sustainable access to the outdoors we all want.

But there are other reasons why this matters:

National Parks grew from the access movement

This is perhaps just a personal reflection, but our National Parks are a direct result of the campaigns in the early 1900s to get the need for greater access to the outdoors recognised. Without those campaigns there would be no National Parks now. Conservation and access grew up together here – we should continue growing together – we are stronger together.

Disadvantaged groups / those less likely to be engaged

There are still a lot of people who don’t access the outdoors and find it difficult to do so. And projects to help mitigate this are often shouted down for quite spurious reasons, resting on Sandford. One of the targets for the rage of the TGO article was a proposed trail around Derwentwater: “A multi-user trail would almost certainly mean extensive stretches of boardwalk or surfaced path, which would spoil the delicate beauty of Derwent Water for ever. I believe this is a thoroughly bad idea, and I find it depressing that the NPA should even consider it.

Am I really alone in thinking this trail sounds like it could be a great idea? A low level trail, starting from a hub location like Keswick could be a great way of getting more people out and experiencing the outdoors. It could help inspire children. Provide an option for the less able. Maybe there could be clashes that need Sandford to intervene (for example if it passed a sensitive habitat site). But writing it off as something the Park Authority shouldn’t even contemplate is simply incorrect. The idea is perfectly in line with their statutory duties.

Activities still working towards better access

After well over 100 years of campaigning effort, in the early 2000s walkers, climbers and others final got (something close to) the access rights they had always believed was a natural right.*** Its often very overlooked that other activities are still campaigning for recognition of their rights to access the outdoors. As a canoeist I’ve posted about this a lot. And when I worked in the Access & Enviroment team (dual purposes…!) at British Canoeing I often heard the Sandford Principle quoted as a reason for keeping canoeists away from anywhere wet. Again, the crunch is that the allegations were never carefully tested and evidenced examples of the harm canoeing would do. There was rarely any suggestion of working with canoeing to mitigate any impact. Instead Sandford was used as an easy way of winning a debate – “you can’t let canoeists on River X because it might have some effect on the environment, so Sandford says you must block it”. (This letter from National Parks Wales to one of the Welsh consultations give a strong rebuttal on this, and touches on several other of the issues raised in this post.)

It very often seems that Sandford is almost a front for some of the concerns raised, which often have strong whiffs of snobbery. These are schemes which might let the riff-raff in. There’s already access, if only you could do it properly, like me. There’s no need for any new methods of engaging and encouraging more people to come and appreciate our wild areas. These are exactly the arguments that will alienate people – and when people can’t share something, they care less about it. We need to do the exact opposite.

Access advocates support Sandford

The recent consultation in Wales proposed a great deal of change for the outdoors and the rural environment, proposing improving access rights. It also proposed creating a third legal purpose for National Parks to promote economic development. While strongly advocating for the access changes that the consultation was proposing, outdoor organisations equally strongly campaigned against these changes – see these articles from the BMC and Open Spaces Society especially.

Recreational users of the outdoors generally do so because of a love for the environments they visit. Often this passion was created through being outdoors in the first place. We all recognise the need for our activities to avoid harm. As a canoeist, a walker and a cyclist I regularly make careful decisions about where and when to go for exactly these reasons.

The Sandford Principle, when used correctly, is a great way of ensuring strong promotion of both conservation and access together, working to create a stronger, more sustainable future for all our protected landscapes. As Lord Greenway stated in a House of Lords debate: “As we all know, the “Sandford principle” has been accepted as a reasonable approach to the management of national parks and equivalent areas. It has been generally accepted by the recreational interests since it becomes relevant only when there is an acute conflict.” It is intended to act as, “a principle of last resort that only applies in cases of irreconcilable conflict when an integrated approach to management has failed” (source).

Personally, my issue isn’t at all with careful consideration of Sandford as part of the planning and development of any new initiative within National Parks. My issue is with the tendency to use Sandford to campaign against any activity before the full facts are known and before the change to engage fully to see if and how any specific initiative might go ahead.

There is space for all of us to get out and enjoy the outdoors our own way. In fact, all the better if we do – it’ll help spread the load. Misrepresenting issues like the Sandford Principle will only serve to drive a wedge between people, making them defensive of their own interests and hostile to those of others. And now, more than ever, the environment needs us all pulling in the same direction.

