Four wheels bad, two legs good

In Walk, the magazine of the Ramblers, Will Self argues that urban-fleeing walkers’ tunnel vision of the countryside is both damaging and self-defeating:

“The modern rambling movement began with a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District, but in my view what’s needed now is a mass exodus. The last time I was on Kinder Scout workmen were hard at it, laying a stone-flagged staircase all the way up from Edale. Even when I gained the ridge, I saw that more stone-flagging lay ahead of me, as if wayward Romans had been building wonky roads. Actually, the Roman analogy isn’t that misplaced, because in the last 20 years legions of walkers have invaded the British hinterland intent on stealing beauty.

“I say ‘intent’, but really, where’s the beauty to be found? It’s difficult to commune with nature when there are scores of other communards, just as it’s impossible to venture into the wild if it’s overpopulated by the civilised. Of course, I realise that if you get a little bit further off the beaten – or stone-flagged – track, you’ll soon find all the solitude you desire, but there remains something profoundly disturbing about the way our most celebrated areas of natural beauty are becoming replete with the same urban infrastructure we’re trying to get away from: car parks, gift shops, cafés – and now these metalled paths that mimic the motorways most visitors have driven along in order to get there.

“I blame the English Romantics: their obsession with the picturesque spread with lightning speed. When Wordsworth was still living at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, trippers were already pitching up armed with wooden frames through which to descry the surrounding fells. Two hundred years on that frame has become completely internalised, so that we head en masse for such locations, where we goggle at prospects that have already been worn smooth by our regard.

“Unfortunately, it’s a lose-lose situation: not only is our hunt for the unspoilt a spoliation, but the correlate of this is that we have little regard for the places where we actually live. Whether it’s fly-tipping or lousy architecture, littering or insensitive planning, the urban environment is endlessly traduced by not just commercial imperatives but our own studied lack of regard. Why bother? – we say to ourselves. After all, we’re effectively powerless when it comes to prettifying our immediate surroundings, so our best possible defence is to get out at the weekend for a good long walk somewhere lovely.”

To read the rest of the article, go here.