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.
A wealth of culture, some of the finest art and architecture in Europe, a shopping mecca, vibrant nightlife: just some of Glasgow’s best known features. But, alongside these attributes, its marvellous location for walking, cycling, sailing and numerous other outdoor activities is all too often overlooked.
A city infamous for poor health and housing and blighted by its planners in the mid 20th century, Glasgow, which means Dear Green Place, has, surprisingly, more green spaces per head of population than any other conurbation in Britain, with beautiful parks to be found all over the city. And, within an hour of its centre, you can be climbing a Munro, cycling along Loch Lomond,or sailing in some of the world’s most beautiful coastal waters. This fairly unique combination makes the city ideal to shop till you drop, enjoy many varied forms of culture, but equally easily escape to the great outdoors that are literally on your doorstep.
In addition, the city has an excellent public transport system; in terms of connecting areas and scope, second only to London. And, given Glasgow’s location, its commuter lines actually reach some of the most scenic and iconic places; for example, Balloch, at the foot of Loch Lomond, is around 40 minutes out of the city on a twice-hourly service, whilst the legendary West Highland line, reaches Arrochar and the northern end of Loch Lomond at Ardlui in about an hour.
It is this mix of unique location, plus easy availability of public transport, that makes Glasgow such an ideal base for a boot and bike trip.
Get there and about:
Virgin Trainswww.virgintrains.co.uk travel to Glasgow from London, the Midlands and North West England on the west coast main line; journey times are about five hours from London and just under four from Birmingham.
Strathclyde Passenger Transport www.spt.co.uk is responsible for city and suburban trains, buses and subway.
Scottish Citylink coaches www.citylink.co.uk run out of the city along the A82 en route to Fort William, Portree and Oban.
Loch Lomond Cruises www.cruiselochlomondltd.com operate a ferry service from Tarbet across the loch to Rowardennan and Inversnaid, between April to October.
Glasgow Guest House www.glasgow-guest-house.co.uk enjoys a great location on bus routes, five minutes from Dumbreck rail station, within walking distance of the subway, virtually next door to Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover and 20 minutes walk from the Burrell. It’s clean, welcoming, serves brilliant breakfasts, has a residents’ kitchen and ample and secure storage for boots, bikes and equipment: Glasgow with hospitality, humour and style.
Make sure you see:
Architecture; Look out for Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s buildings and designs www.crmsociety.com Alexander”Greek” Thomson’s buildings www.greekthomson.org.uk There is a wonderful Victorian legacy throughout the city and the magnificently-renovated 18th century Merchant City www.merchantcity.com is also a must-see.
Art; Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Burrell Collection and Pollok House
Museums and Culture; Kelvingrove, Tenement House, Cathedral, People’s Palace, new Riverside Museum of Transport with the Tall Ship and any of the 13 major museums in the city www.seeglasgow.co.uk
Music; King Tut’s, O2 Academy, Royal Concert Halls, Theatre Royal, SECC
Film; Glasgow Film Theatre and Grosvenor, numerous multi-screens
Theatres; King’s, Citizen’s, Tramway, Arches, Theatre Royal, Tron and many more
Why? wonderful views only usually enjoyed from much higher aspects, ideal to fit in for morning/afternoon, or for a winter walk
But; shares some of access route with West Highland Way and can be busy, especially in holiday periods and in spring dog-walkers cannot access the high moor behind the hill
Info; OS Explorer 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk Glasgow, 40 Town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.com
Directions; path starts from Visitor Centre in Balmaha where bus terminates, follow the well-signposted route and good path to the top of the hill
Distance; 3 miles
Terrain; woodland and hill paths, steep in places
Refreshments; Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha www.oak-tree-inn.co.uk village shop next door also sells hot drinks and sandwiches, as well as provisions
iii) Where? Dumgoyne Hill, Blanefield, north of Milngavie
How? bus (no10) from Buchanan Bus Station to Blanefield (hourly during most of the day)
Why? more fantastic views to southern aspects of Loch Lomond, Arrochar Alps, Ben Lomond and more, from a steep, but short, climb, within easy reach of city centre
But; very boggy in places, have to jump across a couple of burns en route
Info; OS Explorer 348, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk
Directions; start from war memorial in Blanefield, carry on up Campsie Dene Road to Cantywherry Cottage, then take path to the right up the hill
Distance; about 6 miles
Terrain; hill paths, boggy and muddy, steep in places
Refreshments; nice deli with lovely little coffeeshop www.pestleandmortar.com across from bus stop in Blanefield
iv) Where? Loch Humphrey and Duncolm, Kilpatrick Hills, west of the city
How? train to Kilpatrick from Glasgow Queen Street or Central
Why? extensive views over the city from a surprisingly remote, heather-clad range of hills very easily accessible from the city
But? bleak and isolated on the hilltops, steepish climb to the Loch
Info; OS Explorer 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills, www.harveymaps.co.uk Glasgow 40 town and Country Walks, www.pocketmountains.co.uk
