Keeper of the Peak has been voted Volunteer of the Year in the Campaign for National Parks Park Protector Awards.
The awards recognise and reward the efforts that go into protecting and improving National Parks in England and Wales. I was invited to the Houses of Parliament on Monday 11 July 2022 for the awards, attended by MPs and Lords, National Park Authority Chief Executives and leading civil servants.
And would you believe it? KoftheP won. And I couldn’t be prouder. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the CNP for running the awards and Baroness Jones of Whitchurch for graciously hosting the event in Parliament. Also thanks to Original Cottages for sponsoring the award itself.
I’d like to say thank you for the nomination too and for all your votes. That this award has come from you means a lot.
Now I say ‘KoftheP won’ rather than ‘I won’ for a very specific reason; and that is because without you, the KoftheP community, there would be no KoftheP. I truly mean it when I say you all have a right to say “I did that”, ‘cos you did.
When I started nearly a decade ago, I didn’t ever think it would take me to the Houses of Parliament not once, but twice, banging the drum for mountain bikers. I didn’t know a regular mountain bike column would emerge from it or I’d be called upon for comment on mountain biking matters on national radio.
I did, however, hope that by doing what I was doing – with you lot – the voice of mountain bikers as responsible and influential group would start being heard by the people who can improve things for us. And the Houses of Parliament is about as big a room as I’ve been able to get into to do that..so far.
So what next? Well that’s the exciting bit. Aside from the loveliness of winning the award (by public vote no less!), the venue and the tasty cakes, I also had a chance to meet and talk to the people in a position of power who are able to influence real change. I’ll be following up with Lord Benyon and Baroness Jones soon, who in the meantime went away with Peak District MTB’s “Working Together” booklet and some of our articles pushing for more.
So it’s back to the lobbying, pushing, writing and campaigning. I’ll have a lovely email signature to help with that now though!
First of all – thank you. One of you has nominated me (maybe more than one of you), and that makes me so proud, knowing that this daft little thing I do to make riders rides just that little bit better has meant something to you and you value it. Thank you so much for that – you don’t know how much it means to me.
Keeper of the Peak was just a twitter feed when I started it. I never thought it would lead me into some of the conversations I’ve had, some of the places I’ve been and now, bizarrely, to an award ceremony at the Houses of Parliament.
The Park Protector Awards recognise the efforts of staff and volunteers working in National Parks in England and Wales over the past year or so. So if what I’ve been doing on KoftheP has made a difference for you, please vote.
It’s been a funny old year as the restrictions have lifted and more people have been out there, and with that it’s felt more important to try to look after the Peak. I love this place.
It’s a real honour to be nominated. A real honour. And that’s because its someone who follows me who has nominated Keeper of the Peak for this. Someone has seen value in the effort I put in to improve things for the mountain biking community (and others) in the Peak District and seen how much I care about it. For them to have taken the time to put me forward means a lot and is really encouraging. Thank you to who ever it was – I really mean that.
But KoftheP is just the name. The real honour should go to all those who contribute – you lot. If anything this nomination is for the entire community of people who follow and share. You’re the ones who make it work and I love that. What does it mean to be shortlisted? Well that means that you see real value in what I do to look after the Peak. I’m sure there were loads of brilliant, brilliant nominees, so to be selected is very rewarding. I hope it makes a positive difference. This says that others think it does, and that makes me very proud.
It started, like so many of my other daft mountain bike ideas do, late one evening after a while trawling about online. An interaction earlier in the week had sown a seed that I had no idea would grow into something quite so involved nearly a decade later.
But here I am – Keeper of the Peak – 14,000 tweets, thousands of blog words, countless bike mag mentions, a regular column, and now 3000 followers later, looking back and thinking ‘blimey’.
Now I know 3000 followers is miniscule in the old Twitter-verse, but for a niche-targeted group in a small part of the UK, it feels like a good chunk of people. But it’s not about quantity is it? It’s quality, and I really think that this group of 3000 people – this community – is really, really high quality.
And that’s what KoftheP was all about when I started it all that time ago: people. Making your rides in the Peak enjoyable, helping you plan, giving you a way of doing your bit to look after the places we ride. Hopefully it’s done that maybe just a little.
With you lot behind me too, I’ve had the confidence to go and argue on your behalf – pushing for better mountain biking access, representation and dare I say it – respect – for us as a community in the Peak.
