Wanderers: A History of Women Walking – Kerri Andrews

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews - Mainstreet Trading

Over the last year many of us have found walking to be both mentally and physically therapeutic as we navigate the restrictions imposed upon our liberty caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.  Since Christmas I have walked over 500 kilometres with my dog from my own front door and discovered green spaces, woods, canals, bridleways and pathways I didn’t know existed or had previously overlooked as the need to stay local restricted my access to more usual walking haunts such as the Lake District.  As my confidence walking has grown however, so has my interest in what it means to be a woman walking, especially in different periods, landscapes and cultures and what this could potentially mean in the wider social narrative.  The above is an inspiring and informative book of ten women who have been pioneers in walking, mountain climbing, and forging their own identities as walkers through breaking both gender and class barriers.

Dorothy Wordsworth is perhaps best known for being sister to William and friend to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, however Dorothy was a formidable walker who alongside William traversed 70 miles from Stockburn in County Durham to Kendal in Westmorland as part of their journey home, as they returned to the Lake District after a long period of familial separation from the area.  Once established in their home at Grasmere, Dorothy would regularly walk with William and their friends, but she would also engage in solo walks to complete domestic duties and would meet all kinds of characters which she documented in her journal.  Dorothy, along with her friend Mary Barker, also made a pioneering ascent of Scafell Pike in 1818, the highest mountain in England which she wrote about to friends and  that would later appear in William’s guide to the Lake District under his own name.  Andrews highlights in Wanderers the economic and social factors which afforded Dorothy the opportunity to walk for pleasure and how on occasion this was stifled by domestic duties.  Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt experienced a more brief but intense period of walking in the early nineteenth century when she arrived in Edinburgh from London where it was arranged that she was to ‘catch’ her husband William Hazlitt in a compromising position with a prostitute so they could dissolve their marriage, leaving him free to pursue a younger woman he had become infatuated with.  During her time in Scotland, Sarah would embark on solo walks whilst waiting for her domestic situation to resolve itself.  It appears that the harder and more painful these walks the better, as Sarah relished in the aches and pains of a long day walking, the distances of which she often kept a daily tally of.  As she undertook no more arduous walks after her divorce was finalised, it seems these walks may have been a cathartic experience or an act of self-flagellation, but Andrews draws out the emotion, vulnerability and loneliness of Sarah during this period, identifying another reason why women walk.  When Andrews reaches the twenty first century and the story of Cheryl Strayed there are some striking differences between her and the women who have come centuries before – the equipment she carried alone is a vast contrast to Dorothy and Mary’s ascent of Scafell Pike, as is the freedom to make her own decision where she would walk, when and for how long.  Striking similarities between many of the women however stretch across the centuries and continents as the fear of solo walking is often apparent, and the cathartic nature of walking is present in many women’s accounts, it is never just the distance achieved or the summit reached alone which drives these women.

Andrews book is inspiring and necessary to establish a clear and concise history of women walking, but as we continue to navigate the Anthropocene, I think it also aids in establishing a tangible and material relationship between women and the physical earth which has always existed and which can challenge the essentialist view of women as having a mysterious connection with the earth based partly on reproduction which ecofeminism suggests is what allows the physical world to repeatedly be abused and exploited.  Therefore, on International Women’s Day, I think it is important to acknowledge all the women who have walked, to celebrate their achievements, establish their history within the activity, and to also think about how this has the potential to touch other issues and help to change the narrative. 

‘Leave nothing but footprints’ – Organic Waste

The last few months have been difficult and disorientating for us all as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to reduce our liberty, restrict our relationships and alter our immediate plans.  Longed for summer holidays for many have been replaced with the Great British staycation, boosting the economy of tourist hotspots like Devon, Cornwall, Wales and the Lake District.  And whilst this is a positive step in regaining some autonomy over our lives whilst observing social distancing rules and wearing face coverings, a new blight has befallen many of these areas in the guise of excess littering.  