Directions; from the railway station head along the road under the A82 road bridge to Kilpatrick Gasworks, then follow the track signposted Loch Humphrey. At the loch keep on the obvious path, passing Little and Middle Duncolm before climbing to the summit of Duncolm
Distance; about 8 miles
Terrain; tarmac stretch at start, then rough heather and bracken, boggy in places on hillside
Refreshments; none on direct route, pubs and shops in Kilpatrick
Where? Ben Lomond
How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet, Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com from Tarbet Pier across loch to Rowardennan (April-October), leaving Tarbet at 10am, returning from Rowardennan at 16:45
Why? great way to climb Scotland’s most southerly Munro on day trip from city without having to drive
But; absolutely vital that you have sufficient hill-walking experience/fitness to complete the climb and descent before return sailing
Info; Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk OS Explorer 364, 347
Directions; follow clear route to the mountain from car park in Rowardennan
Distance; around 7 miles
Terrain; tough mountain climb, remote and exposed in places
Where? Ben Arthur (The Cobbler), overlooking Arrochar
Why? One of Scotland’s iconic mountains, yet within easy access of the city, stupendous views of Ben Lomond and other peaks in the Trossachs, lochs Lomond and Long How? Train from Queen Street, or bus from Buchanan Bus Station www.citylink.co.uk to Arrochar But: very steep last section to exposed summit where slabs can be very slippery; liable to be cold, windy at higher levels irrespective of conditions at start; proper equipment, clothing and adequate fitness essential; limited train service and seats on return bus journey often need to be booked in peak months, so check timetable carefully to avoid a long wait in an area with few places to shelter Info: Harvey Maps: Glasgow Popular Hills, OS Explorer 364
Directions: turn right out of station, head into Arrochar, then follow road round head of the loch to the start of forest path opposite car park at Succoth Distance: 6 miles Terrain: excellent, easy-to-follow stone path for majority of route, steepish climb at start, then reasonably gentle gradients, apart from final stretch to the summit which is very steep and involves a short section of scrambling Refreshments: fish and chips and some daytime cafes in Arrochar but few options in the evening, Tarbet, perhaps better bet
Where? Loch Katrine by western access from Inversnaid
How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet, Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com from Tarbet Pier across loch to Inversnaid (April-October), then cycle from Inversnaid along Loch Arklet to Loch Katrine, with option of using paddle steamer, Sir Walter Scott http://www.incallander.co.uk/steam.htm on outward or return journey across the loch
Why? quieter, better way to enjoy wonderful scenery and the iconic loch, without having to drive or having a long cycle in from Stirling
But; watch timings carefully to catch return sailings and take bike spares and emergency kit
Info; OS Landrangers 56,57 Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk
Directions; only one road out of Inversnaid, so cycle (or push!) up the hill out of the village and follow road along Loch Arklet to Stronachlachar, then either take the steamer to Trossachs Pier and cycle back, or cycle to Trossachs Pier and return on ferry
Distance; depends on what route you select, but with a full circuit of loch total distance will be in region of 30 miles
Terrain; quiet, mostly well-surfaced tarmac roads, steep climb out of Inversnaid, undulating round the loch
Refreshments; Inversnaid Hotel www.lochsandglens.com/HotelInversnaid.asp
Cafes at Stronachlachar and Trossachs Pier www.lochkatrine.com meals and refreshments at Inversnaid Bunkhouse www.inversnaid.com
West Highland Way Walk:
Where? stretch between Rowardennan and Inversnaid (or reverse) on eastern side of Loch Lomond
How? train from Glasgow Queen Street to Arrochar/Tarbet, then Cruise Loch Lomond www.cruiselochlomondltd.com from Tarbet Pier across loch to Rowardennan (April-October) and back from Inversnaid, or route can be done in reverse from Inversnaid to Rowardennan
Why? fairly easy stretch of WHW on eastern side of Loch Lomond, within easy travelling distance of the city
But? can be busy, some of the route is in forest, so restricted views in places
Info; OS Explorer 364, 347, Harvey Superwalker 1:25,000 Glasgow Popular Hills www.harveymaps.co.uk
Directions; follow the obvious and plentiful route signs for the WHW
Directions; from Helensburgh station, head towards the shore and walk along the promenade to Rhu Marina, then turn right into Pier Road, right into Station Road and then up the hill till a large metal gate, before following the track through fields and woodlands to the Hill House
Distance; 7 miles
Terrain; tarmac roads and woodland paths, steep in places
Refreshments; selection of restaurants and cafes in Helensburgh, tea room at Hill House
Walk into History:
Where? New Lanark Mills and Falls of Clyde
How?train from Glasgow Central to Lanark, then take shuttle bus, or 20 minutes walk to New Lanark
Why? see Robert Owen’s 18th century mill village, often regarded as the birthplace of socialism and now a World Heritage Site and combine with a walk along the Clyde valley past the spectacular Falls of Clyde, taking in a wildlife reserve along the way
But? train takes over an hour and the site can be very busy during holidays and in the summer