Groundhog Day

“Then put your little hand in mine…..”

Bill Murray could be forgiven for repeatedly smashing the alarm clock radio to pieces back in 1993*, as he found himself stuck in a loop waiting for some key thing to change in his day and for life to snap back to normal. And you could probably forgive the folks at Peak District MTB for the same when the plans for ‘maintenance’ to a number of bridleways in the park were sent over earlier this month.

Derbyshire County Council has earmarked a number of local trails for work – starting imminently. The trails on the list include  some of the favourites in the mountain biking world; Cavedale is one prominent example.

Thanks to Pete Herbert for both photos

And there are some things in there which make for quite alarming reading. “3m wide” path. The dreaded “aggregate”. “Kerbstones”. It’s been very short notice for people to respond to the plans and initial reaction on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere has been one of rolled eyes, resigned sighs and shaking heads. Are DCC just doing the same old same old?

“Then put your little hand in mine…”

But are these something different? Rushup Edge was a byway. Cavedale is a bridleway. Different rules apply. Whether DCC will think that way is unknown.  Whether they will apply a dollop of common sense; likewise.

Also, Rushup brought one important change; a bloodied nose for ignoring a community and a revision to plans.

A lot has changed since Rushup-gate. Stronger relationships exist. Our influence is greater. But is it enough? These plans are close to the limits I feel. But details are very scant on what the actual plans and designs are. Peak District MTB are pushing to see them – they must exist because how can a contractor start work without them?

Peak District MTB do a brilliant job putting forward the MTB viewpoint in the Local Access Forum – the cross-user group which advises DCC on access. They have done the same here in site visits and countless emails. Join them, follow their social media. Share your thoughts with them.

So take a look at what we can see so far. Do we need to muster energy for another battle? Maybe Punxsutawny Phil can predict a brighter outlook this time around.

*if you haven’t seen Groundhog Day, it’s worth a watch. Available on all good streaming services or ITV4 at 11.00pm every Thursday


While you’re here

KoftheP is non-profit and volunteer run by one person in what little spare time I have.  But it has a few costs. To pay for the site you can help by buying some KoftheP gear. There’s loads available – hoodies, t-shirts, bags. Just head over to the shop to get your Christmas goodies and help keep KoftheP going

T-shirts, hoodies and other goodies now available!

You said you wanted some KoftheP clothing, so here you go – my latest range of Keeper of the Peak branded gear for you (and your kids!)

Keeper of the Peak clothing store

As you know, KoftheP is just little old me, tapping away, retweeting and pushing to make things better for mountain bikers in the Peak District. I’m really proud of what this little community has become and what this little community does for others and I hope you are too.

By being a follower you’re helping change the image of mountain bikers in the national park and beyond. I won’t make much profit on these – but it’s not about that.

And as I’m so proud of you all, right now I’m wearing a BRAND NEW NAVY KEEPER OF THE PEAK HOODIE AND T-SHIRT!! And when people ask what KoftheP is, I can tell them about this brilliant little community of like-minded riders. The few quid I’ll make will go to running the website and all reinvested into improving mountain biking in the Peak.

Anyway, enough of me praising you lot. Take a look at the stuff! Just a small range at the mo – hoodies, some t-shirts and even some kids stuff. All available now, and all delivered dead quick. And they’re great quality too! Sustainably produced and great quality, what will you order?

  https://keeperofthepeak.teemill.com/

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

The darkness on the moors late at night is like ink. Distant orange glows may softly illuminate the horizon, but within the hills and deep dark valleys, away from the towns with their lights and sounds, the stillness and murk takes over.

And it is quiet. It may be interrupted by the call of a grouse from time to time, but the remote, high moorland late at night is a quiet, still, isolated place to be.

Which is why in early 1997 the explosion heard by thousands of people from up on the remote, silent Howden Moors was totally, completely unexpected.

And it wasn’t just locals fearing that something had happened – across the area emergency calls were made; a low flying aircraft had gone down on the moors… smoke was seen rising in the hills.. Something was ablaze in the heather…

Soon emergency services were racing to the dark hills joined by the volunteers from mountain rescue. Local hospitals were put on high alert. They searched through the night and found…nothing.

No wreckage. No fire. No aircraft.

Nothing.

Yet people had seen something.