Whilst littering is a perennial problem under any circumstance, with more “than two million pieces of litter” dropped in the UK every day costing the taxpayer over £1 billion a year for street cleaning, it has increased exponentially as lockdown began to ease and as more people travelled to UK tourist destinations.  It is not just an increase in plastic bottles, plastic bags, disposable barbecues and food wrappings, there is also an increase in organic waste, orange peel, apple cores and banana skins.

Whilst walking with my dog Noah to the top of Ling Fell earlier this week in the north-west of the Lake District, we came upon the orange peel in the above picture near the trig pillar.  Presumably a fell walker had reached the trig and paused to admire the view whilst enjoying their orange, then thought they would leave the remains behind as it is biodegradable.  When compared to plastic bottles and bags which take 450 years and 20 years respectively to decompose, 2 years for a banana skin and 6 months for orange peel can lure us into a false belief that as this waste is organic it is more acceptable to leave it behind.  This is a fallacy as ultimately it is litter, and whilst not only visually compromising an area, it also encourages others to do the same which could harm the relationship between walkers and the farmers who use the fells to graze their livestock and irrevocably alter the ecosystem of the area as these materials are effectively foreign objects and do not belong.

Panoramic view from Ling Fell

Whilst acknowledging it is wonderful to see so many people enjoying the Cumbrian fells, mountains and lakes, The Friends of the Lake District have organised ‘The Great Cumbrian Litter Pick’ to be held across the weekend of the 15th and 16th August to bring the community together and clean up the litter.  Noah and myself will be picking around Sale Fell and Ling Fell to help keep the place we enjoy clean for others and for the natural environment itself.

Regardless of the destination, please be mindful that organic waste is still litter and if you have exerted the energy required to carry it with you, you will expend no less taking it back home to dispose of correctly.  Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.

‘Covid Waste’ – A Photo Essay

After you remove your PPE or face covering, wash your hands or use hand sanitiser.

If you need to throw away used face coverings or PPE, such as gloves:

  • dispose of them in your ‘black bag’ waste bin at home or at work, or a litter bin if you’re outside.
  • do not put them in a recycling bin as they cannot be recycled through conventional recycling facilities.
  • take them home with you if there is no litter bin – do not drop them as litter.

Face Coverings and the Environment

From the 24 July it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in both shops and supermarkets in England as part of the ongoing response to the global Coronavirus pandemic as the scientific evidence available suggests that when used correctly, “wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others”.  The current government advice indicates that this covering does not have to be a mask, you can “use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering”, just as long as it will securely fit around the side of the face.  The government intends to regulate the wearing of face coverings through granting the police the power to fine individuals £100 if they refuse to comply, which has added to an already contentious debate about why face coverings were not mandatory from the beginning of lockdown, who is exempt from wearing one and how reliable the science actually is.  There is also a growing concern around the environmental impact of single use face masks which have begun to wash up in the world’s oceans or be carelessly discarded like the one above that I came across whilst walking my dog in some local woods.

In June the French non-profit group Operation Mer Propre, who regularly pick up litter along the Cote d’Azur reported divers had discovered what was described as “Covid waste – dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitiser beneath the waves of the Mediterranean”.  At a time when the world’s oceans are already choking beneath an unstoppable tide of plastic waste, with the largest accumulation covering 1.6 million square kilometres between Hawaii and California, this discovery is an environmental red flag, especially as during lockdown there has been some positive environmental green shoots of change.  For example, the number of people cycling has increased up to 200% which is beneficial to overall public health as if individuals can improve their fitness this will reduce the strain on health services, which is vital in the current situation.  There has also been a reduction in air pollution levels with some cities seeing a drop of more than 40%, which will in part be explained by the reduction in movement permitted during the lockdown as people were not using their cars or public transport, but the government has shown a commitment to maintaining these improvements through an investment of £2 billion in walking and cycling.  It would therefore be a backward step to litter the environment with single use face masks which pose an ecological threat due to the material used in their construction as well as posing an obvious health risk.

In April the ‘Plastic Waste Innovation Hub’ which is part of UCL published a policy about single use face masks, reporting that if every person in the UK “used one disposable surgical mask each day for a year, this would create over 128,000 tonnes of unrecyclable plastic waste”.  The policy document also highlights the importance of disposing of the mask correctly as technically in a clinical setting they would be “considered medical waste and typically directed to incineration”, therefore the public must ensure they dispose of these masks safely.  

