“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.

///i.am.lost

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand, you won’t have been able to miss navigation app ‘what3words’ arrival in the range of apps any mountain biker must have. A big launch promo campaign across social media, and more recently a refresher campaign coupled with the opportunity to buy into the company have firmly put what3words in the minds of riders when it comes to considering navigation.

On the surface it’s a nifty little idea – the planet is split into 3 metre squares and each on of those has three words attached to it. The idea being that if you don’t know your ///chromosome.slams.decisive from your ///campsites.workbooks.chess when it comes to finding a grid reference, you can whip out your phone and quickly find your what3words location.

All sounds very simple, but what3words has been received with equal levels of welcome and scepticism; with people questioning its effectiveness amidst reliance on signal and battery and others querying the financial intents of the company behind the tech.

I’m not here to pass judgement and god knows I’m vaguely qualified to do so, so earlier this week I asked the best people with the skills to make the call. A simple question; what3words…? yes, useful; Prefer grid references; or either work for us?

Here in the Peak, Woodhead, Edale and Holme Valley Mountain Rescue Teams are the brilliant volunteer groups who regularly pick up crocked mountain bikers from the hills.

You can’t underestimate their skill and dedication.

If you see a mountain rescue pot, put some change in it. And should you ever need them, you want them to be able to find you quickly and easily. So it was brilliant to get their direct insight to what3words.

UPDATE: It’s also brilliant to see what3words themselves join in the debate. Welcome to the discussion folks, and thanks for contributing.

You can read the responses to the poll here and make up your own mind on how you find your location when you’re out there.

Take a look at what they say. Definitely interesting stuff.

“I need you to pick me up”

How many times have you had to say that? How many times have you been called? Perhaps you once ran out of lights on an evening ride, or maybe you found yourself with a mechanical that zip ties, repair kits or grass stuffed into a tyre just can’t fix. (No, I’ve never done that either).

But there are perhaps those times too where you’ve had to ask for more help than a pick up due to a mechanical.

Today, mid-work telecon, my wife called to say our son had fallen off in the park and couldn’t ride. As she had the pram too and our other two sons, could I come and pick up my eldest and his bike; he was hurt. A quick drive up to the park and I found my lad, bloodied and bruised nursing a cut to his chin, leg and hands – a too tight turn on tarmac flipping him off the bike and on to the surface. He’s ok.

“I need you to pick me up”

Rewind a couple of months. It’s early evening and me and a mate are out riding a loop we’ve ridden together countless times. Down Devil’s Elbow. It’s a bit slick. A technical rocky trail, but a fun fast blast made the all the more fun with the shadows and shimmer of lights on mud and gritstone. We were both riding well, but my mate was more on it than me and he came past as I took a sec to get my head back and concentrate. Heading down I heard the shout “man down” and the pool of light I’d seen moving between the trees was now still. Under his bike I found my ashen faced friend and together we made our way out of the woods. It was clear from the off that his arm was broken – badly. We called and waited for an ambulance. A taxi came twenty minutes later and my mate headed off for a few days in hospital.

I looked at the two bikes and helmets I had with me and called another one of our riding mates.

“I need you to pick me up”

Two separate falls, two separate outcomes, but two things in common. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the rides – both were routine, and both were close enough to home to ask for help.

As ‘lockdown’ is eased in England, there’s an almost fervent rush to get back into the hills to ride, in some circles. Despite people talking about discovering new, previously unknown local trails there’s an understandable desire to get back into the Peak.

Today an update on the twitter feed talked of rammed laybys and busy tracks. We love the place and we want to go back, of course. There’s also the very real positive benefit both physically and mentally in just riding a bike. Trust me, having been on lockdown with three kids under 8 for 7 weeks, I know.

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Staying local, being outridden by my 5 year old.

But with the lockdown also came calls from mountain rescue teams and residents to wait; don’t rush just yet. Coniston Mountain Rescue recently shared a great blog about the challenges of a callout under COVID conditions. It’s well worth a read and made me think long and hard – especially following my ride with my mate on Devil’s Elbow – that I might just hang on a little more until I jump in the car and head further out than the local trails; not because I fear catching or carrying a bug from or to wherever I ride, but because of the potential impact on the people who live in the places I go to. But that might just be me.

