The Angry Corrie 72: Nov 2007-Jan 2008

Misguided ideas

I WOULDN'T DREAM of calling myself a social commentator, so I'll not be re-labelling the Wildernista (see TAC70 pp8-9), although I'd hate for anybody to think I'm happy with the term. Since it has been put into print once, I'll use it so that people know what I'm referring to.

Despite labelling it, Mr Gray and Mr Spedding don't appear to understand the nature of this beast at all. I am not acquainted with either gentleman, and have no wish for this to seem like a personal attack, but an attack it certainly is. Against whom or what, then? Well, against the kind of thinking - or, more to the point, lack of thinking - represented by the TAC70 article and those who indulge in such lack of thinking while visiting the wild places of Britain. Above all, it is an attack on those who try to malign, and to label as antisocial and elitist (or Wildernista), anyone who is prepared to defend what is left of these wild places from what I call Gore-Tex hill sheep.

This variety of sheep is distinguished by various traits. For some reason they like to be noticed on the hill. Refusing to make any concession to the beauty of the landscape, they wear garishly coloured clothing and refuse to take any interest in any other species that exists there. They learn nothing of the plants and animals, indeed they prefer to avoid any possible contact with such by talking and shouting as loudly as possible, like small children trying to brave the dark. In their eagerness to follow each other, they love nothing more than a clearly defined path, preferably paved. They are herd animals, and without invite will come and sit beside anything superficially resembling their species despite having the freedom of a thousand acres in which to discuss last night's television.

The Gore-Tex hill sheep's principal trait, however, is its woolly thinking. A perfect example of this is the championing of statements such as: "One perceptive 13-year-old named Victoria answered the question 'Why do you value wild places?' by simply writing this: 'I like it because it is fun and free'." In what sense it is free? All the land in Britain is bought and paid for by somebody's hard work, maintained by somebody and farmed by somebody - all of which has its cost. Getting to wild places, unless you belong to the small percentage of hillgoers who live in the middle of them, has a monetary cost and - of equal or greater importance - an environmental cost. Visiting wild places, whether owned publicly (not an excuse to do what you like there) or privately, implies an acceptance to do so responsibly - and responsibility costs, often more than people seem willing to pay. In no sense is it free, only appearing so to the necessarily infantile mind of a 13-year-old schoolgirl!

More woolly thinking: that Wildernistas think any part of Britain holds this fabled "natural landscape" and is "authentically wild". No one in their right mind thinks any such thing. "Natural" is an ever-changing evolution which includes the influence of man. Birmingham is just as much part of nature as is the North Pole. If within "natural" we wish to describe a place where the influence and presence of our own species is as diminished as possible within any given environment, it is perfectly reasonable to use the English word "wild" as a relative term to do so, all semantics aside.

A few thousand years ago the wild was a filthy and dangerous place in which man was trying to survive. What has changed? Well, nothing really, it's just that the human population has increased to such an extent, and technology has advanced to such a level, that time spent in relatively primitive environments, exposed to the elements, has become fun to many - and, given population pressure, has become psychologically necessary to a fair proportion, too. So, come one, come all? Well, probably. (Sighs.)

Wild Britain is part of a democracy, so what the majority wants the majority gets. If the Gore-Tex sheep want to pave the mountains, leave their litter, erect memorials and generally treat the place like their city centre, then they will find a way to do so - but neither a Wildernista nor the landowner have to like it, and they are perfectly entitled to say so and to say no!

There are basically two types of hillgoer: those who have a true respect for, and love of, the wild places they visit, and those who have neither but who profess both. And yes, a true respect does indeed include the "vow of abstinence" mentioned by Gray and Spedding, and yes, it is very much part of the Wildernista doctrine. I live in Wales and spend most of my hill time here. Despite loving Scotland dearly, I don't think it reasonable or desirable that I should drive the length of the country to go walking for a weekend. I know many who feel and do alike.

And as for the purple prose of the Wildernista... despite varying literary merit, there is one thing it all has in common. It is all an attempt by various individuals to describe their feelings towards a precious and endangered environment, an attempt by people who "get" wild places to communicate their love and respect for those wild places to others of their kind, and hopefully to those who haven't yet "got it". There would appear to be a big difference between getting into the outdoors and getting the outdoors.

Oliver Francks

TAC 72 Index