—–

* I say that purpose is fairly clear, but can cause some pretty big clashes – see, for example, the debate on hill farming vs rewilding or on driven grouse shooting vs, well, pretty much everyone else.

** The law doesn’t use the word irrevocable. But this is what Sandford is interpreted as, and you see it time and time again in guidance. Official guidance issue by DEFRA stated: “The statutory duties […] state that, “in exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land” in these areas, relevant authorities “shall have regard” to their purposes [note: no specification of priority]. In National Parks, if it appears there is an irreconcilable conflict between the Park’s two purposes then greater weight should be attached to the conservation purpose (the “Sandford principle”).  Lets labour the point – you can also see this here  and here and here  and here and here and here and here and here and here.

*** This is a slight aside, but I believe Public Rights (like Public Footpaths, Bridleways, Access Land) trump the legislation that enshrined the Sandford Principle. You cannot use the Sandford Principle to close a Public Footpath for example, however strong your case. I’m not saying I agree that should be the case, just that I think it is the case.

Cockhill Beck #rudeoutdoors

A quick post to lower the tone slightly, after a few more serious posts.

Last week while out cycling to bag a couple of local trig points I noticed this stream on the map just off my route.

It’s very low level cartographic filth of course. But worthy of a tiny titter at least.

I’ve no info on how this stream got this name. Almost all streams around here are called Becks. It does makes this sounds like the kind of unfortunate nickname a Rebecca would get stuck with in secondary school, through no fault of her own (no slander on the imaginary Becky’s good nature is intended).

Much of Nidderdale sits in a lovely compromise between ‘rolling countryside’ and ‘proper hill country’, giving great views stretching into the distance for not too much exertion (by foot anyway, it’s a bugger on a bike!). My cycle ride didn’t quite cross the beck, but it’s only a short diversion. Here’s a great little walking route though which takes in the beck and the lovely countryside around Hampsthwaite.

With the new location I’ve changed the tag for these posts from #rudepeak to #rudeoutdoors. Please do suggest places to add to the map!

Wye we need canoe rights recognised!

This post is a follow up to a post from a few weeks ago which looked at the difficulties canoeists face in getting their rights to navigate our rivers recognised. As much as anything it’s a plug for an excellent new research document looking at the Upper Wye produced by the dedicated folk at River Access For All, with much support from the Waters of Wales campaign.

The River Wye is recognised as holding public navigation rights below Hay on Wye. In 2002 the Environment Agency won a bizarre tussle to control the river as the navigation authority, after a group of business folk tried to resurrect a long slumbering company which owned the right to control the river’s traffic.

Above Hay however, the paddler’s right to navigate is much more contested. It’s another case similar to the River Trent at Kelham – a huge amount of clear evidence that there are public rights, but no way of having this officially recognised.

Officialdom has always looked the other way regarding the Upper Wye. Even the 2002 Wye Navigation Order attempts to wring its hands on the issue, stating that all of its provisions do not affect the existence or lack of existence of rights above Hay. A legislative boot into the long grass. The EA continues this noble tradition by using a variety of terms to describe the Upper Wye, currently stating (after pressure to more accurately reflect the true picture from British Canoeing and others*) “there is no confirmed legal right of navigation upstream of Hay Bridge“.

rafahayThe effect of this distancing from the issue by statutory bodies is to cement a status quo where canoeing is seen to be ‘not legal’. The knock on effect of this is to empower landowners and anglers to hassle canoeists on the river by stating ‘you have no rights here’. One landowner has recently decided to install charges for anyone wishing to navigate along ‘his’ river (I won’t legitimise that nonsense with a link.)

So, have a read of this excellent paper from RAFA. As per my last post regarding the River Trent, I’d be interested in any views on this – can anyone really reasonably contend there isn’t, on the balance of probabilities, a right for the public to navigate this river. I’d be even more interested to hear if anyone has any actual counter-evidence to this document. Evidence that goes beyond simply, WE LOUDLY DISAGREE, at any rate…

* The EA’s old (but still on their website) guide to canoeing the Wye talks of the Upper Wye being ‘non-navigation’ and of there being “no established public right of navigation“.

poshpicnic.JPGAs a slight aside, and to show how daft debates on public access can get, I once had a weeks long debate with the EA regarding the definition of a ‘picnic’ and how one may affect the public’s right to access the banks (below Hay). Never was the phrase ‘one sandwich short of…’ so apt! The wording on their website still doesn’t reflect (yet) the outcome of the picnicgate discussions!