Face coverings, similar to the accessibility of green spaces during lockdown are a potential economic and social divider across the country as not everyone will have the finances to purchase reusable masks or the ability to make one for themselves, therefore single use masks do have a place.  The Coronavirus pandemic has presented the world with a set of unique circumstances which have evolved quickly and requires every individual to be vigilant and responsible for their own actions, therefore if using a single use mask we must be mindful of disposing of it correctly to ensure it does not end up polluting our environment or passing on the virus to those around us.

Green Spaces and Lockdown

One of the most difficult aspects of the current situation for my family and countless others has been the loss of liberty to access the green spaces we usually take for granted.  The parks and common land that surround our primary residence, and the lakes, fells and mountains of the Lake District which we frequently visit have all been off limits the last few months as we were all restricted to one outing per day for exercise and instructed to remain local.  As lockdown restrictions have been eased and we are all now permitted to spend more time outdoors engaging in some of the activities we have missed, the freedom we once felt accessing these various green spaces has not completely returned as they are inevitably more populated, subject to different use and are policed by officials and other users for breaches of the rules.  

Access for all to these green spaces however is more important now than ever as the Office for National Statistics has reported that 12% of households in Great Britain “has no access to a private or shared garden”.  Throughout the first weeks of shutdown many public green spaces, especially within large cities were under threat of closure and Brockwell Park  in South London did close its gates briefly following a particularly busy day.  I can only imagine the anxiety threats of closure caused to many as these spaces provide exercise and play, fresh air and freedom, and interaction with others whilst observing distancing rules. My family is lucky, as whilst not being able to access the places we have previously enjoyed we are in the privileged position of having a small garden which afforded us more freedom.  As restrictions have eased however my husband in particular has uncharacteristically experienced an increased fear of visiting these once loved spaces as we all try to navigate the ‘new normal’ and process how to cope with living our lives amidst a fear of not only contracting the virus but also interacting in these spaces with other users whilst not breaching social distancing rules.  This fear has led us to explore many of the numerous Public Bridleways and paths which criss-cross the surrounding countryside and we have discovered that our once urban world nudges a green realm exposing us to sights, sounds and opportunities we were unaware of on our relative doorstop.

Newton Wood

Over the last week we have driven short distances, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes at most to engage in these new green spaces.  One excellent find has been a small wood accessed from a moderately busy road which connects several villages.  Once parked in a short layby next to a small unassuming entrance we enter a world of green which can feel like Lucy stumbling through the wardrobe into Narnia; birdsong engulfs the ears as the canopy of green above draws you further along the path.  This path only lasts for possibly a quarter of a mile and then crosses farmland coming to a halt a few fields on as it comes to a main road but in all directions are other paths which we have yet to explore.  We have also discovered the ‘Three Shires Way’ passes close to where we live and touches the “county boundaries of Bucks, Beds and Northants” culminating 49 miles away in Cambridge offering plenty of opportunities to access even more paths and bridleways.  

The lockdown of the last few months has taken much from us all and we must wait and see if the ‘normal’ of the past ever returns, but one thing that has become apparent is that green spaces must be available to all.  When access is denied these spaces become politicised, demarcating social and economic class signalling that we are not in this crisis all together as we do not share the same quality of life green spaces provide mentally and physically.  It is a privilege to have access to a personal garden, to have the luxury of driving to National Parks and to access the Public Bridleways and it is one I will never again take for granted.

Wordsworth 250: ‘Lines written in early spring’

William Wordsworth | Biography, Facts, & Poems | Britannica

On the 7thApril the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth was born in the small Cumbrian market town of Cockermouth 250 years ago.  The second of five children Wordsworth spent his childhood in the English Lake District, episodes of which he recounts famously as “spots of time” in arguably his most famous piece ‘The Prelude’, an autobiographical poem which he spent his life revising yet never finished. 

