Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Secrets and lies

Should we keep our favourite fells secret?
I'm not good with secrets and right now I'm sitting on two whoppers - both good (fantastic actually) and, over the next few weeks everything will become apparent but, right now, I have to keep my mouth shut.  This is not natural for me (as anyone who knows me will attest - seriously, if you want to win money, play me at poker, my poker-face is non-existent!)

Anyway, it got me thinking about secrets in general and, more specifically, secrets in the outdoors.  Hikers, cyclists, swimmers, campers, we all have our secrets - our favourite spots that we sneak away to and hope no-one else is there but, as someone who writes books about the outdoors this leaves me with a conundrum.  If all we do is write books about the places everyone already knows about, no-one will buy our books (same old, same old) BUT if we write about new 'secret' places we run the risk of upsetting people who prefer to keep such places under the radar.

It's something that's been in the news a couple of times recently.  Access to a famous beauty spot lake in Snowdonia has been blocked by the farmer that owned it after some visitors left piles of litter - as I understand it the lake was on his private land (rather than a public right of way) but he was happy to let folks enjoy it responsibly - sadly too much of an ask for some people.

Stunning views on NC500
The North Coast 500 has also been in the news again for all the wrong reasons.  On the face of it
promoting this stunning drive along some of the most spectacular roads in the UK should be nothing but good news for the local economy - lots of new people visiting, spending money on campsites and in shops, cafes and bars.  The problem is that it has been a victim of its own success with some folks lacking respect and consideration for the environment.  We visited in 2015 and took six weeks to complete the route; during that time we never left one scrap of litter, we pulled in and let faster vehicles past at every opportunity and we always camped somewhere away from everyone else.

We also see it in Cumbria, people get upset when we talk about 'secret hideaways' but surely nowhere is secret if you have an OS Map?  I've read that Wainwright was miffed when his books proved a huge hit, leading to his previously favoured quiet routes becoming clogged with people following his guides.  I also once interviewed Julia Bradbury and asked if there were some places that she kept to herself and didn't share on TV and she said that there were.

We all have secret places we like to escape to, but it's not the many that are the problem, it's the few and it's not the fact that we talk about the places that's the issue, it's the fact that we have somehow stopped educating people about how to behave outdoors and how to treat the landscape with respect.  I'm not talking about becoming well-versed on conservation matters, I'm talking about the basics of taking your litter home with you, not damaging property and having consideration for everyone else using the route - if everyone understood those things then there would be no issues.
Hidden woodland walk

When I was researching one of our books I read about how remote paths used to be kept clear of brambles by farmers leaving shears or clippers on a hook at one end of the route.  A passing hiker would collect these, clip any wayward branches along the way, then leave the clippers on another hook at the other end of the track for the next hiker.  Can you imagine that happening today?  I would say that Health and Safety would have a fit but we all know that the clippers would be nicked long before anyone got hurt clipping branches.

There's really not a simple answer to this.  Or rather there is: treat the countryside with respect, but embedding and enforcing it is the problem.  If people are happy to risk their lives heading up Helvellyn in flip-flops, then they're really not going to worry about picking up the wrapper from their Mars bar.  At the crux of the issue is where does the responsibility lie for educating people?  I've seen rants against local councils for not clearing grass verges and fly tipping spots but the anger needs to be directed at the people throwing the litter and dumping the rubbish in the first place.

I'm genuinely interested in hearing everyone else's thoughts on this as I know it's a subject close to a lot of our hearts - maybe between us we can find a solution?

In the meantime, as for my secrets, well you'll just have to hang around and see what happens over the next few weeks.  While you're waiting you could always take a look through our books and see where our favourite hideaways are - click HERE for more info.

Out June 15th - available to pre-order here


  1. Really interesting, I do indeed have some favourite and secret spots that we hope do not get too popular. 😁 I accept that I am one that will pick up others rubbish as I find it which does not help stop the littering in the first place. Hence why I keep my spots on the down low.

    1. I pick up litter when I can too. Once got an entire 24 pack of Monster Munch from the shores of Haweswater... Oh and we got a 210l water butt the other day on a walk in the south east. Madness what folks dump. Something seriously wrong.

  2. One of the greaat benefits of the cult of bagging the now called Wainwrights is that most Lakeland fellsides remain largely untrammeled if not secret. My fFellrangers intros were from fireside to fellside, not to the summits as it is only by exploring away from the common paths and delving into the shy combes that one finds the soul of the fells. One does not need a guidebook to wander, hence my pleasure in creaating guides to serve the summiteers as it ensures the quiet places remain just so. "Long live the wild and the wet, let them linger yet". Perhaps, at some suitable time, you might consider a Countrystride conversational ramble?

    1. I agree - I think I could write about non-Wainwrights till the cows came home and lots of people would still give them a miss. Black Combe is a great example. Wonderful fell but not one of the hallowed 214 so usually pretty quiet, but unbeatable views. Nice pub at the end too.

  3. I own two parcels of land in the Lake District one I want as a green burial site so know where I am going to rest and one in the Broughton Mills valley which is an haven. I don't keep them secret and will share with all especially anyone who wants to wild camp. The least I would expect is Respect for the area and as of yet have always received it. Long may it continue. I do feel education of what is acceptable is needed though as Common Sense seems to have flown out of the window