Stories vary. A light aircraft crashing. An aircraft going down. An aircraft pursued by jets. An unidentified object pursued by military jets across the moorland.

But none of those stories has any evidence to support them. All are nothing. All are ghosts.

Yet people still believe they saw something. Was it a cover up? Or was it something else above the moors around Cut Gate? Today, nearly a quarter of a century on, there are still no answers. The MOD knows something happened up there…the locals know something happened up there….but nobody knows what….

So when you’re riding Cut Gate late night and you catch something passing over you out of the corner of your eye, maybe ask the question… “what was that?”…because maybe, just maybe, you caught a glimpse of one of the ghost planes of the Peak District.

Happy Halloween.

Lost in time

The temptation when you’re riding in this part of the world is to convince yourself that every ditch, divot, mound and ridge is historically significant, a remnant of a long lost empire, and that I’m tracing the footsteps of a former Roman centurion or legionary who once looked upon this very landscape admiringly 1900 years ago as I do now.

But it’s clearly more likely that I’m sitting looking at a long forgotten manure pile which has grassed over – the only way to be sure being to dig down and find out; but there’s no way I’m doing that on this quick leg stretch this evening.

I’m staying a mile or so south of Hadrian’s Wall, and brought the big bike anticipating some evening exploration – taking in some proper tracks and big history that you can touch while you pretend to be stationed on the Wall long before You-Know-Nothing-Jon-Snow donned his bearskin and northern accent.

But I’m in what appears to be a bridleway desert, with the closest track to the wall coming to abrupt halt a few hundred yards along its length.

Maybe they put it there so riders could take a photo of Kevin Costner’s tree before pootling back to the car.

So tonight’s ride takes me on the quiet lanes and byways further south, overlooking the pretty, meandering valley carved out by the confusingly named River South Tyne.

The owner of the farm at which we’re staying kindly recommended the route with the caution that it’s “a bit rough and up and downy”, but on discovering the rough stuff was a slighty bumpy farm track I gave up on the promise of any tech and settled in to spin the legs and enjoy the views.

It’s only in taking time to enjoy a ride do you notice things. It might be wildlife (tonight: a hare, friendly chaffinches, skylarks), but in taking the time, you have the opportunity to get lost in it. And not just in the time getting away from you as you while a few moments away taking in the view; you can get lost in the snapshot of time held in the landscape itself.

The obvious things leap out; the deep trench cut by the Romans as a defensive measure behind the wall – the Vallum – is obvious as you travel here, and of course the wall itself appears with sudden grandeur as you turn a corner or pass a copse of trees.

Less instant to the naked eye is the evidence of medieval farming in the undulating ridge and furrows showing clearly with the setting sun. Later, buildings such as Norman churches and chapels evoke the signature of much later occupation of these isles.

But it’s something more personal that takes me back in time. And it’s something which evokes a pleasant memory. The dial is set to more recent times and the memory goes to the late 80s. A skylark’s chattering call transports me back to a footpath close to my grandparents’ house near Rotherham where me and my brother are trotting ahead of my grandad as we walk to the nearby reservoir. Forever, the skylark call will take me back to that moment, and while the ditches, divots, mounds and walls are impressive, having a ride like tonight’s where I’ve had the opportunity to get lost in time in the late 1980s – albeit briefly – is far, far more evocative of a past age. And no information panel will ever explain just how much that means.

While you’re here…

You might have noticed that some parts are a little hard to come by just recently. Clearly the impact of the pandemic is trickling down to the industry – but not all parts of the industry are on hold right now. As lockdown lifts, there’s a significant part of the mountain biking economy desperate to have your custom – and it’s one of the best investments you can make to improve your riding.

Mountain bike coaching can make a huge difference to your riding and is regularly cited as one of the best improvements you can make. But over the last year, social distancing has meant that coaches haven’t been able to do their job and so now they are keen to help you improve your skills, no matter what kind of riding you do.

Talking to a friend who coaches, they’re ready and waiting for your booking – so look into it. It really does make a difference. I had a session with Alliance MTB and at the end of the day I was a different rider. I still apply the skills I learnt that day to my riding now and definitely feel the difference.

But it might not be trail skills; it could be navigation, jumping, basics, endurance…you name it, there’s a coach out there to help you.