Wordsworth left the Lake District for Cambridge in 1787 and following several years of financial uncertainty residing in temporary accommodation with his sister Dorothy, Wordsworth would eventually return to the Lake District taking a cottage with his sister in Grasmere, his wife Mary joining them after their marriage. This residency in Grasmere has made Wordsworth synonymous with the Lake District as has the clichés of daffodils and wandering clouds from his famous poem alluding to both which helps to attract thousands of tourists to Grasmere and Dove Cottage every year.  However, it is important to remember that Wordsworth was truly something of a radical; inspired by a visit to France in 1790 as the Revolution was beginning, Wordsworth found an affinity with the central principles of the movement and this would influence both his choice of subject and poetic form which he espouses upon in the preface to his most famous publication Lyrical Ballads.

First published in 1798, Lyrical Ballads is considered to mark the beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature and was a dual endeavour between Wordsworth and Coleridge to raise funds for an extended trip to Germany.  It is within the preface, which Wordsworth revised over several editions, where subject and form are discussed.  Wordsworth reveals that the poems within the publication should be treated as “experiments” and the principal object “was to make the incidents of common life interesting” and as such low and “rustic life was generally chosen” because it is here where passion is to be seen free from the trappings of convention and artifice, but above all else Wordsworth believed that “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”.  Seeking to effectively represent the everyday person with common language and situations with an emphasis on emotion may not appear radical or revolutionary today,  but contextually the Enlightenment and its focus on reason, individuality and science was unappealing and unattainable to many, disenfranchising the working classes so when Revolution came to France, radical reform in literary subject and form gave a voice to those without.  Furthermore, by utilising the ballad, which is traditionally arranged into quatrains with an ABAB rhyming scheme, Wordsworth and Coleridge were seeking to simplify the poetic form, so it was representative of all and available to all.  250 years on and Wordsworth I believe, is as relevant, radical and representative as ever and his emphasis on ‘powerful feelings’, especially felt through the human affinity with the natural world offers hope, consistency and a sense of belonging in a world full of turmoil, uncertainty and chaos and this can be seen in his poem ‘Lines written in early spring’.

Appearing in Lyrical Ballads in 1798 the poem reads:

            I heard a thousand blended notes,

          While in a grove I sate reclined,

            In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

            Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

            To her fair works did nature link

            The human soul that through me ran:

            And much it griev’d my heart to think

            What man has made of man.

            Through primrose-tufts, in that sweet bower,

            The periwinkle trail’d its wreathes;

            And ‘tis my faith that every flower

            Enjoys the air it breathes.

            The birds around me hopp’d and play’d:

            Their thoughts I cannot measure,

            But the least motion which they made,

            It seem’d a thrill of pleasure.

            The budding twigs spread out their fan,

            To catch the breezy air;

            And I must think, do all I can,

            That there was pleasure there.

            If I these thoughts may not prevent,

            If such be of my creed the plan,

            Have I not reason to lament

            What man has made of man?

The initial stanza is both joyous and melancholy as the speaker of the poem tells us that they are sat reclined, alone in a grove and they can hear ‘a thousand blended notes’.  As we know this is springtime this invokes the possibility of a joyous choir of birdsong, insects chirping and the rustle of wind through tall grass, emerging flowers and leaves on trees.  However, we leave the stanza on a melancholy note as the ‘sweet mood’ of the speaker gives way to ‘sad thoughts’.  In the second quatrain the speaker makes a clear and distinct link between the human soul and the natural world and it is this which grieves the speaker’s heart as they contemplate ‘What man has made of man’ as this link does not extend from one human to another.  No doubt Wordsworth’s reference is to the tragic outcome of the French Revolution but it is as relevant in 2020 as it was in 1798 when we contemplate the wrongs humans continue to commit against one another and against the natural world, often forgetting we are part of nature, not separate from it.  The third and fourth stanzas bring nature to life for the speaker and the reader. The flowers grow and are vibrant colours whilst the birds hop and play, a stark contrast to the stationary speaker.  The fifth and sixth stanzas reinforce the link between the human soul and nature as the speaker contemplates the scene from the grove and laments once more ‘What man has made of man?’, finishing the poem on a sad note, but the poem does offer hope.  Spring is representative of new life and new beginnings suggesting that the pain humans inflict upon one another can be prevented and the human soul can be renewed just as nature is as the seasons move from one to another.  The emphasis on spring also offers a sense of continuity and power in the natural world as the cyclical nature of seasons will continue regardless of human endeavours, another reminder that humans are part of and not separate from the natural world.  Wordsworth’s focus on common language, situations, the connection with nature and emphasis on emotion as seen in this poem represents a universality relevant to the twenty-first century as we navigate climate change, solistalgia and currently a world-wide pandemic.  

The anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth is an important reminder of his place within the literary canon aside from his appropriation as patron of the Lake District, and of the radical revolutionary that heralded in the beginning of the Romantic movement.

Is UNESCO World Heritage status ruining the Lake District?

Over the weekend I visited the Lake District to attend ‘The Big Day Out’ in Grasmere.  The day was organised by the action group Houseboats-Off-Grasmere initially as a day of protest against the Lowther Estate who were proposing to install ten houseboats on the lake. Following an enthusiastic and dedicated campaign spearheaded by local residents the proposal was withdrawn, but the day went ahead as planned to celebrate the victory at Grasmere and to take the opportunity to raise awareness of other proposals which if successful, would irrevocably alter the physical landscape and integrity of the Lake District National Park forever.

One such proposal centres on gondola’s ferrying visitors from Thornthwaite village up to the Whinlatter Visitor Centre and then extending in both directions towards Grisdale Pike and Ullister Hill.  Local residents have formed the action group ‘NOGO Gondola’ to fight the proposal and are currently awaiting a report by planning inspectors in Spring 2020 whilst continuing to gather support against the plan.  As Whinlatter Forest is currently a thriving tourist attraction with mountain bikers, runners, walkers and family’s all flocking there year round, it is hard to imagine any other reason for such a proposal that will have devastating consequences on the aesthetic of the local area, the flora and fauna and the current infrastructure other than commercial profit.  Other proposals around the Lake District have included a zip wire at Thirlmere which was rejected after complaints from the MoD, resurfacing a four-mile path between Keswick and Threlkeld, and installing a zip wire from Honistor crag, planning for which was controversially passed after seven years and only passed this round as it was “reasoned that the landscape was already industrialised because of its mining heritage and therefore a zip wire would not spoil the environment”.  Conservation groups including the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Wainwright Society, and the Open Spaces Society all strongly objected “on the grounds of impact on landscape character and loss of tranquillity”.  There has also been a long-term campaign against the use of recreational 4×4 vehicles which tear up green lanes north of Coniston which the National Park authority have not deemed serious enough to prevent as yet.  Unsurprisingly as many of these proposals have come to light questions have been raised regarding the management of the park and the direction it is being steered. Alongside these concerns we must also consider whether the Lake District gaining UNESCO World Heritage status in 2017 has had a positive impact on the park as several other sites which have been awarded the status across the world have succeeded in protecting areas of cultural significance, but also encountered negative effects due to the increase in visitors and the desire to create revenue from heritage status.

In 2009 The Independent newspaper ran an article revealing concerns that the UNESCO World Heritage Project was harming the places they were striving to protect.  The article emphasised that sites were not equipped to deal with the level of visitors’ heritage status attracts.  One example cited is the Iwami Ginzan silver mine in the South-West of Honshu Island, Japan that has been established since the 1600s.  Before being awarded heritage status the site attracted a modest 15,000 visitors a year, following heritage status “almost 1 million people brought their cameras … to Iwami”, an increase in visitors the site could not sustain.  A similar story surrounds the jetties of Malaysia’s George Town that were awarded heritage status in 2008. The seven jetties which remain were saved through being included on the list, however the locals have paid the price: where “fishermen, oyster harvesters and fortune tellers once plied their trade, souvenir vendors and snack bars have taken root”.  The Lake District management must be mindful to balance the economical motivations of increased tourism with the interests of the local population and natural environment to not irrevocably alter the cultural identity of the place which was part of successfully gaining heritage status initially.

