I dislike large scale charity events in the hills. Too many people all in one place, too much traffic, too much noise, too great an impact. I think the same about large scale commercially organised events in our uplands as well.
But, when I think about it a little bit more, I’ve taken part in my fair share, and risen to meet various standard challenges over the years. The Three Peaks, the Lyke Wake walk and so on. For me, there was another way. As a walker, climber and mountaineer, I sought out the wild, the quiet and generally off the beaten track places. Part of the joy of the hills, the countryside and the coast is, to me, tranquillity. I know I’m not the only one. But does that give me the right to be critical of large scale, organised challenge events? Probably not. But, just to be sure I joined in with one to learn more
I couldn't bring myself to join a national three peaks challenge, the driving and the indifference to the environment, the dominance of time spent driving a motor vehicle, the virtue signalling, of “it’s alright, I’m doing it for charity” ruled that particular, so called challenge, out for me.
Instead I joined a team of ‘Mighty Marshalls’ working on a couple of the Macmillan Mighty Hikes. These are big events with around 2000 walkers and more than a hundred people working on them. This brings a lot of road traffic to the countryside and many pairs of feet onto our country footpaths. It brings waymarking, loud music (at the start and the finish), some litter and a good deal of erosion. It does however make money, a lot of money for what no one can deny is a very good cause.
Is it worth it?
The short answer is yes. The people partaking in the event are good people. They have good reason to be there and they want to give back. I liked them. It’s not their fault that the car is the main form of transport in this country and, given the need for charities to run cancer care,the least the Government can do is invest in our footpath network to make it more sustainable.
There was virtually no litter and the event, being incredibly well organised, meant that any there was was soon removed. The safety cover is excellent. The waymakers are laid out the day before and removed by a team following the the last walkers. It’s sort of a stealth event, here today gone tomorrow. Many of the walkers and the staff stay in local accommodation. Small businesses, like the one I was working for are supported by the event, others include the caterers, the medics, the timekeepers and many others.
The route I experienced was planned on good tracks away from the usual honeypots. Of course there is some impact. I’m not sure about the loud music blaring out, I’m not sure we can keep piling this number of cars into places like Malham. I’m not sure about the impact on our footpaths. But, nationally, we need to do better with our footpath networks and, it would seem we have to accept the car is our transport, maybe if we all slow down, set off earlier, it might just work. If these events were every weekend in the same place, that would be wearing, but they aren't.
Many of you as mountain leaders will work on events like this. If we can point out the odd wildflower, a sweet birdsong or the fact that this is not a natural landscape then we are helping things along. As leaders though, whilst we are passionate about place, we also are interested in people and this is an event about people.
Everybody was nice. Even if you were walking the other way, you’d have had your day enhanced by the simple pleasantness of those taking part. I look forward to my next Mighty Hike. I will enjoy the company of good people, I will try to raise their awareness of rural issues and will continue to lobby for better footpath provision and maintenance across the UK. As for transport...