Boot and Bike Literature

Winter Reading List

The shortest day is almost upon us and this, the  darkest time of the year, usually with the  worst weather and the most chance of colds and ‘flu, is also the time of least opportunity for most of us to get out and about.

But equally, it’s the ideal time of the year to plan for the spring/summer; next year’s holiday; a wish, or intention, of Munros to bag, coast to coasts to conquer, long distance trails to attack.  Therefore, to keep us going over the winter, to recreate our experiences in sunnier climes and times, to find out more about places we want to visit, or re-visit, many of us spend more time reading about the great outdoors during the gloomy months.

But  what do we read to keep our umbilical cord connected to the mountains, coasts and wildlife beyond our artificially warm and bright winter quarters?

Obviously, guidebooks, Rough, Blue and of other hues, for specific areas,  plus cycling, walking and climbing handbooks, as well as  factual information on wildlife, history, food, culture and topography will be obvious starting points. But, it was a childhood consumption of classics like, Ring of Bright Water and Tarka the Otter,that sparked my love of wildlife and determination to visit Skye/Knoydart and Devon respectively. Equally, the Iliad and Odyssey triggered a grander plan to explore Greece and her islands.

A Coffee, A Cake and a Book

Well written (auto)biographies, particularly when they are first hand accounts of pioneers in fields like climbing, walking and cycling, are often worth reading.  Jock Nimlin’s May the Fire Always be Lit tells  how, in the 1930s, young workers from the Glasgow area escaped unemployment and harsh living conditions through walking, cycling and climbing, in the Trossachs and beyond, often equipped only with working boots and washing lines. Gwen Moffat, another climber, but from a completely different background, recounts her experiences as one of the few women on the summits in the 1940s and 1950s in Space Below my Feet. For present day cyclists (and anyone else interested in a good book), Rob Penn’s It’s All About the Bike has to be a required read.

But, for me, a good novel has always been the best introduction to the area in which it is set. A superficial selection could include:
North East Scotland in Sunset Song; the Cotswolds in Cider with Rosie; Yorkshire Moors in Wuthering Heights; the Trossachs in Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels; the Cornish coastline in Rebecca; Exmoor in Lorna Doone, Dorset in Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles et al;  and Sweden Norway and Denmark in just about any Scandinavian crime novel!
And, of course, we can add Wordsworth’s poetry for the Lake District, Burns for South West Scotland and Owen Sheers for Wales.

That said, you don’t need to spend all of the winter months wrapped in a book. When you do have a few hours spare over a weekend, or in the Christmas holidays, why not plan a literary-themed series of urban walks and cycles?


Winter in the City

Charles Dickens’ London; Ian Rankin’s (Rebus’s) Edinburgh;  Colin Dexter’s (Morse’s) Oxford; James Joyce’s  (or Wilde’s, or Synge’s, or Yeats’) Dublin; Alasdair Gray’s Glasgow come immediately to mind.

Recently, the Ramblers organised a series of walks based on films set in London, including  an Ealing comedy circuit, and East End gangland route. Well on that theme, how about a Shane Meadows’ inspired mystery tour of the East Midlands?

However,  if you like your  pre-Christmas jaunt to be somewhere a little more magical than Uttoxeter, then what about a visit to the canals and medieval markets In Bruges, or make a Killing on some of those suddenly-trendy woolly jumpers in Copenhagen?

Add in a few favourite TV series – a Foyle’s War reconnaissance of the Sussex coast, or a Wycliffian trip around Cornwall perhaps – and the possibilities are endless.

More darkness means less time in the great outdoors over the next few months, but more time for reading and catching up with the latest movies and those you’ve missed. And remember, as with your trips to the great outdoors, your literary themed walks and cycles should always be planned around an appetising, calorie-fuelled pub/cafe stop. 

What’s not to like?

Share your suggestions here for more Boot and Bike literature, or literary-themed trips.

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Charity Challenge: harder test, lower impact

Ribblehead Viaduct

After becoming involved, against my better instincts, in an on-line forum on the subject earlier in the week, my thoughts returned to the pros and cons of charity challenges during a congenial weekend in North Yorkshire.

A captivating autumn day, engaging company, added to the  treat of starting and ending our ascent of  Whernside by the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct; what wasn’t to like?

But while we took full advantage of our day, marvelling at the engineering skills of Victorian railway builders, taking our time on route to the summit – admittedly,  because of my catalogue of recent injuries – while admiring the autumnal panorama, the majority of our fellow hikers  appeared oblivious to the views and the location in their desperation to ascend and descend the hill within some set guideline for an organised charity event. And even on a November afternoon, there were still plenty of competitors about to ascend as late as 3pm.

But,so what?  Surely we should be celebrating that so many people are out enjoying the great outdoors; particularly if they are raising money for worthwhile charities at the same time? Well, yes, but it is certainly debatable if everyone was enjoying themselves: the majority of the expressions suggested it was more of an ordeal.

Ingleborough in the Clouds

And, of course, with so many people involved – competitors climbing, then descending, three or four abreast, outside the assigned path, the litter, the vehicle support – we also move into the thorny issue of environmental damage and whether the money raised justifies the harm to the habitat and rise in emissions.

I have mixed feelings about charity challenges. While, in principle, I support any activities that get people out in the fresh air, get them fit and enable them to raise valuable funds at the same time, I also believe that any associated environmental damage must not be simply disregarded as an unfortunate, but less important, side effect.

In addition, I see little point of holding these challenges in beautiful places if the majority of the competitors are unable to appreciate the unique setting of the event.  It the overriding objective is to complete a certain number of physical challenges within a specified time and, as a result, participants are too exhausted or too preoccupied to enjoy the locality, what’s the point of hosting it there? A physical challenge of this sort could just as easily be completed using cardio equipment in a gym.

Autumn in the Dales

Particularly culpable in this case is the Three Peaks Challenge where the three highest mountains on the British mainland have to be scaled within a strict time period, often 24 hours.  As a result, the challenge is as much about the logistics of getting to the mountains in time, as it is about climbing them and, consequently, convoys of vehicles tear along motorways with teams of drivers and support staff, often disrupting local communities by arriving and departing in the middle of the night.

But I do not advocate the abolition of the Three Peaks.  Instead, I suggest we make it a proper test where competitors would also be aware of, and able to enjoy, the beauty and challenges of the environment, with a much reduced carbon footprint.

Firstly, and most importantly, the 24 hour time limit would be abolished.
Secondly, participants would have to arrive at their first peak and travel between the subsequent ones on foot, by bike, or by using public transport (including ferry if the challenge is extended to include Ireland).
Thirdly, the time limits now imposed would be flexible and reflect the mode of travel and length of journey to the first mountain; days if travelling by public transport and an appropriate number of weeks if on foot, or by bike.

So, what do you think? Should charity challenges should be banned? Does the money raised for good causes outweigh any adverse effects? Any other suggestions?
Over to you…….

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