So don’t hesitate – get a bunch of mates together and book a session. It’s brilliant fun and you’ll be a better rider.

If you’re a coach, please jump on this thread and let me know! If you send your name, contact details and brief bio to kotp@live.co.uk I’ll put a page on the website to help you get back up to speed.

Finding the balance – where’s your ethical centre?

It’s recently been asked what ‘Ethics in mountain biking’ means to you. It’s a good thing to talk about and one which builds on discussions which have been had at length amongst groups in the mountain biking world – groups like Cycling UK, and the excellent Open MTB – who spend many volunteer hours debating just this kind of thing.

But what on earth are the ethics we’re talking about? What is ethics anyway? Why the hell should we care?

It will come as little surprise to you to know that I have my own thoughts on this; I’ve long tried to talk about doing things the right way and to consider others; but is this all it is about? Is this the core of it all?

In my grown-up life at work, I have a role as an Ethics adviser, so I have a particular interest in this too.

No matter what your thoughts are on ethics, every single one of us has our own moral code. We all have our own ‘centre’ from which we make judgements based on the situation presented to us, others’ behaviours, choices we have to make. When we talk about ‘ethics in mountain biking’ there are two things going on there. Firstly, ethics – which is a very personal thing to you, and secondly “…in mountain biking”, which obviously puts those ethics into a scope of collective ownership and accountability. When it comes to Ethics in Mountain Biking, I guess we’re looking for how widely aligned that centre point is. And that’s where it gets challenging.

For me professionally, the code drives the behaviours we should all aim to live by. Behaviours that our customers would expect to see and our colleagues would want us to demonstrate; how others see us, and how we wish to be seen. Is that how it is for the mountain biking world too? Is ethics just about our external image or is it more? Surely it’s about how we treat others. But the environment in which we ride can’t pass judgement on our behaviour – so the ethical question must also encompass the environment too?

So what are we talking about? Are we talking about riding footpaths? Digging? Slagging people off on a forum? Not having a bell? Maybe it’s littering? Riding muddy trails in poor weather? Filling the pages of your mag with rooster tails and “shredding”? Filming your latest drone edit on footpaths then chasing after sponsors? Riding cheeky then splashing it all over social?

It’s a big area to cover and one in which you can easily get into a tangle.

At its worse, people talking about ethics can stand accused of hypocrisy when their behaviour offends another’s moral centre. And in a world where we can’t even decide what MTB is, how are we going to get agreement on some utopian code of ethics to live by?

People cite the unwritten surfing code, and the climbers’ approach to things. But those are sports which are arguably not nearly as easy to get into as riding a bike, and lockdown and the pandemic has put more people on the trails than we’ve ever seen.

All those people who “never forget how to ride a bike”, likely can’t say they “never forget how to drop in to a wave” or “never forget how to belay”, so the parallels don’t quite work.

And we’ve got to be careful to talk about ethics, not just develop a list of rules.

Be Nice Say Hi has been a good shorthand for cutting through some of this debate. It’s an ethos. Things like the Countryside Code are also helpful – but may feel out of date or not entirely relevant to the MTB world. And should any code of ethics just apply to MTB, or all those groups who use the outdoors recreationally?

Like I say, it’s bit of a mess.

For me, there are some core things here that determine my own ethical centre.

Primarily it is to consider the impact of my actions on others and the environment and to adjust my behaviour accordingly. Acting with a level of integrity. So data driven, transparent, and not being afraid to call things out too – even when it’s my own peers. But I also have to be willing to listen and change.

Yes, there’s lots of grey areas and I can feel myself getting tangled up – but I’ve found that taking this approach and not being afraid to state where I stand (or ride) has begun to win MTBers friends via our campaigning activity.

You’d hope that other groups would take similar approaches. I find an ethical mindset drives a collaborative, open approach so it is something to be embraced and encouraged. A willingness to talk about behaviours openly and constructively is a good start. Getting beyond finger pointing and accusatory statements at the very first.

We’re starting to see this kind of thing being discussed more now in the media as influential riders make their voice heard and speak up. Perhaps we’re seeing the natural growth and increasing maturity of mountain biking. Whatever it is, it’s a good thing, because if we can show that we’re thinking about this stuff honestly and critically; if we can show that we’ve got our heads screwed on right when it comes to this kind of thing, the image we have – at times created for ourselves – can only begin to improve.