The honour of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site can it seems be positive and negative – however the park is not struggling for visitors, with current surveys suggesting that 15.8 million people visit each year, so there is no need for the Lake District to become a novelty destination full of rides and attractions making it a caricature of itself.  The beauty, tranquillity and wildlife must be protected for future generations to maintain the ethos of the national parks which is to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty [and] promote opportunities … for the enjoyment … of national parks by the public”.  This does not prioritise commercial gain and suggests moving forward there may be a continual struggle between the micro and the macro interests of those who live within the park and those who visit with those who manage and seek to profit off the back of heritage status.


Image result for houseboats off grasmere

Composed By The Side of Grasmere Lake 1806

Clouds, lingering yet, extend in solid bars
Through the grey west; and lo! these waters, steeled
By breezeless air to smoothest polish, yield
A vivid repetition of the stars;
Jove, Venus, and the ruddy crest of Mars
Amid his fellows beauteously revealed
At happy distance from earth’s groaning field,
Where ruthless mortals wage incessant wars.
Is it a mirror?–or the nether Sphere
Opening to view the abyss in which she feeds 10 
Her own calm fires?–But list! a voice is near;
Great Pan himself low-whispering through the reeds,
“Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!”

These words were composed by William Wordsworth in 1806 about Grasmere where Wordsworth resided with his sister Dorothy from 1799 until 1808 at Dove Cottage.  The sonnet form of the poem is universally synonymous with love indicating Wordsworth’s passion for the area before a line is even read.  Wordsworth espouses the metaphysical qualities of the lake throughout the initial octave describing how its waters reflect the stars whilst Jupiter, Venus and Mars are revealed at a safe distance from ‘earth’s groaning field // Where ruthless mortals wage incessant wars’.  Wordsworth was perhaps thinking here more about the French Revolution which raged from 1789 until 1799, but he overtly expresses through the God of nature the ‘Great Pan’ that ‘if unholy deeds // Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!” in reference to Grasmere.  Over four hundred years later the ‘tranquillity’ found at the lake by Wordsworth and thousand’s others since is being threatened by the capitalistic greed which is becoming ominously ubiquitous across the Lake District since the park was awarded UNESCO Heritage status in 2017.

The latest threat is posed by the Lowther Estate who own the lake at Grasmere. They are seeking permission from the Lake District National Park planning team to moor up to ten electric-motored holiday cruisers on the lake.  The proposed vessels will be equipped with a kitchen, toilet and sleeping quarters for up to six people and will measure up to 40 feet long.  Guests would board the yachts by rowing boat and could stay for up to a week.  Local residents are vehemently opposed to the plan and have created the protest group ‘Houseboats-off-Grasmere’ to fight the Lowther Estate in order to maintain the beauty, tranquillity, integrity and peaceful environment Grasmere has become renowned for locally and across the world.  The Chief executive of the Lowther Estate believes however that the ten houseboats will “fit in with the landscape just as they do on Ullswater and Windermere”, the underlining suggestion being that houseboats moored on Grasmere will be continuing a tradition seen elsewhere in the lakes where steamers and pleasure boats have been operating for almost two hundred years.  Their assumption however disregards the nuances of place and local tradition. Ullswater and Windermere are both noticeably larger bodies of water; Windermere is 14.8 square kilometres dwarfing the second largest Ullswater which is 8.9 square kilometres.  In comparison Grasmere is a tiny 0.6 square kilometres. Furthermore, the tradition of steamers and boats on Windermere and Ullswater developed out of necessity and on the former originally supported commercial traffic associated with slate and copper mining, timber, wool and fishing.  Similarly, the first reported steamer on Ullswater dates back to 1859 and its main purpose was to carry passengers but also to serve the Royal Mail and to carry slate and lead from nearby mines.  Cruising on the lakes for pleasure became popular during the Victorian period when people began to visit the area as an alternative to the European Grand Tour. Therefore, the proposal that the vessels suggested for Grasmere will ‘fit in with the landscape’ as they have elsewhere is misleading and untrue.  The size of Windermere and Ullswater, the local industry and historic draw of tourists does not translate to Grasmere.

