God Loves a Selfie

I’ve found this article hard to write, to get any sense of ‘sense’ out of it! It’s a ramble and a bit of a moan so apologies in advance. I don’t really have any answers, though I do welcome opinions, ideas and maybe even answers, if indeed there are any. My thoughts the other day, as they regularly do, turned to accessibility of the outdoors as we tried to find a piece of natural and historical interest in the hills.

We were on our way home from a day out and took a detour for a reccy of a place we knew to be nearby. This is not an overly famous place, but somewhere I have never been, in an area I only know a part of. I was therefore immediately curious. Unless you’re a long distance cyclist or a local, you need a car to get to it.

I noticed the signs of overcrowding almost immediately as we got closer to our destination. The handful of rural houses nearby had put out directional sign posts, no access and no parking signs. Half a mile up the single track road, cars were parked on verges and in gaps in the fences. There were lots of people walking in the same direction, children, dogs, flip flops. The ‘official’ car park, space for maybe 10 cars, was of course full. People were everywhere, cars abandoned at the side of the road. We struggled to reverse and went out the way we had come in.

And here we are, trying to promote people using the outdoors. I am genuinely pleased that there is such an enthusiasm for these kinds of places. But we need to remember that these kinds of places were never meant to deal with mass numbers of people. In particular in dealing with visitors who have been indoors for months due to a global pandemic. I get that. It was also early afternoon, possibly the busiest time of the day, it’s a Friday in the summer holidays… I understand that if we went at 9:00am and on a dreich Tuesday in November it would be quite different. You’re not going to get the Eiffel Tower to yourself in July!

But I found this at odds with my own thoughts and beliefs that the outdoors is for everyone. It is, and we can’t expect kind hearted people local to areas like these to produce a bigger car park or empty the overflowing bins.*

It seems the days of going up a munro and having the entire mountain to yourself are gone. Driving through Scotland you can spot the starting point by the amount of cars in a layby or on grassy verges. Good luck finding somewhere to stop your camper van. And this popularity, again something we are trying to encourage, comes with a more worrying aspect. There is always the possibility of attracting ‘the wrong crowd’. The camping party goers. The litterers, the fires, the feeding of stags for Instagram selfies.

There is a local spot near us that I have not visited before though I have known of it for several years and had made a note to go there one day. It is quite awkward to find despite its location in central Scotland and is a fairly good walk through mostly private land. There is parking for exactly two cars safely and the site itself, is actually quite dangerous. This place has been inundated with people this summer, so much so that the police have had to go there regularly. This was previously a private and secret place.

Although I’d quite happily share any knowledge of places with any one asking, putting it blankly on social media is enough to spoil it and will attract the kind of people that will possibly abuse the site. There is nothing secret, nothing sacred. I have a hope that once initial interest wains, these are the kinds of people that don’t go on repeated visits. Once is enough, never again, especially if it’s strenuous. But there is that snobby attitude again that these spots are only for me because I found out about it ‘organically’. I wore the correct boots to access it and not a pair of Air Max or flip flops. I didn’t throw my banana skin and bag of Wotsits away when I was there.

Some social media groups I’ve noticed make a big deal of not sharing details of the place but just sharing the pictures. This is good practice, though I question the need to share the pictures at all. I guess that doesn’t make for a very interesting post. And the comments section are full of private messages anyway, promising to tell the asker where it is.

This issue does seem important to folks as I’ve seen it discussed a lot recently. Perhaps things will calm down once people can go off to Spain or elsewhere next year and there will be more space for the more socially conscious among us. I have seen calls for a ranger/police service like in American national parks, but I can’t see there being much support for that outside the serious outdoors community, or even a budget for it. The ranger service has been vastly depleted over the last ten years or so. When damage is done, littering etc. it’s a police issue anyway. Is policing and more bylaws really even an answer? I don’t know.

So here I am nearly 1000 words in and still not found my point. I guess it is this, are we, in popularising the use of outdoor space, contributing to the slow and ultimate destruction of these places? More people means more cars, more space and amenities needed, more potential business opportunities to exploit customers. And are we comfortable being a part of that?

On the other hand, why should places only belong to the culturally aware or the snobby outdoors elite? I don’t know, and I’m torn. Maybe I just wish people wouldn’t blindly share every single thing they do on social media with 25 detailed pictures. Or maybe I just wish people would think a bit more before asking on social media where the best places to go or things to see are. Do at least a bit of leg work and research of your own back. Look at a map and go. Or don’t bother with the map. Is it even a sense of adventure when someone else has told you not only how to do it, but what to do? And technology not only introduces you to it, it takes you through the experience and even in some cases, is the sole reason for it. God loves a selfie after all.

Those confused should write to us at lastwolfoutdoors@gmail.com.

*At least there was a bin!

G.W. Harlan

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