So what now? Where do we go? It’s hard to say – but by talking about this kind of thing beyond the advocacy groups’ Facebook pages and barely read blogs; taking it into your rides and beyond is important. We all have a role to play in changing perceptions, and doing it right. But we need other user groups to join the party too. Mountain bikers are growing up and thinking about the impact they have. Others need to as well if we’re to progress the access argument.

I’ve thought long and hard about all this – and people often say “why bother?” But I think it takes more effort to think outside of your own lived experience and even more to change your own behaviour as a result of that thinking. I truly believe that considering those things outside of our own experience is the best way to begin to understand and work with others in order to make things better for all.

Maybe this is all introspective mumbo jumbo.

Maybe it’s just thinking about something other than myself.

You decide.

“What shall we do today then?”

An interesting series of questions were posed on the old KoftheP twitter feed yesterday around the growth in rider numbers resulting from the various lockdowns, limited travel and “stay at home” messaging.

You’d have to have your head in the sand to have not noticed that there are way more people out and about than there have been in previous years. It’s difficult to define the exact reasons without surveying them, but putting 2 and 2 together and looking at the shopping centres, gyms, pubs, footy grounds and other places being closed due to coronavirus, and the outdoors teeming with people, I’d put a bet on the answer being 4 and many of those ‘displaced’, locked down and locked out individuals turning to the paths and tracks to pass the time. Good for them. I personally love seeing people discover the outdoors, and as long as – currently – it’s within the rules and sensible, fair play to them.

But the question posed is are there any positives to take from the increase in new riders out there? Is there more trail conflict? An impact on trail etiquette?

Certainly interesting questions and thanks @maddogmtb for asking them.

It does feel like there has been a major shift in the numbers of people getting out. National Parks which, for years have been trying to increase their visitor numbers, have found themselves overwhelmed when that is exactly what has happened. More people are riding, walking and running out on the paths and there are occasions where this is invariably going to lead to some conflict. I daren’t say there’s been more – I simply don’t have the data to back that up – but  there has been a distinct, seemingly correlating increase in the noise around asking for more access, which feels somewhat symptomatic of more riders feeling the limits of both lockdown and access law.

And that, in itself, is a benefit. The more people ride, the more people will understand the fragile relationships and limited access for mountain bikers in the Peak. In advocacy, groups like Peak District MTB are making great strides in engaging with landowners who, under Covid, have found far greater demand for access on their property and so they are looking to the MTB community – where organised – to advise, help and guide. In some places, even partner as the landowners seek to embrace the ‘new’ riders in the Peak.

And with that engagement comes a need to educate and guide; which can only be a good thing. I’ve seen calls to rewrite the countryside code recently and there are ongoing discussions about a biking code of conduct. Again, all good things which have been accelerated through high visitor numbers on the back of COVID.

I’m not going to get into the e-bike debate because it’s never about the bike. The bike is an inanimate object. It’s all about the rider and their behaviour – and with better provision and associated guidance, marketing and education; that rider – ebike or not – will inherently gain a greater understanding of those fragile relationships. And advocacy groups should be and are getting more confident in calling it out. 

I’ve talked about a tipping point before, that moment where opinions shifts and things will start being somewhat easier when it comes to making a case for mountain bikers in the Peak. Before when I talked about it, I was referring to the result of many hours of emails, phone calls and slog from those self-same advocacy groups grinding out the arguments and posing the questions. Now, with the seemingly huge increase in people wanting to get out on their bikes, landowners are beginning to come to the advocacy groups for support.

As vaccination takes effect and things begin to calm down, the shops and gyms will reopen and the demand will drop off a bit – but there will be new riders out there and everyone has to understand that there will be increased demand. Be Nice, Say Hi comes through strong. Open dialogues, a bit of patience and collaboration would be very welcome.

You see, I wouldn’t do what I do were it not for the fact that I am optimistic about our relationship with the outdoors and the people and places in the national park. Temporary frictions in time give way to dialogue, better future relationships and developments.

I’ve got to believe that, and I truly do.

Ramorum disease – help stop the spread

Woodlands across the UK – including sites in our area – are being affected by a disease which can kill and severely damage trees. Mountain bikers and other woodland users are being asked to help stop the spread.