Local residents opposed to the houseboats wish to maintain “the peace and tranquillity” Grasmere has always offered and avoid “potential pollution” in regards to noise and litter an enterprise such as this will attract.  For Dorothy Wordsworth Grasmere was a place of quiet contemplation where she often found empathy and understanding reflected back to her from nature.  In her Grasmere Journal from May 1800 she writes after waving off her brothers William and John who were bound for Yorkshire that she “sate a long time upon a stone at the margin of the lake, & after a flood of tears my heart was easier. The lake looked to me I knew not why dull and melancholy, the weltering on the shores seemed a heavy sound”.  In the twentieth century the painter William Heaton Cooper built his studio in Grasmere and captured the beautiful tranquillity of the lake across numerous seasons, rarely depicting anything more than the natural change of light upon the landscape early morning, in morning light or after sunset.  Grasmere has always been and remains a place of beauty and peace, but it is also a hive of activity.  Fell walkers, swimmers, cyclists, families, school trips, international tourists all flock to Grasmere throughout the year.  Local residents and supporters have no wish for the area to become stagnant, they are striving to maintain the integrity of Grasmere for the future and oppose the houseboats as the enterprise is solely couched in the commercial exploitation of the area. 

Image result for houseboats off grasmere

The group ‘Houseboats-Off-Grasmere’ are organising a day of resistance on Saturday 1 February with activities scheduled to highlight the diverse range of options the area has to offer and speeches to communicate why opposition to this enterprise is necessary and vital.  More information can be found on the groups facebook page and the online petition to the Lowther Estate can be found here. 

If you are a resident of Grasmere, the surrounding area, a frequent visitor or have future plans to visit please sign the petition, spread the word, and if possible, attend the day of resistance. 

Inclusivity versus Commodity: The Lake District National Park

In September 2019 the government published an independent review calling for a radical “shakeup of the running of England’s National Parks” and in the last few days the chief of the Lake District National Park Authority in Cumbria, Richard Leafe has told Sky News, “We need to be able to sell the national park to everybody in Britain, all of society, and it’s important that it doesn’t just become exclusive to one, single-use group”.  The “single-use group” Leafe is referring to is white, middle-class and able bodied.  Whilst there is no doubt that all of Britain’s National Parks must appeal to and be open and accessible to all backgrounds, ethnicities, and physical abilities without question, we must be careful not to misinterpret the notion of “sell[ing] the national park to everybody in Britain”.  

In 2017 the Lake District was identified as a UNESCO World Heritage site ensuring it would be protected as a site “of outstanding universal value”, but the bid was controversial and its success has arguably marked a change in how the Lake District may now be packaged and ‘sold’.  Writing in The Guardian a few weeks before the status was awarded the ecologist George Monbiot vehemently argued against the bid stating that heritage status “would lock the Lake District into its current, shocking state, ensuring that recovery becomes impossible”.  This ‘shocking state’ according to Monbiot derives from “the great damage farming has inflicted: wet deserts grazed down to turf and rock; erosion gullies from which piles of stones spill; woods in which no new trees have grown for 80 years, as every seedling has been nibbled out by sheep”. Monbiot suggests that the bid actively fails to mention the condition of the areas woodlands by simply stating that there is no data available, an omission he deems odd as the Lake District is where the modern conservation movement begun.  The entire bid according to Monbiot “is based on a fairytale, a pretence that the rural economy of the Lake District hasn’t changed for 200 years”. Once the bid had been successful and heritage status confirmed, Monbiot wrote again in The Guardian to declare that everything “that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision … The way conservation groups rolled over is shameful”.  Monbiot highlights that the culture of sheep farming in the district is not sustained within the park, it is heavily subsidised from Europe and as a practice is counter to conservation efforts as the amount of sheep grazing the land is having a widespread effect on the landscape. Concerns and anxieties about the National Park are therefore not only about accessibility and exclusivity, they are about management and conservation, anthropocentric versus eco-centric.

