Sunday, 13 November 2011

Environmental impact. That'll be your fault.

A few times a year, I try to make a trip to somewhere special for a spot of mountain biking. Last Saturday I popped up to the Peak District with a friend.  The most popular routes are found in the Dark Peak are near Edale, and the Upper Derwent Valley's Ladybower Reservoir.

Climbing to the moors along Cut Gate,
Peak District. Between Langsett and
the Upper Derwent Valley. 
The terrain consists mostly of gritstone rocks interrupted by grit sand and peat.  The climbs are lung busting at the best of times, but also sprinkled with rock step-ups. The downhills are peppered with step-downs and full of sections of rocks, varying from fist sized to football sized. Some are loose, some fixed in the ground. If you can ride fast enough to glide over the top, you are rewarded with some extremely satisfying riding.  

The scenery is wild with such beauty.  No wonder this was the scene of tension and trespass that took the moorland from the private property of the rich to Britain's first National Park in 1951.

The area is now so popular, erosion is a problem, and some paths have had to be managed, in some cases with stone paving slabs. [more info here]

We hadn't realised that the route we were taking had a boggy peat section near the top of the moor. That section was about a kilometre of eroded path with sections of squelchy peat that could easily swallow a boot and in places was as wide as a bus was long. The bog was unridable and I was using my bike to pole vault between solid sections.

Slippery Stones. A crossing point
over the River Derwent at the
northern end of Howden Reservoir.
Whilst literally bogged down, some walkers caught us up. Dressed in full waterproofs, days sacks, poles, boots and gaiters I guessed they knew the area and I enquired about the length of the boggy section.  Maybe they misheard me, but the lady's response was: "the erosion is caused by the cyclists riding on the grass at the edge" and strode on through the puddles.  I had heard of the conflict between countryside users, but never experienced it first hand before.

Were the cyclists to blame for all of this erosion ? I had my doubts but the proof was up ahead.  We were outnumbered by walkers, no others had gaiters and poles. They were avoiding the bogs by going round the edge.  And when we got to the summit, the route split into a descending bridleway, and a footpath following the top of the moor. It was the footpath that was most eroded.  The greatest irony was that I saw my accuser rounding a bog on the grass.

I am always amazed at how narrow minded the British can be. Problems are often somebody else's fault and if at all possible, blame a minority group with a divide and conquer technique.

So erosion is blamed on cyclists. Unemployment ? Ah, that's the immigrants taking our jobs.  Crashes on the A14, that'll be the lorries, and if we want to marginalise even more its the foreign truckers.  Anti-social behaviour, that's the teenagers, the Chavs.

A classic has to be congestion - ask a man who drives to work who's fault the congestion is, its all those mum's driving their children to school.  I have also been accused at the side of the road for causing congestion by holding up traffic, unable to overtake me. The blame was not put on drivers in the oncoming lane or the waiting driver for bringing an inappropriately wide vehicle into a busy city.

For environmental impact, the truth is we are all part of the problem, but nobody wants to change their own behaviour and its easier to blame someone else.

In the case of the erosion, I definitely caused some, as did everybody on Cut Gate that day. One solution that reduces erosion would be for serious-walking-lady to not visit the Peak District if they really cared that much.  Also, I wonder if they caught a bus into the National Park, or gave a thought to the impact buying foreign made clothes ?

Ah well, lets leave the negative finger pointers behind.

The most heart warming story on that day was meeting a father and his two boys on our return to the summit.  They cycled, the youngest about 10, looking exhausted, his legs and face covered in mud. It was his first time on a moor, and had fought his way up a hill and nearly drowned in a bog to get here.  He made it and he was elated, and he was enjoying the beauty of the landscape too. An experience that will last a lifetime. I felt the same way.


  1. You'll have seen this, from Magnatom this week?

    Different setting, same point.

  2. Yes. There was a gem of a comment on the cyclechat thread about that video. Something about offering the angry raging driver a hug. Aaaah.