More than 100 volunteers apply to protect iconic London footpaths

A new volunteer scheme hopes to help maintain, improve and promote two iconic London walking routes – London Loop and The Capital Ring.

More than 100 volunteers have applied to become “guardian rangers” for sections of both trails to cover the more than 230 miles of footpaths that the routes span.

Jackie Gower a new Capital Ring Ranger says:

“The Capital Ring and the London Loop are such a great asset for people who love exploring in and around London. I’m really excited to help as many people as possible discover them and hopefully get as much enjoyment out of them as I do.”

London Loop covers 150 miles alone and circles the city linking parks, country footpaths and ancient woodland together.

The Capital Ring is more central, covering 78 miles of open space, nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The volunteers will monitor their respective sections and bring attention to any deterioration, missing signposts and undergrowth.

Live weather readings are now available from the summit of Snowdon

Detailed measurements gathered from the weather station relay wind speed and temperature atop Wales’ tallest mountain – importantly, the website also notes the closing time of the Summit Café.

Part of the Adventure Smart Project, the weather station aims to provide walkers, fell runners and climbers with clear weather information when planning a day out in the mountains.

Installed to serve experienced and first-time walkers alike, the BMC noted that the station is particularly important as the number of call-outs to mountain rescue teams on Snowdon continues to increase.

Winter conditions have yet to test the weather station, however, and it is thought likely that the wind monitor will seize up in a winter freeze.

A webcam has also been installed on the peak as part of the British Mountaineering Council’s project.

“End the scarring of Scoltand’s hills with hunting tracks” urges Green MSP

Green MSP, Andy Wightman has tabled an amendment to a planning bill in an attempt to end a long-term dispute over the creation of hunting tracks in Scotland without the need of planning permission.

Hunting tracks, also known as “hilltracks” have been a part of the Scottish landscape for centuries but have – with the dawn of modern construction machinery – become increasingly prevalent and destructive to wilderness in Scotland.

Scottish Environment LINK, a charity dedicated to being the “voice of Scotland’s environment community” condemn the Hilltracks as “poorly constructed” and the “cause [of] landscape and environmental damage”.

Scottish Environment LINK alongside Ramblers Scotland, RSPB, the National Trust for Scotland and Mountaineering Scotland are campaigning for such tracks to need planning permission before construction.

In a September 2018 report on the matter, Scottish Environment LINK focused on a number of issues that current planning laws concerning hunting tracks failed to address. The main points being:

  • Off-road constructed vehicle tracks (often referred to as “hilltracks”) can ease access for land management purposes but can also have major visual and environmental impacts, particularly on the wilder landscapes for which Scotland is so highly-regarded.
  • Poorly-sited and constructed tracks have been a concern to conservation organisations and outdoor enthusiasts for many years. This is reflected in decades of campaigning, culminating in the publication by Scottish Environment LINK in 2013 of a major report “Track Changes”.
  • Hilltracks continue to be built and the cumulative impact of constructed tracks on our landscapes is increasing given the number of tracks that are also now being built in connection with hydro power schemes, wind farms and other developments.
  • For historic reasons, tracks built for agricultural or forestry purposes have benefitted from Permitted Development Rights and this continues to be the case, in spite of the advent of heavy machinery and its capability to re-engineer hillsides and important landforms. This has left the countryside vulnerable to significant damage in the absence of tighter planning control.

In his amendment, MSP Andy Wightman echoes LINK’s points noting that the “[damage] large swathes of our natural scenic landscape” due to a lack of regulation needed to be corrected.

Specifically, Wightman’s amendment calls for full planning consent for tracks in national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, designated battlefield sites, National Scenic Areas and on all land used for field sports (hunting).

 

 

 

New Labour Party report proposes Right to Roam policy for whole of United Kingdom

The Labour Party has published a new report rethinking land matters in the United Kingdom. As part of their self-proclaimed “radical” proposals, the report supports adopting the Scottish policy of Right to Roam for the entirety of the United Kingdom.

In response to health crises and to enhance “our sense of belonging” the report proposes “that rest of the UK adopts the Scottish principle of a Right to Roam across all uncultivated land and water, excluding gardens and other exceptions.”

Such a policy would redefine land ownership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and open up vast swathes of land for public use.

The proposals take further inspiration from the Scottish system in calling for bodies modelled on the Scottish Land Commission to be established in the rest of the United Kingdom. These bodies would address issues relating to land ownership via research and in the proposal of new policies.