There have been some particular highlights of course. The work on Cut Gate is right up there – a huge project which brought the entire community together to really show what we can do. It was nerve-wracking but worked out. The numerous bike mag mentions are a huge endorsement (you wouldn’t believe how excited I was to get a mention in the Local Info section of an MBR route guide), the numerous Award nominations including one where I was up against Chris Boardman and a certain Boris Johnson – (neither turned up so I drank their wine). And then just the nods and recommendations that riders make to others to follow KoftheP – these are perhaps the nicest things to get.
And then behind the scenes there’s been loads of things that having the support of a large group has meant we have even more sway in discussions and decisions.
And that is 100%, totally thanks to you lot – the followers of Keeper of the Peak.
There’s so much more I’d love to do – more podcasts, more blogs, more proper, real effective campaigning. More actual riding. But for now I’ll just keep on keeping on, sharing the updates and pushing for better MTB stuff here in the Peak District. Spread the word, encourage others to follow.
And thank you all for your support – hitting 10 followers back in the day felt like an achievement, 3000 is really, really rewarding.
“What are you doing?”
“I’ve got an idea for a Twitter thing to help riders avoid muddy bits.”
“Oh right, do you think it’ll work?”
“I’ll give it a go”.
See you on the trails
Ride. Tweet. Update.
PS: There are a number of you who have updated KoftheP week in, week out for years now. You know who you are. Thanks for keeping me going. Your support and enthusiasm to make things better for others (and share some amazing pics) really does make a difference.
PPS: None of this would have happened without the SingletrackWorld forum. It was on there where the seed was sown, and the mag has shown great support ever since for this whingy twit. Thanks STW, you’ve been ace.
PPS: Thanks to my biking buddies too. You know who you are and you keep me on my toes with it. Making sure you lot are happy is a great yardstick. Let’s sort that next trip.
The Netherlands aren’t the first place that springs to mind when you’re talking about mountain biking. But there’s a lovely little story from the lowlands that seems frustratingly apt after a week of writing emails and making phone calls.
A Little Dutch Boy is walking home from school when he notices a small puddle in front of him. When he gets to the puddle he hears the sound of flowing water, a trickle hitting the ground around him.
Now, as a child of lands lower than sea level, our tiny Dutch hero was alert to the threat of flowing water and was suitably alarmed to see a leak springing from the earth sea dam towering above him.
And he acted on impulse to block the leak. The boy held his thumb firmly in the hole until morning, when people passing were able to relieve him and raise the alarm.
The little boy’s tenacity saved the city of Haarlem from being flooded. He’s regarded as a hero, up there with Robin Hood in the level of tales told to school children.
So what? Well this week Derbyshire County Council decided to start resurfacing Pindale, a byway out the back of Castleton leading up on to the hills around the Hope Valley. The vague plans had been shared with user groups via the Local Access Forum. Peak District MTB repeatedly asked for more details, in calls which were ignored or overlooked – either way they were certainly not responded to.
And so the next we knew, reports came in of the recycled MOT surface going down on Pindale; sharp, broken porcelain, wire, building rubble and other rubbish. A foundation layer of waste, ready for a top dressing of the locally-source limestone the original plans described.
Lipstick on a pig.
Peak District MTB mobilised a ‘fierce’ campaign about the works – I know, as I’m on the committee and was at the centre of it – and with pressure from the riding community, other interested groups and even the local MP, we succeeded in getting the work paused, the rubbish is currently being removed and DCC have stated that they will properly consult with stakeholders before starting again. You might read about it in the papers this weekend.
We eagerly await their invite.
Is Pindale just that small leak in the dam above Haarlem; PDMTB the little boy taking that first vital action to hold back a flood of similar, terrible jobs? I’m really stretching this analogy, admittedly, but now other more established and arguably more influential groups are involved, DCC finds itself under more scrutiny.
And so we await clarity – real clarity and detail – on their next steps.
Cavedale is mystifyingly, worryingly on their list for ‘improvements’. Talk of limestone aggregate on the track. It’s almost as if the lessons of Chapel Gate and Rushup are simply forgotten – but if you want some limestone gravel for your garden, just check the square in Castleton in a couple of years time. Or Peak Cavern, ‘cos that water that’s run down Cavedale for millennia has to go somewhere. DCC once again seem hellbent on taking this course of action. It’s almost as if the contracts have been signed and it’s an inconvenience to them to back out and do things with proper consultation.
And hellbent seems an appropriate turn of phrase.
In their press release, which was either a demonstration of literary ignorance or subtle trolling on a depressingly unprofessional scale, DCC talked of the surfacing on Pindale being done with ‘good intentions’.
And looking at the state of the work they did up there; it certainly looks like that’s what they’ve paved this road to hell with.
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll put a page on the website to help you get back up to speed.
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.
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.