White, Middle-Aged, Middle Class: just why should enjoying the great outdoors become more inclusive?


Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Spent a wet, but cheerful, couple of days in the Langdales last weekend, co-incidentally as the Lake District staged its Birthday Extravaganza to celebrate  60 years as a national park.

Although the rain and mizzle undoubtedly deterred some from attempting the rocks and summits, the lower paths were busy and the kaleidoscope of canvas (or whatever techno fabrics that have replaced it) in the camp sites, suggested that this summer’s staycationers won’t put off by a few showers either.

However, even a cursory, totally unscientific study of the ramblers and fell walkers on view would confirm what those of us who regularly hit the hills already know too well: the profile of the average fell walker is an uncomfortable reflection of the narrow social class who enjoy our national parks and the great outdoors generally.

Middle-aged, clearly at least middle income given the variety of mid-market outdoor labels on view, often grey-haired, several (impressively) well into their seventh and eighth decade, there were more Labradors and spaniels splashing about than anyone remotely under the age of 30.  And, as for any black or brown faces, forget it: geographically Grasmere may be within 50 miles of Greater Manchester, but in terms of any similarity in ethnic profile, it may as well be on the moon.

OK, so walking only accounts for a percentage of visitors to the Lake District and other national parks and it’s a fair bet that those swinging from trip wires or paddling the rapids would  be considerably younger.  But, although there were several teenagers on off-road bike trails, many more riders were middle-aged and the profile of the roadies was very similar to their sliver-haired counterparts on motorbikes. And, everyone I saw enjoying any outdoor activity was white.

This is hardly an earth-shattering conclusion and it certainly does not add anything to what is already common knowledge.  But, coming at the end of a week that exposed stark divisions within our society, shocking examples of disaffected young people and serious polarisation within sections of some major English cities, it is interesting to ask why so few young people, why so few from  ethnic minorities and those who live in cities (of all ages) are represented in activities within our national parks and in the great outdoors generally.

Undoubtedly the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, inclusion schemes operated by schools, youth groups, the Prince’s Trust and others do a fantastic job in enabling some young people from all over the country, to gain self-confidence and the opportunity to work together and learn new skills in challenging situations, but they only touch the surface.  The real tragedy is that groups currently under-represented in the great outdoors – whether from the inner cities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities -are not able, or do not have sufficient interest, to enjoy some of our most beautiful places.

Far more thorough and academic investigations have been applied to why this is the case, but given that national parks were established in part following the historic campaign by working people in our industrial towns and cities to gain greater access to the countryside, it seems particularly sad that, today, so few inhabitants of those areas  are benefiting from what their predecessors fought for.

But, while this problem has no one single cause, it is not too simplistic to highlight one obstacle that threatens to make the situation even worse.  Although many national parks – particularly the Peak District – are situated near large, multi-ethnic conurbations, this does not mean that it is easy to get to them. Look round the car parks, or walk through Windermere, Ambleside, or Bakewell any weekend and it’s clear that to get to the heart of most national parks, or the countryside generally, you have to drive there.

Despite a few encouraging  bus services, getting to a national park, then travelling around it by public transport requires, patience, determination and the ability to spend hours negotiating the internet (always assuming you have access to the web). Recent cuts to local services, plus more hikes in train fares have combined to make the situation even worse.

Arrochar Station: Gateway to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Difficulty in accessing rural areas is an issue that is routinely overlooked, despite being habitually cited as a major obstacle by groups currently under-represented in the countryside.  Improving  public transport to these areas, as well as having clear environmental benefits, might also go some way to enabling these excluded groups to visit and enjoy the countryside. Interestingly, recent figures showing a sizeable increase in passengers using small, scenic railways, such as Derby to Matlock and the Looe Valley line in Cornwall, suggest people are willing to use these options, where they exist.

Improving access to the countryside may seem like very small beer compared to the numerous other problems of the early 21st century, but increasing access and enabling more of our population to enjoy the great outdoors could have some important social benefits and might just result in a little less polarisation and disaffection elsewhere.

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Two Munros in Three Days

View on the Ascent of Beinn Dorain

Idyllic weather (yes, even at the end of July!) and a not-to-be-missed opportunity to climb two of Scotland’s classic Munros over a long weekend. As both are  accessible by public transport from Glasgow, rather than add  to the already packed and dangerous A82, you can sit back, relax and wonder at the stunning landscape along the West Highland Railway, before and after your climb. Both hills also  enjoy good, well-surfaced paths and don’t demand any real technical abilities.


Beinn Dorain:

Ben Nevis from the Summit of Beinn Dorain

Blessed with the clearest summer day in memory, according to our expert guide, Beinn Dorain’s ideal, central location in the Southern Highlands  ensures a superb 360 degree panorama; so distinct today that the solid mass of Ben Nevis, jutting majestically out of the north end of Rannoch Moor, seems within touching distance rather than 40 odd miles to the north.

