Tuesday, August 30, 2011

London riverscape and National Trails

click photo to enlarge
My walk from Rotherhithe into the centre of London follows a section of a route called the Thames Path. This is a 184 miles long National Trail that follows the river from its source in the Cotswolds, through the heart of London, to the Thames Barrier at Greenwich. Though that title sounds rather impressive, the section that I use is simply a collection of riverside paths, public footpaths and roads that are collectively waymarked with this grand title.

I've always enjoyed walking, and have walked in many parts of Britain. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, I have an aversion to the whole concept of "National Trails" and long-distance footpaths. I first gave voice to it in the 1960s when I lived in the Yorkshire Dales and saw what the creation of the Pennine Way was doing to the country through which it runs: in particular the way that the track up the "nose" of Penyghent grew from a narrow path to a disfiguring scar 50 yards wide, visible for miles, that ultimately required boarding and steps to stabilise it. The creation of other such trails across sections of the country have done nothing to change my view of these footpaths. I've seen similar erosion associated with the creation of the long distance path along the length of Hadrian's Wall, and find it deplorable.

But it's not just the environmental damage that the designation of National Trails brings that I find objectionable, there are two other major problems. Firstly, they encourage endurance and competitive walking in the countryside. In a small, heavily populated island like Britain, where open country is a precious resource, people should be encouraged to walk in our natural areas and farmland with a much wider focus than the selfish sense of achievement that comes from completing a route. There are those who will say that this is possible, even on such a trail, to which I answer: talk to those who walk them! Secondly, the focus on these long-distance trails inevitably reduces the much more valuable work that needs to be done to maintain and, importantly, extend our historic network of footpaths and bridleways, a task which, if done properly, enriches the lives of many more people by giving access to local walking. And, if that were not sufficient reason for disliking the idea and execution of National Trails, there is the commercialisation of the concept that is evident in the opening sentence of the National Trails website: "We welcome innovative approaches from all sectors of business and are keen to explore opportunities for joint ventures with the private sector to develop new products and services." I cringe when I read such language in connection with countryside access.

Today's photograph, taken from the Thames Path, gives some context to my earlier photographs of The Shard.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 58mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On
Filter: Graduated ND8