It was a while ago when I saw an article/advert for the British Mountaineering Council‘s (BMC) first hillwalking symposium. At a good-for-value price and knowing I would be in the general location (roughly an hour or two away) I thought I’d sign up. After all, I wanted to meet more like-minded people and find out more about what the BMC does.
I don’t know a lot about the BMC. My first introduction to them was via Mountain Training who require you to sign up to a council, as I’m not currently living in Scotland or Ireland the BMC it was. Plus, they insure you whilst you’re out on the hills…
And since 2015, that was as much involvement in the BMC as I was ever going to do… Even donating to their Mend Our Mountains campaign in 2017 didn’t challenge me to make the link between the two (yes, I was living under a rock).. after all, they only provide insurance don’t they?
So, back to the present day and because I’m surrounded by beautiful landscapes I wanted to find out more about conservation, access and rights (which I found out the BMC advocates for); so when the advert popped up, I looked, thought it was very reasonably priced for both members and non-members and I could meet and chat with others, so I booked on.
Based at the YHA Castleton in the Peak District, not far from my teaching training placement, the journey was relatively straightforward, and it wasn’t long before my van was engulfed by the mist from the moors the moment I was near Winnat’s Pass.
The YHA Castleton is by far one of the better YHAs I’ve spent time in (I’m over 20 locations now). The service was quick and painless, staff were friendly, the shared room was warm and well lit and the Wi-fi had a strong connection throughout the buildings (a great help with lesson plan writing!). I had two nights of great sleep followed by enjoyable showers, then a delicious breakfast. I would highly recommend this YHA to others!
But I wasn’t there for the room, after a quick easy registration process on the first morning where we were given our name badges and goodie bag and selected our workshops, we were directed to teas and coffee and the lecture room to begin the event.
We were welcomed by Carey Davies, BMC Hill Walking Officer, and Lynn Robinson*, BMC President, as well as meeting Chair, Roger Fanner, BMC National Council Rep & Director. Not forgetting, Dr Catherine Flitcroft, BMC Access Officer, who spoke to us about the BMC’s stance on hillwalking and how they are trying to ensure hillwalkers have a voice within the BMC and government. I think the figure quoted was 11% of members list hillwalking as their only outdoor activity with the BMC, which is a high percentage.
*It was good to see Lynn at the forefront of the event, she greeted everyone during registration and was very welcoming.
Carey then explained about the hillwalking campaigns, both past and present, such as Mend Our Mountains, before we had a tea break and returning for an open forum on issues affecting hill walkers in the UK (there’s many!). I find hillwalkers to be generally happy people who grumble very little, crept for the usual stuff – inappropriate clothing of the inexperienced, our overburdened Mountain Rescue Service, fly tipping, 4x4s/motorbikes and access issues. It was interesting to hear the views of others but probably would have been better if opinions were sought before the event, then a general topic to discuss decided beforehand as, with so many areas represented, each have their own issues and considerations to speak about; As the Chair sought information about the demographics of the attendees present I felt time was wasted sadly during this bit.
I only attended one workshop (you could pick two out of several offered), as the nagging pressure of my workload was weighing heavy on my mind and if I wanted to get outside the next day I had to find time to complete my work, so I only attended the “How to lead a great BMC Hillwalk” by Chris Stone & Peter Judd, BMC Hill Walking Representatives as I wanted to find out more about leading adults in hill walks.
I enjoyed this session, both the presenters were knowledgeable, engaging and experienced at running BMC walks. I must confess, having not engaged much with the BMC before, I didn’t even know they ran walks for their members! Each area usually has a couple of Hill Reps that organise free walks of interest in their area and advertise via the newsletters, social media etc. The process was all very simple. The workshop content was around preparation, purpose, planning and paperwork – it was all very interesting and sadly not enough time to discuss more (which the group I was in probably would have been happy to do so all day!). A good workshop I thought.
After having retreating back to my room to finish lesson planning, I returned to the lecture hall in time to catch the last of “Navigation in the hills: skills, tips & guidance -a practical session”run by John Kewley, NavigationInstructor, which looked like it had been an interesting session with a lot of useful content, before it had finished. Everyone seemed very enthused.
More issues were raised in the “Access legislation beyond the Countryside and Rights of Way Act” discussion. Again, it probably would have been better to have sought opinions beforehand as there were a lot of them in this session! The BMC wants to consider a similar Rights of Way/Freedom to Roam access like Scotland has but no one could agree on the definition of “wild camping” (or how the farmers would view it)… Even though leadership award, such as the Mountain Leader Award, require a minimum of eight wild camps before assessment, what actually defines one when it is forbidden in UK and Wales without prior landowner consent? What about youth groups, such as DofE and wild camping? So many questions raised and an inconclusive result in the end…
The topic of volunteering came up next and we were informed of all the opportunities the BMC provides, from area reps, walk leaders to conservation volunteers, I did ponder on the idea of getting more involved in the North Wales Area meetings; however, I can’t be too committed at the moment. I have fallen in love with this area and it will be a shame when it is time to leave it, so, for now, I will support quietly until settled somewhere.
Shortly after an enjoyable tasty dinner, we listened to James Forrest’s interesting talk on his Ireland adventure -273 mountains hiked in 8 weeks (he’s also the fastest person to climb all 446 mountains in England and Wales). What an amazing achievement for one so young. I look forward to hearing about his planned Scotland adventures next!
The first day teased us all with its beautiful weather whilst we sat indoors, but we’re all hardy hillwalkers so when the day began with a drizzle of rain the waterproofs were quickly packed in our hiking bags ready for the walk later on!
Another good, delicious breakfast started the day. We were welcomed back by Carey who explained the days content and listened to a fascinating talk about “The rescue of the most degraded upland landscape in Europe” by Chris Dean & Diarmuid Crehan of Moors for the Future Partnership. I wrote a lot of notes about this as I hadn’t realised how extensive the damage was from pollution and erosion and how much we need our uplands and their ecosystems. This picture tells the story of the decline:
Out on the hills we went!
I chose to attend the “Natural environment & geology walk around Castleton & the limestone plateau” to pick up more information for my ML assessment at some future point. I thought Peter Judd(BMC Hill Walking Representative for the Peak District) led a good walk. I got to revisit old places I’d been too before (still as beautiful) and new places (just as beautiful) and learn as I went along (also remembered that I haven’t been in Blue Johns Cavern yet!)
Overall, would I attend again? Yes! I thought it was a very informative event with variety and a fun walk incorporated into the programme. It was great to meet Lynn and Carey and speak directly to the BMC representatives. The talks were fascinating and discussions gave me a lot to think about. There are probably a few things needing consideration, such as gathering information prior to the event, the discussion section being either longer or smaller groupings and a considering of other “themes” for the next event to keep it fresh for those that will end up being regular visitors (me!). The location was ideal as it seemed accessible to all areas (even South West!) but, giving the nature of an event like this, it would be preferable to move it about the country a bit. Overall, the event enthused me to look beyond the BMC being just a requirement of Mountain Training awards, and “just insurance” towards a national representative for our access to the hills so they are enjoyed by all and how I can support this. You might even see me at the next North Wales area meeting (lesson planning depending!).