Round to the west, the spear-like triangle of Ben Cruachan is shadowed by the mountainous outline of Mull, Ben More obvious in the background;  a few degrees to the south west, Jura is recognisable by its three iconic Paps;  and with a further slight turn to the south, it is just possible to make out the craggy horizon of the Isle of Arran.

Westwards from Beinn Dorain

A view to die for and worth every step of the 1076 metre climb necessary to get here.  Beinn Dorain and its slight lower twin, Beinn an Dorthaidh, tower over the River Orchy and the small settlement round the eponymous bridge, and give visitors a tantalising glimpse of the wonders that await, northwards, to Rannoch and beyond.

The Spectacular Panorama from Beinn Dorain

The 9.07 Mallaig train from Glasgow’s Queen Street arrives in  Bridge of Orchy, at 11.23 (This train runs Monday-Friday until September 23. On Saturdays and  Monday to Friday from September 26, the service leaves Queen Street at 8.21, arriving Bridge of Orchy 10.46.)  It takes about five hours from the village station for the climb and descent; factor in an extra 45 minutes or so  if you want to climb Beinn an Dothaidh as well. That should give you more than enough time to complete the route and have some refreshments before catching the return train to Glasgow at 18.56, but do monitor timings carefully and take into account possible changes in weather conditions.

The Bridge of Orchy Hotel is your only refreshment option in the village. It serves drinks as well as bar and restaurant meals and is right across from the station where you end your walk.

A cool drink in the pavement table outside the hotel, admiring the impressive hill we have  just climbed, ends a memorable day among spectacular scenery in ideal conditions.

Travel –  www.firstscotrail.co.uk
Maps – OS Landranger 50, OS Explorer 377
Refreshments –  www.bridgeoforchy.co.uk


Ben Lomond:
The weather, not only holds, but improves. So, with a one day window left before I go home, I’m up and out by 7am and it’s already warm and sunny. What’s not to like?

Ben Lomond, "Glasgow's Munro"

Ben Lomond, the most southerly of Scotland’s Munros is widely regarded as “Glasgow’s Munro” and, given that it’s less than two hours out of the city by public transport – admittedly not your average commute, but an hour on the magical West Highland Railway, then a water bus across Loch Lomond – it’s an appropriate and well- deserved accolade.

Leaving  Queen Street on the Oban train at 8.21, arriving Arrochar at 9.35, we turn left out of the station for the 10 minute walk down to the pier at Tarbet  to catch the water bus operated by Cruise Loch Lomond  (between April and October) that links Tarbet with Rowardennan and Inversnaid on the eastern shore of the loch.

Crossing the Loch

Sailing at 10am, the boat – fellow  passengers include ornithologists, photographers, sightseers, walkers for the West Highland Way to Inversnaid, climbers for the Ben, cyclists for the heart of the Trossachs and Rufus, the black field spaniel, who looks up for all of these activities – reaches Rowardennan in about 45 minutes. From the pier a few steps through the car park towards the toilets brings us to the path marked “Ben Lomond”.  And, from here, we  just stick to  the obvious, well-surfaced path. But remember, it can still be a bleak and potentially dangerous climb in poor weather, so do ensure you always carry a map, navigation aid, wet weather gear and adequate food and water.

The Northern Shores of Loch Lomond

The climb starts in woodland, for about a mile until we emerge into the open hill through a gate. Don’t be too surprised if you meet some unimpressed-looking Hielan coos monitoring your progress at this point.

Sharing the Slopes of the Ben with a Resident!

Although fairly steep to begin with, the route levels out along the Sron Aonaich Ridge and after about two miles, we reach a final, steep section of switchbacks  to the summit.

Loch Katrine from the Summit of Ben Lomond

After some well-earned rest and another wondrous circular panorama – this time taking in the Arrochar Alps, Lochs Lomond, Sloy and Katrine, the Campsie Fells to the south and Lomond Hills to the east –  either retrace your steps , or head north west from the summit, descending steeply along a rocky ridge, then across some stepping stones to the Ptarmigan Ridge. Here you will enjoy more breathtaking views of the loch  on a straightforward route. Both paths finish at the car park.

Loch Chon from the Summit of Ben Lomond

The return boat sails from Rowardennan at 16.45, so it is essential to work out your timings carefully, particularly if the weather turns inclement:  in our case, despite spending too long sunbathing and admiring the views from the summit, we make it back with enough time to enjoy a cold drink at the Rowardennan Hotel.

View of Loch Lomond on the Descent

Arriving back at Tarbet Pier at 17.30, we take full advantage of the gorgeous evening, chilling out with  fish and chips and a great vista across the loch, before taking the short walk back to the station for the return to Queen Street at 20.08. (On Saturdays between March and September, an additional train calls at Arrochar at 18.02, arriving  Queen Street 19.20.)




– www.firstscotrail.co.uk  www.cruiselochlomond.co.uk
Maps – OS Landranger 56, OS Explorer 364, Harvey Maps; Glasgow Popular Hills
Refreshments – light refreshments are available on board the water bus, you may have time for a drink at  http://www.rowardennanhotel.co.uk/ and there are a number of hotels, restaurants and tea rooms in Tarbet

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