The success of the bid arguably quietly dismisses these concerns as the UNESCO brand is identifiable world-wide as a symbol of quality, protection and honesty meaning the Lake District can now be packaged and sold with an official UNESCO stamp of approval, enhancing its commodity world-wide as a place to visit, inevitably increasing tourism.  This increase in visitors is essentially a double-edged sword as the Lake District needs tourists for its economy to thrive but increased numbers will eventually become harmful to the natural landscape and wildife with more cars, litter, hotels and leisure activities.  Since 2017 a controversial plan to install a kilometre-long zip wire from high up on Honister Crag down to the mine car park has been approved following a seven-year planning battle.  The plan passed this round as it was “reasoned that the landscape was already industrialised because of its mining heritage and therefore a zip wire would not spoil the environment”.  Conservation groups including the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, the Wainwright Society, and the Open Spaces Society all strongly objected “on the grounds of impact on landscape character and loss of tranquillity”. Tarmac paths recently laid around Keswick replacing more traditional gravel paths have further caused controversy with Keswick’s deputy mayor Paul Titley telling Sky News that visitors have no right to paths that aren’t muddy and should accept the environment as it is or go elsewhere.

Overall, Leafe does have a point, we do need to be “able to sell the national park to everybody”, but not literally.  In 1949 the government passed an Act of Parliament to establish national parks “to preserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public”, as we enter a new decade of ecological uncertainty it would surely be a backward step to effectively “sell” our national parks.  They must be inclusive and open to all but not at an ecological price, which increased tarmac, concrete, cars, zip wires and foot fall will eventually cost.  Conservation and education must be the commodity of the Lake District to ensure its future and the spirit of the Act of 1949.

The Paris Agreement: Trumps Exit Offers Hope for the Future

Image result for the paris agreement

On the 4 November 2019 President Trump formally began the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.  The exit process will take a year and will become final one day after the Presidential election in November 2020.  The move has been criticised by former Vice President Al Gore who posted a statement on Twitter declaring that “No one person or party can stop our momentum to solve the climate crisis” whilst Joe Biden wrote “As the climate crisis worsens each day and California burns and Iowa floods, Trump continues to abandon science and our international leadership”.  But is the United States withdrawal under the Trump administration necessarily a bad thing? 

The obvious and immediate answer is of course yes; the United States is one of the largest polluters of greenhouse gas emissions in the world emitting 5,142 MMmt in 2017, so therefore must be a part of the efforts to rapidly reduce this quantity.  The Paris Agreement, which came into effect in November 2016, was signed by 197 countries who pledged to keep “the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”; there is a spirit of global cooperation and friendship about the agreement as all who pledged also agreed to pursue efforts which would reduce the temperature rise even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  All parties are asked to pledge their best efforts to reduce emissions and put forth nationally determined contributions.  A global stocktake is set to be made every five years to assess progress, but the Climate Action Tracker, “an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement”, updated their results in September 2019 and found the United States to be ‘Critically Insufficient’ in relation to their pledge; an indication that immediate changes have not been made and are not in the process of being undertaken.  

Historically, Trump has categorically denied that climate change is happening, a brief scroll through his Twitter feed unearths some shocking statements:

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive. Nov 2012

The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders! May 2014

It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal.  Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming! Oct 2015

This level of ignorance and active denial of climate change as California is burning, as the Amazon is burning and as the world is slowly burning, proves that Trump is not the leader to inspire, create or demand the policy changes necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The exit of the United States under the Trump administration creates some hope moving forward; the United States go to the polls next year and Trump has given his rivals an ideal platform on which to stand, and Elizabeth Warren has already declared that “The next president must rejoin the Paris Agreement”, and she has a Green Manufacturing Plan in place which will initiate clean energy development.  And where the United States leads it appears none will follow, as President Xi Jinping of China and President Emmanuel Macron of France have pledged a Franco-Chinese partnership to “enhance our commitments to reduce emissions” and are expected to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement in the wake of Trumps move to exit. 

            The removal of the United States from the Paris Agreement is undeniably regretful, disappointing and a blow to the global effort to keep the temperature under 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.  However, what this climate emergency needs are leaders who listen, act and take responsibility for their countries part in a global issue; President Trump has shown he is not that leader, so Americans must now take climate change to the polling stations and vote for a candidate who will put their country, and the world ahead of their own vanity.