I’m as unclear as others over exactly where things are in England at the moment. And perhaps I’m playing it overly safe. But even the very first line of the government’s guidance is “stay at home as much as possible”. There are some great resources and guidance shared on the various mountain biking related websites such as Peak District MTB which may help you make up your own mind. Well worth taking a look at what’s recommended.

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Passing the time by building bike stuff in the garden

It will pass. We will be able to get back to some kind of ‘new’ normal. We will get back to whinging about mud and open gates soon enough.

In the meantime, stay safe, look after yourselves and each other, be nice, say hi.

And grab a cuppa.

Rights are wrong

I was approached by a grandparent while I was on the school run the other day. They knew about the stuff I do with biking and (very pleasantly) came over for chat. I often talk to people who have seen a mountain biker “riding where they shouldn’t” and we tend to have a good conversation about the access laws, responsible riders, putting stuff back and doing our bit.

Anyway, the conversation was of the “I’ve seen riders riding here, they shouldn’t, should they? They’re not allowed are they?”

Now, there are two points in that: “they shouldn’t” and “they’re not allowed”. And they both have very different connotations.

20200201_143418822640709750861373.jpgLet’s start with “they’re not allowed”. Arguably enough, on a footpath – where this was – you’re technically not allowed to ride. But it’s down to the landowner to enforce that. So – barring someone coming on to correct me with some of the arcane ins and outs of it all; yeah, you’re not meant to. It’s a civil offence and down to the landowner to enforce.

So to the second point: “they shouldn’t”. Now this is more interesting because “should/shouldn’t” implies a level of choice where “can/cannot” does not.

We’ve been over the debate many a time and guidance from representative bodies is much along the lines of; the access laws are out dated, illogical and unfair. The rights are wrong. So the question comes down to whether someone ‘should’ be somewhere.

Shudda wudda cudda

So what ‘should’ they question? Well you know my refrain; think about the conditions; think about the impact on the places you’re riding; thinking about the impact on the reputation of mountain bikers. But be smart. A cheeky night ride in the middle of nowhere on a frozen night is going to leave no trace and the chances of conflict with other trail users is minimal. A blast down a semi-suburban woodland footpath on a sunny Sunday morning is less likely to be so inconspicuous. To be honest, why would you want to even chance an argument on a ride? We have enough of that whinging over whether 650b or 29er is the way forward or whether you need a dropper.

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Increasingly, mountain bikers challenge themselves. Repeatedly you all do yourselves proud by thinking of more suitable places to ride when the weather has been grim. You actively champion conciliatory approaches to using the trails. You get out. You dig.

So back to that playground discussion.

The mountain bikers were there ‘making a mess’. But studies show similar levels of impact on a path from both boot and tyre. So, the walker was causing comparable damage too.

So where’s the conflict? It can’t be about the damage caused as studies show we’re all approximately equally culpable.

It has to be purely down to the perceived right of where someone can or can’t go. And we’ve all agreed that the access laws are nonsense.

So again? Where’s the conflict? It’s back to that should or shouldn’t thing. Mountain bikers DO ask them selves “should I ride there today?”

I’d love to think that other groups have this kind of thinking when it comes to impact on the trails but I’m not sure they do. Happy to be corrected of course. If the evidence of use in the area was anything to go by (see pics), the mountain biking community is way further down the line when it comes to considering our impact and mitigating it.

Maybe the access laws could start catching up. Maybe the recommendations in the Glover Report could be heeded. Maybe we could get beyond the “they shouldn’t be riding there should they?” and work together to improve things for all.

The rights are wrong.

 

 

Quiet times

You might have noticed that I’ve been a bit quieter in recent months, both on the blog and on twitter. Well that’s been down to Mini Keeper of the Peak #3 who arrived in August. It’s been….busy. Plus I’ve been closely involved in Peak District MTB’s 22% campaign and the work to open up new access around Ladybower.

Hectic, but fun times. And now I’ve got three I can hand it all over too. All ready for KoftheP TikTok?

 

Catch 22

Peak District MTB have today launched a campaign to increase the rideable rights of way in the Peak District by 100%.

Comparing the national average of 22% of rights of way being bridleways to the Peak District’s paltry 11%, PDMTB have targeted adding another 220 kilometres of rideable paths to the rights of way network in the Peak.

It’s not an easy task. Finding the paths we all want to ride is easy. Getting the rights in place is a damn sight harder.

It’s not just the Peak District National Park who need to be on side, but the landowners and then the local councils.