Being Outdoors and Mental Health

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week. And along with the plethora of hastags, you’ll also see a plethora of outdoor organisations bestowing the virtues of getting outdoors for your mental health.

They are right to (scroll down for the but…). There’s a tonne of stats and figures out there proving it. But why bore ourselves with those?

Here’s a great video from British Canoeing showing how just this one sport has a massive range of potential for providing an outlet for people struggling with their mental health issues.

I’ve found being outdoors a massive help to me at times where my delicate brain is struggling. From times of heightened day-to-day stress, to more temporary challenges like dealing with grief, to the full blown assault of a serious bout of OCD. Whether its pulling on my boots and going for a quiet wander, getting on the bike and really getting out of puff (not hard for me on a bike!), or just sitting on Ullswater in my kayak, bobbing along and watching the mountains. Just being outside has helped distract my mind, put things in perspective, and sending me home feeling just that bit better than when I left.

The biggest challenge is sometimes getting out. But do. The days when I’ve struggled most to find the will to get outside, even if for a short walk from home round the park, are the days when I really got the most benefit from it.

But, this isn’t intended to be a ‘mental health and me’ post. So, here’s the but… I mentioned earlier! And for once I really don’t mean this to be cynical!

Sometimes the plug for the Great Outdoors (TM) as an answer to mental heath issues can come across, unintentionally, as though it’s THE answer. Maybe it will be for some. But for many of us, for most of us, it won’t be. It can’t be.

As much as it helps (and I truly believe it does) it doesn’t make the challenges we face with our mental health just go away. As much as being in the fresh air is great medicine (even being in the driving rain perks my soul up), it’s not a cure.

Why raise this? Because I think sometimes we forget how much people who are struggling feel pressure to ‘get better’. Most of us, idiots aside, now recognise that ‘just pull your socks up’ is a counter-productive, and wrong, message for people with mental health issues. But sometimes, even if it isn’t the intention, a focus on ‘just getting out there’ can come across in a very similar fashion.

So the point of this post is just a plea to anyone who is struggling to always remember. You are not a failure if being outdoors doesn’t help. You haven’t let yourself down if you couldn’t get out of the house. No-one expects you to recover after a spin round the block on your bike. We all do need help and support from other sources too.

I hope the tweets, Facebook posts and more from outdoor organisations do help get more people outside and finding the powerful benefits of both physical activity and the natural environment. But I hope even more that you can get all the help and support and help you need from the system and from those around it. My twitter, and I’m sure that of a great many other people in the outdoor community, will always have an open door to you, should you ever need any extra ears (or extra boots).

River Trent at Kelham

Despite periodically straying into the news, the access issues facing paddlers on our rivers doesn’t have a huge profile. Mostly the issue goes under the public’s radar, most of who are surprised to hear our rivers could be considered private. At the national level the disagreement concerns the existent of a general historic – but, importantly, un-rescinded – right to navigate our rivers. It’s all too long winded for this post to cover, but essentially paddlers and anglers/landowners are at deadlock over interpretations of centuries old common law (for reference: the paddlers are right, obviously!).

But where there is some agreement, at least on the face of it, between different parties is regarding how a Pubic Right of Navigation (PRN) can be created at a local level on specific stretches of river.

Both the Country Landowners Association (CLA) and the Angling Trust have issued policies or opinion relating to river access that confirm the view that a PRN will be created on a stretch of river by either:

  • Statute;
  • Long-user; or
  • Landowner grant

For Rights of Way on land (public footpaths, bridleways etc) a Definitive Map exists to catalogue recognised routes. If a route isn’t on the map but people believe it should be there exists a clear mechanism for people to apply for it to be added. The process (especially the time councils take) isn’t perfect, but it works.