Ramblers CEO, Vanessa Griffiths approved of the report noting the importance of “contact with nature” for health. Griffiths also praised the reports aim of opening the countryside up “so that it is of the benefit of the many, not the few.”

In another policy area that the Ramblers Association has campaigned on in recent years, the report encourages the repeal of legislation “limiting the protection of footpaths and bridleways.”

Suggesting that the current protections for historic footpaths and rights of way are wanting, the report focuses on the managed neglect of landowners allowing public rights of way to fall into disuse and the end of registering rights of way by 2026.

Concluding comments on public rights of way, the report proposes that we “learn from the largely forgotten history of land reform in the UK” in order to inspire a “21st-century land reform movement.”

Mismanagement, over grazing and climate change threatens rare Scotland rainforest

A new report published by the Atlantic Woodland Alliance lays out the dangers facing Scotland’s delicate rainforest habitat. Also known as Atlantic Woodland or Celtic Rainforest, the unique habitat is home to rare lichens, mosses and fungi of which some cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

In Scotland, only 30,325 hectares of the rainforest (which once covered the coastline of Europe) survives. The Atlantic Woodland Alliance’s report suggests that with current efforts the forests are showing no signs of regeneration.

Overgrazing from wild game and livestock in the forests is such that re-growth is not currently possible. Additionally, the invasive species of plant (Rhododendron), which is found in 40% of rainforest sites, “threatens to choke the woodlands and prevent the distinctive rainforest flora from surviving.”

The Alliance also suggests that mismanagement of tree felling, dead wood removal and the coppicing (cutting back to ground level) of hazel woods has further contributed to the delicate state of Atlantic Woodland in Scotland.

Failure to “improve the protection of rainforest from grazing and invasives” is also highlighted in the report as an area in which stewardship of the forest could be better managed.

But the report emphasises that the forest can still be saved. Planting “a strip of only 50 metres of new woods around existing woodland, through a judicious mix of natural regeneration and planting, would create another 21,000 hectares [and] A 100-metre strip would almost double the area of rainforest we have.”

The Atlantic Woodland Alliance’s report notes that its ambitious project to revitalise and grow Scotland’s rainforest will be dependent upon continuing to demonstrate how “our rainforests can be better managed” and to work with others to raise awareness and change attitudes to one of Scotland’s most rare habitats.

How to Summit a Mountain for the Sunrise. Our Essential Gear List for the Perfect Pre-Dawn Hike

Planning an early morning summit to catch the sunrise is essential if you want to enjoy a view few are lucky to see. Of course, timing is the main emphasis in most guides on the topic, but gear is just as important. Alongside our pointers for timing your climb for a mountain sunrise, below we have put together what we believe to be the definitive gear list for a pre-dawn hike up your chosen mountain.

If you are a trail runner then hitting a sunrise summit of your nearest fell will be an easier task. Speed is an asset when you are against the clock so taking advantage of your fitness and skills is definitely encouraged. For the rest of us, however, hiking is the best option. As such, planning for time is the most essential part of summiting before the sunrise.

Typically, I take into consideration the length of the footpath from base to summit, times that by my typical mile pace and add 20 minutes for safety. The more experienced you are the less added safety minutes you’ll need but if you are hiking on a new trail or you are inexperienced, don’t be afraid to add however much time you feel you will need.

As speed is important, weight should be taken into account too. You are not thru-hiking and it should be easy to pack light. Here is what I’ll typically bring along on my morning summits:

Essential clothing to wear:

Gear to use:

  • Headlamp (Black Diamond Uomo Cosmo)
  • Phone (useful for navigation as well as the inevitable selfie)
  • Hiking Poles
  • Storage:
  • Trail running vest (Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra 5 – great for storing everything)
  • 2 x 1-litre water bottles. Typically we’ll just reuse Smart Water bottles because they fit snug in the Salomon vest).

Nutrition to take:

  • 2 litres of water (typically for a walk under five miles)
  • 2 Cliff bars (around 510 calories total)

If you have any additional gear that you like to bring along for catching the sunrise atop your local mountains that you think we have missed, we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!

Walking 350 Miles in the Altra Lone Peak 3.5’S

To be precise, I walked 342 miles from Mexico to a McDonald’s sat at the foot of the San Gabriel range in a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s – but it sounds more glamorous to round it up to 350 and omit the fast food stop.

Anyway, here are my thoughts:

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FIT

The very first hiker that I bumped into on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was just 40 miles into his hike but was already complaining about his shoes. He called himself The Kid (or perhaps it was Michigan) and he was hiking in a pair of Soloman Sportivas.