Now thankfully. those local councils all have commitments in their rights of way plans to increase the amount of bridleways in their areas so it should be a pretty simple task to get things in place. Local councils are brilliant at keeping to their promises. Fingers crossed.

Get behind it

It’s a great campaign and bravo to PDMTB for pushing it. On the back of the Glover Report and alongside the huge increase in people riding, walking and horse-riding in the Peak District it makes perfect sense. Doubling the places people can ride will, arguably, halve the impact of riding over the patch. Halve the potential for conflict. Halve the rider impact on the rights of way network.

It’s a brilliant no brainer.

It’s a long play though. Unless, through the campaign, PDMTB can find some very friendly landowners it’s going to be a real campaign. A slog. A ton of hard work from just a voluntary group

But nothing worthwhile ever came easy. Bravo to PDMTB for taking on the tough fight.

So let’s get behind it.

Let’s go after that doubling of the rights of way for bikes.

 

 

 

10,000 feet

“Walkers who had encounters with bike riders were more positive about the experience than those who had not had such encounters”

Hardiman & Burgin, 2013

Quite. And such was the feeling after the inaugural Be Nice, Tread light meeting hosted by Ride Sheffield in Ringinglow earlier this month.

There’s been a tangible friction between user groups for many years. Walkers v. bikes v. horse riders v. fell runners v. dog walkers….the list goes on. And the advent of social media seems to have given people licence to inflate that feeling significantly.

Despite the good behaviour, improvements and examples of good practice in real life: you don’t have to look far online to find finger pointing, blame and whataboutery in the not-even-that-dark corners of the internet when it comes to talk about trails.

So it was a welcome change to get face to face with other groups over a beer and crisps. It’s been a long time coming. Hopefully there will be more.

The meeting was well attended and it became pretty clear, pretty early on that we all share the same love of the outdoors, the same aims for protecting the places we go and the same desire to enjoy it responsibly. Notable contributions were made from the horse riders there and the walkers, with stalwart of the outdoors, Rambler Terry Howard making the acute observation that the access to outdoors spaces we know and love were first won over by the people, for the people. It’s certainly a noble thought and one that everyone in the room agreed with.

Despite early tribalism in how we were sitting we soon moved around and got stuck into a good discussion about how we can improve things. It was interesting to be sitting on the same table as people who live at Redmires – and immediately there were lessons to learn from them.

But were all the right people in the room?

It’s a constant challenge and one that sucks the energy from any of us involved in advocacy: that echo chamber thing – the people we talk to about advocacy  are the very people who will do that anyway. This blog is as guilty of that as anything. You guys get the advocacy thing.

As mountain bikers ‘doing’ advocacy we scratch the surface of the population we really need to get to. Where are the people we don’t reach? They’re likely out riding. And who can blame them? That’s not to say we shouldn’t carry on; more that we together have to work out a way to get that message out there in a way which doesn’t simply bring the shutters down with people telling us to bore off.

Bun fight

In an hour and a half of good-hearted debate broad agreement was reached in how we can begin to work together. It certainly wasn’t the bun fight it could have been – but maybe that’s what was (or still is) needed to some extent? An opportunity for the various groups to bring up the challenges, regular tropes and criticisms to have that cathartic clearing of the air.

But then maybe we don’t need it. I’m looking forward to seeing the promise of collaborative networks forming.

Working on the Cut Gate activity, it was a joy to see those various, previously-perceived-as-opposing user groups coalesce around the desire to improve the path. Sitting, late at night – much as I am now – writing the words “Collaboration, conservation, action?” on a document, I never knew whether anyone read it, let alone it turn it into a huge focus of positive activity across the very same user groups who were present at the meeting, which eventually delivered some £74,000 to the campaign with the brilliant support of Moors for the Future. Si said it when he talked about our Cut Gate work at the meeting; we’ve never seen any combined, collaborative effort like that – Christ, me and Si even ended up taking it to the Houses of Parliament with the Peak Park – and now is the time to find the next thing to go after.

Perhaps just getting on, killing off the stupid online tit for tat is that next big challenge.

So, Be Nice, type light.

A good step, trot and pedal in the right direction. Let’s see it translate to action on and offline.

 

(The pic, by the way, is from a Peaks Pootle. Once upon a time I organised novice rides in the Peak District. The atmosphere was friendly, nice, helpful and supportive. Seemed appropriate. I’ll organise more.)