I often think or say how lucky I am to live in Snowdonia. The lucky bit was getting on a scrambling trip to Snowdonia in 1988. Everything else I’ve chosen or worked for.
Today, I live in a beautiful place, in a great community. The culture is of respect and politeness without social barriers. I work amongst people who have a passion for the air, earth and water here. Whether they are outdoors managing land as a farmer or forester, or a climber, biker or boater, all are really proud of their bit in the landscape. I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of this community. I’m equally passionate about the responsible use and protection of those resources.
The North Wales Environment Outdoor Charter Group has a fantastic part to play in making sure that the generations to come have positive experiences and quality resources to enjoy. This generation has a lot to take responsibility for. I feel strongly we should all give a little back. Not for reward, money or glory but as a contribution to each other. I’m doing my part on the steering group and hope that we can bring this Charter to be a centre piece in the thinking of outdoor users.
My work is frantic at the moment, and the foreseeable future. My training fits around long days. Monday, for example I left home just before 6am and got back just after 1.30am the next day. It’s not a poor me, I genuinely love my job. But when I can enjoy a daytime trip into the countryside (whether in a boat, on a bike or on foot) it reminds me exactly why I’ll do my job for as long as it takes to make a difference. But for my own sanity I have to work at getting out even if I’m working long hours. To be able to enjoy the changing seasons, to experience wind, water, cold, warmth and views makes me feel connected and alive. When I work for those feelings it seems to magnify the connection.
As more and more people explore the outdoors electronically (YouTube, satellite mapping and PlayStation) it removes the visceral connection they have with their environment. Does it make it the outdoors less important, or my fear, disposable to society? I really hope not.
Enjoying a warm layby family picnic, screaming down some singletrack on a mountain bike, white water kayaking, running up hill, floating down an estuary or picking a route up remote rock make up “bucket lists”. But what does that really mean? Are bragging rights that important to who you are? Surely we should own those experiences and value them.
It amazes me when I hear “we don’t have a problem with Scandinavians in the countryside, but people from the UK are terrible”. That’s about us, using our own islands natural resources for free time. Scandinavia has a culture and law that grants responsibility for positive, responsible behaviour whilst in the Outdoors. They seek to minimise their physical and behavioural impact from recreation. Land managers also have a different approach. They have had this approach for decades, and it shows in the country and the behaviour of its people. “Get off my land” is an English and Welsh stereotype created by the feudal land management history we have. We’ve had this approach for centuries, and it shows in the way we use the wonderful resources we have instead of being a part of it. Working with it. It’s plain to me that we need a cultural revolution. Not just from the practitioners, but from all of us. Wales is at the start of, or at least has an opportunity for this journey, the formation of Natural Resources Wales offers a real opportunity to begin education on a generation level. For years, and for people to come, my hope is that we can achieve a slight shift. Less focus on regulation and a little more focus on ownership. Different tools to achieve the same thing, though one ultimately is more sustainable.
My world changed on the North ridge of Tryfan, aged 14. Literally, those first few hours in the Glyderau pulled me out of the South East of England. It took me until I was 26 to move to Dolgellau, but Wales has shaped me as a person more than Sussex ever did or could. It was a single person that did that – a quiet, passionate mountain man. With a belief and love of sharing the mountains and building confidence in young people to grow independent in the outdoors.
If I am lucky to live in Snowdonia today it’s down to Steve Pennington. If I could ever thank him for what he did, I would. Like many teachers though, they disappear from our lives. I’m pretty sure I still owe him one beer at least, in return for an Export 33, in Fos, in 1991!
I’ll be wearing my Wales shirt on Saturday, not that I’m Welsh, but because I’m proud to live in and love Wales.
Cymru am Byth!