This was my first day. I started 40 miles up the trail due to permit issues, and I was already encountering hikers who were falling victim to poorly fitting shoes – from then on, I paid close attention to my feet.

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Looking back on the rugged San Jacinto Mountains

Being a runner, I’m used to the “break-in period” with new shoes and so I took the Altras out for a spin on a handful of gentle 5K runs before setting off for SoCal.

My planning paid off and the Altras worked from day one. Not a single blister flared up the entire month that I was in the desert. I would excitedly mention this to fellow hikers who were also wearing Lone Peak’s and, to my surprise, the majority of them had the same experience.

Although entirely anecdotal, the number of people that I met in Altras was impressively high. In fact, The Altras had to be the most popular shoe on trail.

They were so prevalent, it became a running joke that we navigated by Altra footprints. Every now and then, when I would lose my bearings, I knew that if I looked down and saw an Altra footprint in the dirt that I was still heading the right way. Amongst all of these hikers, I only ever met 1 person that had a serious issue with their pair.

The fit, in my personal experience, is good.  Perhaps this is a result of the minimal approach that Altra takes when offering support in their shoes. The design features (specifically, the zero drop heel and wide toe box) naturally cater to the biomechanics and form of a broad range of people.

I was happy to enjoy this aspect of the shoe and not have to fret about blisters ending my hike early.

 

MATERIALS AND QUALITY

The shoes fit well and looked after my feet whilst they were in working condition but, to an extent, the materials let me down.

To my annoyance, my pair had a slight defect in the heel. No one else hiking in the shoe seemed to have this issue, but I managed to permanently disfigure the heel cushioning by lazily slipping the shoes on one morning. I had compressed the cushioning in one shoe and it just refused to bounce back into shape.

This all happened in the days leading up to flying out to the US. I thought it would be a serious problem and so contacted customer service (who very kindly sent out a replacement pair at no charge), but it luckily turned out to be a minor annoyance.

 

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You should be able to spot the difference in the heels of the new (left) and old (right) shoe above. The right-hand shoe is misshapen.

This was the only issue I found with the quality of the shoes. Perhaps if a firmer material was used in the heel then such an issue would be avoided – this would, however, be at the expense of comfort.

As to the lifespan of these shoes, I managed to squeeze just over 500 miles out of my first pair. 350 of those miles were walked in the SoCal desert and the remaining 150 were run in the British countryside.

The tread on the Altras performed reasonably well in both environments, particularly on my permanently muddy local trails in the UK, but in the desert, the tread seemed to wear down at a faster rate.

The general quality of the stitching, seams and materials used is good and, whilst the tread lasts, the shoe grips nicely in a variety of environments. Importantly, the one defect that arose from lacklustre cushioning in the heel was negligible and I managed to enjoy a respectable number of miles before needing a replacement.

Expect your pair to give you 450 to 500 comfortable miles before the Altras give in.

 

ALTRA SPECIFIC DESIGN FEATURES

Altra famously is the brand that specialises in zero-drop, wide toe box shoes. Their shoes are spacious and differ from the 12mm drop stability shoes that many runners start with. For someone like me, this new feeling felt unnatural at first.

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The Lone Peak 3.5’s profile

When I bought the shoes the wide toe box felt so large that I ended up picking up a pair which was a half size too small. Don’t make the same mistake as me and stick to your normal sizing – the space takes time to get used to, but is an essential part of what makes Altras so comfortable.

Secondly, if you have never used zero-drop running shoes, you’ll have to ease yourself into them. It’s a completely new running experience.

Think of it like the moment you took the stabilisers off your bike.

I’m no scientist, but arguably your stabilising and supporting muscles don’t have to work nearly as hard in stability shoes – zero-drop shoes make you more responsible for your form and so unless you have a Mo-Farah/God-like stride, you’ll have to adjust to the change.

Essentially, the breaking-in process comes down to running small distances and running them slowly. For me, this wasn’t hard because, for the first week of running in zero-drop shoes, the pain in my plantar fascia was telling me to slow down. I listened to my feet and quickly fell into a routine of taking my Altras out on slow days only.

This process takes time but take solace in the fact that you are strengthening your feet and maybe even cleaning up your form.

 

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FINAL THOUGHTS

The Lone Peak’s are an incredibly flexible shoe – revered in the thru-hiking community, they’re also a great all-terrain trail running shoe.

Perhaps I  have a romanticised view of their quality, but on my hike, they were utterly reliable and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you are looking for a versatile shoe which can introduce you to zero-drop and, in my case, kickstart an obsession with Altras, pick up a pair.