Recently, cases of Ramorum disease (Phytophra Ramorum) – a highly infectious pathogen – were found in Eckington Woods and the Moss Valley, and as there is no treatment for this fatal disease, the only option available to manage or contain it is clear felling, a process which is under way now. The disease is harmless to humans.

Clearly any felling of woodland is desperately sad and to be avoided at all costs, so we’re been asked to take steps to avoid spreading the disease; highly infectious, it can be carried in soil, plant needles or leaf litter so is easily transported from place to place by a passing boot, hoof or tyre. If you think you might have passed through or near an affected area, you’re asked to thoroughly clean your bike off before going elsewhere and if possible, avoid visiting the affected areas.

The Moss Valley currently has a statutory plant health notice so people are asked to avoid the area and any area where Ramorum disease notices are shown. While it is devastating for the woodland to face such extreme containment actions, it’s vital to keep the disease from spreading further and resulting in much wider spread felling activities.

If I hear more, I’ll add more details – but for now, please listen to the experts, if you see the signs, don’t risk it.

Stand and deliver…

There’s an eerie quiet you feel when you pause in the valley at SK 2068 7419. The hills around you – by day rolling grassy pastures – by night are cast into foreboding shadow and dark recesses full of sleepy hollows hiding things from sight.

If you stop and rest awhile at the junction where travellers have crossed this remote country for years, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that, from those dark, moonlit cast shadows, you’re being watched.

Many a hardy traveller has spoken of that same discomforting feeling at the spot, and many more have picked up the pace just a little to get out of the valley and off the hills into the cosy safety of nearby Stoney Middleton.

But not every traveller through the years has been so fortunate. For up in the hills and hiding in the shadows, those travellers were being watched…and perhaps still are today.

Crossed from west to east, north to south, this eerie spot was a busy highway and a favoured spot for Black Harry, who robbed unsuspecting traders on these very paths.

After years of terror in the hills, Harry was eventually caught at nearby Wardlow Cop and – in keeping with the punishment of the day – was hanged, drawn and quartered and displayed in a gibbet at Wardlow Mires, his decaying and rotting body picked at by the ravens and crows as a warning to others.

But Harry’s reign of terror didn’t end there.

Over the years since, terrified travellers have told tales of a shadowy rider on the paths around Black Harry Gate… a becloaked and mysterious man on horseback who appears as if from nowhere and is gone into the shadows just as silently…

So if you do stop at that spot for a rest, take heed. And that sound over your shoulder, the strange feeling you’re being watched from the shadows, the unshakeable fear that you’re being followed up out of the dark valley….don’t look back, for Black Harry may just have found his next victim…

  • Want to find out more about the folklore of the area? Take a look at the brilliant work of Stoney Middleton heritage. Fascinating local stories.

Ride and prejudice

A challenge to ban 4x4s from green lanes in the Lake District has been rejected by the High Court, leading to dismay amongst the group behind the campaign.

GLEAM (the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement) had called for off-road vehicles in Langdale and Coniston valleys to be banned from using tracks (currently public highways)  – claiming 4x4s are causing environmental pollution and affecting the enjoyment of the route by other users; citing walkers and cyclists amongst them.

It’s all very interesting from an access point of view, but perhaps what is more interesting is what is written between the lines when you dig into the reports on the debates.

Whenever access for motor vehicles comes up for debate in our national parks it’s a divisive subject. Look at recent examples of 4×4 restrictions we’ve seen locally for example – Chapel Gate ended up with a permanent TRO, much to the frustration of the green laners but to the joy of others; though importantly not all.

As mountain bikers we’re in the constant position of banging our heads against a wall when it comes to the impact we have on trails. Evidence abounds that a tyre and a boot cause comparable damage to a path over time, yet the argument persists that “mountain bikes damage the paths”. So do walking boots – there’s just more of them pointing the finger at us and no matter how many times we make the case with supporting evidence, we’re drowned out by the clack, clack, clack of a hundred thousand telescopic walking poles clicking into pointy point position.

And so it’s interesting to see those familiar lines emerging in the documents related to the decision on Tilberthwaite Road. Digging through the Rights of Way committee meeting Assessment report from 8 October 2019, the various appendices share the comments from groups giving reasons that motorised traffic should be banned from the routes. And in the midst of those comments too, you find collateral damage hitting mountain bikers.