Nothing similar exists to enable claims for a PRN to be assessed and confirmed. The frustrating result for canoeists is that even where public rights demonstrably exist organisations like the CLA and Angling Trust will (with extreme hypocrisy considering their public position regarding how such rights can be established) actively oppose the existence. In many cases not only will they oppose any claim for a PRN but they will also send out menacing legal letters to anyone claiming such rights exist or who dare use the river.

Trent at Kelham

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One example of a river where a clear PRN exists is the River Trent passing by the village of Kelham. The current river navigation instead uses the branch running through Newark, and is (presumably begrudgingly!) accepted as a PRN. However, the branch running past Kelham was once the main navigation route of the Trent, used for centuries as a public navigation.

Despite the history of the river here being a PRN, the anglers who rent or own the fishing rights vehemently oppose paddling, claiming any use of the stretch for navigation is trespass. There have been reports of paddlers being threatened and abused by the anglers (who no doubt would say the same of canoeists – one of the perverse impacts of the debate is to make enemies of two groups which in other countries act in cooperation for the environment).

kelhamtrent2

It’s a real shame as the route makes a great 10 mile round trip when the current managed channel is used as a return route. The picture of the river here (from Flickr) shows the river running past Kelham – we aren’t talking about a narrow stretch of river where fair sharing of the space isn’t possible. Both recreations should be more than capable of working with each other on the Trent here.

The attached document shows the evidence for a PRN on the Kelham branch, representing about as clear a claim for a common law PRN on historic use as you can imagine. I’d be really interested in any extra – or opposing – evidence.

Claim and counter-claim

The issue facing paddlers is that, despite how clear this evidence is, there is no route to have this PRN officially recognised. This does not mean the route is not a legal PRN. A court judgment or Definitive Map Modification Order don’t create a Right of Way, they only recognise it.

So the canoeist has no recourse at all – there is no route for them to take to clear the matter up.

Locked in limbo

The fall out from this results the national problem being reflected on hundred of rivers locally: the de-facto acceptance of no access rights for canoeists on rivers.

Many canoeists will now simply carry on paddling, hoping to ignore the often hostile challenge they receive from the banks. But many more are put off from accessing rivers.

Organisations like local councils, wildlife organisations, and even friendlier landowners are also put off from promoting the many benefits of canoeing on these stretches. No new facilities like decent portage or access can be put in. No advice can be given to paddlers on the wildlife or dangers of the stretch. All because any efforts to do any of this will receive a quasi-legal threat from the local anglers, meaning putting money into a project a risk they can’t take.

All of which is of course the result those opposed want.

What can be done?

When you consider that only 4% of England’s rivers hold uncontested recreational navigation rights (and almost every mile of the 4% is managed, modified and canalised river), you can see the extent of the problem.

So, what are the solutions?

  1. Government should take more note of the nature of the access issue nationally – in particular the strong evidence for a general PRN. Gaining a full national solution to this issue, with the rights and responsibilities of canoeists taken seriously would be the single biggest step to positive change.
  2. Examine the potential for claims of PRN to be assessed. For those rivers where there is a claim for a local PRN in addition to the national General PRN there needs to be a simpler way of resolving the dispute. This will also enable the Government to see the huge extent of this issue on rivers across England – making a proper national resolution more likely.

If you are a canoeist, get engaged with the campaigns run by British Canoeing, Waters of Wales and RAFA – and let your MP know you are too!

A Sense of (My) Place

Before moving to Harrogate (or Killinghall, just outside the town), last year I lived in a small town I knew like the back of my hand. Eastwood is a typical urban-fringe type of place, any any-town from, but my-town. Thought the edge of Nottingham’s sprawl it’s (mostly) surrounded by countryside. DH Lawrence knew it well – the countryside around Eastwood, broadly still in tact, was one of the few things about his home town he truly loved.

Though it’s in no way spectacular, that countryside was ‘mine’ and it holds many memories. It’s the canal I used to walk and fish with friends as a teenager, the woods we used to escape to. It’s where I did my first long distance hike (which I wrote up on this blog). It’s the little country park with the little pond where my wife and I sat and held each other in grief after our first child was stillborn. It’s the same park where just a few short – but oh-so long – years later we took our babies on their first trips out in their buggies and where they took their first steps.