Looking to get a TRO, GLEAM and their supporters talk about walkers having to move off the trail as motorised vehicles use the tracks – but video evidence submitted, it is suggested, shows perfectly civil interactions as the walkers make way for the faster traffic on the route. Here, we’re referenced as a “risk to walkers” in complaints raised. Reassuringly  the Lake District NPA (LDNPA) references the brilliant collaborative, progressive access projects which elsewhere have led to improved relationships.

However, perhaps the most fascinating and insightful comments in the report focus on noise pollution. And they provide an intriguing tell as to the real reasons for opposition – and those are reasons not borne out of any logic. We’ve all been on a green lane when the tell tale sound of a motocross bike has grown louder as both bike and rider get closer – and the diminishing chainsaw sound as the rider carries on their journey following a brief nod of the head as they pass. But in the report, it’s revealed that it’s not the noise that’s the problem, it’s the source of the noise. It takes a trained ear to tell the difference between a farmer’s quad and a cross bike, even more a Series 2 driven by a farm hand or a Series 2 driven by a green laner. And the report makes this clear:

Campaigner Comment: “When you are away from a route, but hear the noise of vehicles coming probably from the route, how can you tell if the sound of a 4×4 is from a recreational or agricultural vehicle? If the latter, and if it can be glimpsed, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment”

Do we, as mountain bikers, fall victim to this kind of mindset as well? Studies show the comparable impact of tyre and boot, but is that immaterial when opposition is actually nothing to do with the science of erosion, and everything  to do with someone’s unqualified opinion on who is allowed to do what to enjoy the outdoors? When that opposition is so influential there may be something in it.

The Ramblers UK official stance on blanket access to footpaths is one of opposition. And this stance is at the bottom of a few paragraphs in a page on their website about shared use trails where it follows some detail about just how limited bike access is to the rights of way network.

As other home nations move to progressive open access policies and embrace collaborative approaches to improved Rights of Way legislation, England remains a stubbornly limited prospect for mountain bikers. With Ramblers UK’s official stance against open access, and the kind of prejudices displayed in the Tilberthwaite report, it’s clearly going to be a tough challenge to change minds, regardless of how much evidence there is in support of a better network. 

And at times we just don’t help ourselves. Recently the chair of Peak District MTB shared an experience of having to pull his kids out of the way of a rider arriving unannounced on a footpath in White Peak. Not a good look for us all, and just the kind of example people with less tolerance and understanding would use to inform their opinion. No amount of “Saying Hi” is  going to help if we’re not going to do the “Be Nice” bit too.

It’s not all bad news though. Reading the assessment report, you can detect a weariness on the part of the writer. It’s a weariness that I’ve seen in other access managers too who are sick of dealing with the kind of tit for tat treacle that holds back the access debate. But they flag up a tantalising argument which lands us firmly back in the science and where exactly we should be making our case:

LDNPA: “If we were to make a prohibition on a road purely because of damage caused by vehicles, we would surely be in the position of having to extend this logic to fell paths and other routes, and to consider banning walkers/riders from them to prevent surface damage.”

Thought provoking eh?

We all cause damage. We’ve been clear on that for years in the mountain biking community – but we come back to that insight about noise. It’s not about the damage being caused, it’s about who is causing it. That mindset needs to be shelved and the argument needs to move on. We can all help it to do so.

The report also responds to calls regarding the ‘traditional’ use of the tracks in question. And again, the LDNPA poses an intriguing question – how far back do you go to draw the line as to what forms of transport are ‘traditional’ and what are ‘modern’? 

LDNPA: “When looking at the historic and cultural usage of these roads (and indeed the wider unsealed road network) it is difficult to know at which point in history any lines should be drawn. Where would we stop the cultural development of such highways?”

The most recent cultural development cited is the rise of mountain biking in the 80s. It’s an intriguing poser and one which again, points to the necessity to use science to inform the access debate.

If you get chance, go and read the report – it is fascinating  overview and representation of the arguments  for and against, and I can see why the high court rejected the appeal. 

In an age where we often hear  people say “It’ll be the mountain bikers they come for next”, it’s reassuring to see a beacon of common sense in the access debate.