Despite the memories, it was only after moving that I really appreciated the sense of my place in my space they’d given me.

But do I actually miss Eastwood? No, not really. While I’m nostalgic for my old, warm blanket of a place, I’m even more keen to start exploring my new one. I’m loving settling into a new home, excited about a new town, and thrilled at having Nidderdale and the Yorkshire Dales literally on my doorstep.

But my mental map around home has gone from being full of memories to one which is, well, a bit of a blank.

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I’ve only had chance for the briefest excursions so far. But even those are enough to begin padding out the map, and starting to turn white space into a new understanding and appreciation of my new place.

And now spring is in the air and with a determination to get the boots, bike and paddles out more and keep adding to the map. Every time I walk, run, cycle or paddle anywhere around home it will become territory I know – my new familiar and so onto the map. Hopefully at the point of being in the house for a year there’ll be a lot less white space!

A few (bad – my phone sucks!) pictures from my initial explorations:

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Knaresborough – a short bike ride away
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The Nidd Viaduct, right in Robert Cowen’s Common Ground!
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The fields behind my house, Nidderdale stretching out beyond
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The Stray in Harrogate
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A mile down the road
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The monkey puzzle tree, not glamorous, but the kids shout every time they see it. One of those little things that make a place ‘yours’!

Share and share alike

Periodically items appear in the news regarding the ongoing debate between canoeing and angling regarding access to our rivers. I always take interest in reading them, so was excited to see a feature in The Times at the weekend (Anglers Fear Invasion – you need to sign up for a basic free account to read it if you don’t subscribe).

Now, full disclosure, part of my reason for taking such an interest in the Angling Trust’s periodic attacks on canoeing has been the fact that for three years I was an Access Officer at British Canoeing. After relocating to the edge of gorgeous Nidderdale last year I had to give up the position (with much regret as I loved the subject, the job and the people I worked with). So I was even more interested to see this latest article, as it is in response to a job advert for my replacement.

Now. There’s often a lot to digest and cut through with these stories. To a reader unaware of the history of the debate regarding access to our rivers the Angling Trust’s points may well read very valid. But dig beneath the surface and you always find some odd, misleading and spurious statements (I’ve covered the licence issue before as just one example). Not least of these charges is the Angling Trust’s odd claim ‘that the canoeists are refusing to agree to compromise measures such as closed seasons when fish are spawning […] we have tried to come to agreement but they will only accept an agreement that will allow you to go 365 days a year’.

This is odd because in most cases the ONLY times of year many angling clubs, backed by the Angling Trust, will even consider for any kind of agreement are the very close seasons when the fish are spawning (see this EA guidance for the South West for example).

It’s also odd because the research on the impact of canoeing on fish stocks demonstrates that canoeing poses a very low risk to fish spawning grounds. Canoes simply float above gravels, especially during the higher winter waters. Despite this low risk British Canoeing goes to considerable effort to engage with the EA and others to ensure canoeists are both informed of local spawning grounds. One of the few successful Access Arrangements (AAs) in England is on the River Greta in Cumbria, where paddlers are informed about suitable water heights during spawning seasons, and directed to alternative access points if spawning beds are identified. This AA is actively supported by local canoeists. Why? Because they feel engaged, treated fairly and are informed effectively.

The biggest myth is that British Canoeing – and important to add that canoeists in general – are not open to working with landowners, anglers and any other stakeholders on our rivers. What paddlers do object to is draconian and overly restrictive AAs, imposed on them, without fair, open and positive consultation. They wish to be treated fairly on our rivers, so that we can all enjoy – and protect – this natural resource.

I believe British Canoeing has a very fair and access policy (I mean, I would really, as I helped develop it). This defines an approach to developing partnerships on our rivers based on mutual respect, trust and cooperation by and for all (there’s no mention of 365 days a year, funnily enough). You can judge for yourself if it’s fair by downloading the full policy from their website.

The Angling Trust currently have a great campaign running looking at cleaning up litter from our water environment. Their Take Five campaign is exactly the sort of project a lot of canoeists would love to join forces on. There are many other ways the two sports could link up to strengthen and protect out rivers, building on what both are currently doing separately. Issues like Check/Clean/Dry, ensuring healthy water quality, water abstraction and riparian development affect both sports. The Save Our Rivers campaign (previous Save the Conway, expanded after it’s great success) is an example of what joined up campaigning can achieve. Started by kayakers, but engaging anglers and promoting issues that affect all.

It’s a shame that progress that progress can’t be made at a national level on similar campaigns. When all feel welcomed to enjoy our waters fairly and equitably real progress can be made on more positive relationships between people who, at the end of the day, all have a passion for our rivers.

(If you want a bit of a visual intro to the river access debate have a look at this One Show clip. If it doesn’t start at the right point click to 2m40s!)

New Adventures

Last year was a quiet year for me, on both this blog and for getting out into the great outdoors. In 2016 I did more walking, running, kayaking and cycling than any other year. But in 2017 I managed to give myself a different kind of adventure. In April we decided, me feeling itchy for ‘something new’ to move 90 miles up the road from Nottinghamshire to Harrogate.

This meant swapping my home town (Eastwood) for my wife’s (Harrogate). Swapping a job I loved (as an Access Officer for British Canoeing) for a new challenge in the civil service (in a completely new field, not doing anything by halves!) And, most shocking of all swapping my beloved Peak District for the Yorkshire Dales!

So, 2018 is now my year for exploring my new surroundings a bit more, and I’m very excited about it!

I haven’t got out in a canoe/kayak yet. But it’s next on the list. I need to find some like-minded souls up here, just in case I end up paddling in rather than on the water!

I found my first trig point up here. I wasn’t even trying. Just driving home, in the dusk, when stuck in traffic I noticed it outside my driver’s window. It’s hardly glamorous, stuck in the central reservation of a city center dual carriage way (it doesn’t even appear to be at the top of the hill!). But a trigs a trig, and that’s that one bagged!

leeds trig

 

I’ve also bagged my first couple of hills – only small ones, but perfectly formed. Round Hill and Beamsley Beacon sit on the very edge of both the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale AONB, giving great views across both. (I also found my second trig – sightly more glamorously located!)

There’s going to be plenty there to keep me occupied!

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Cock Knarr #RudePeak No 2

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Extract from National Library of Scotland

We featured Wild Bank Hill in our recent ‘Peak’s Best Small Hills‘ article, and it’s a cracking place with a lot going for it for the serious walker: Open Access moorland; views of the metropolis of Manchester to the west, the wilds of the Dark Peak to the east; a trig point for the enthusiastic bagger. Indeed, for such a small hill we suspect it will probably make it into our #EssentialPeak bagging list, such are the joys it offers the serious walker.

However, some of us aren’t (always) serious walkers, are we? So, we are pleased to report Wild Bank Hill holds further delights, namely the shapely prominence of Cock Knarr, a north-eastern spur of the hill giving great views out over the reservoirs in the valley below.

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Base of Cock Knarr Dam

Should you wish to bag Wild Bank Hill (and you should), we would therefore suggest a route taking in Cock Knarr Dam, (helping hold back the tide trying to rush forth), before strolling through Cock Wood, the thicket of foliage nestling around the foot of the Knarr, before striding up the short (but pleasing) flank of the hill to the head of Cock Knarr itself.

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View from the valley – Cock Knarr to the left, summit of Wild Bank Hill to the right.

But, having really scrapped the barrel with the coarse but rewarding similes and metaphors above, we feel a little bit of Public Service Education is probably in order, just to make ourselves feel a touch less, well, daft. So: Knarr, it appears, is a word to describe an old Viking sea-going ship, which seems to fit given these parts were well up in the Danelaw, where Viking names are prevalent. When viewed from the valley below you can certainly see how the hill resembles a ship – especially now the reservoirs have created some ‘sea’ for it to rest upon. Where the cock comes from is anyone’s guess – however, interestingly, a Cog or Cock was also a type of ship, developed after the knarr fell out of favour. So it’s possible that Cock Knarr could be a tautological name meaning Ship Ship Hill (akin to Torpenhow Hill in Cumbria, the elements of whose name translate from their various sources as  Hill-hill-hill Hill).

So there you go, after a rather silly attempt to turn local landmarks into a cheap gag about a chap’s privates we’ve all actually learned something today. Positively Reithian.