Saturday, September 26, 2009

A lament for Whinlatter Forest

I'm always envious when I read some of the accounts written by American QRPers of their trips into the wilderness to make radio contacts from remote places. Photos showing endless vistas and antennas silhouetted against a distant horizon. It's something one can only dream of in this small, overcrowded island, and it's getting worse now that more people are taking their holidays at home in Britain.

Olga wanted me out of the house so she could do some cleaning without me getting under her feet, so I grabbed the VX-8E, jumped in the car and headed for Whinlatter Forest Park to do a quick 2m WOTA activation of Whinlatter, LDW-160. When I arrived, the car park was full and I only just found a space. Instead of the sound of birdsong the air resounded to the testosterone-fuelled cries of men on mountain bikes - and a couple of hard-looking women.

I first visited Whinlatter Forest 30 years ago and up until last year as long as you avoided the school holiday periods and Bank Holidays, you could normally have the place practically to yourself. The car park would be less than half full and once you had walked a short way from the main forest roads you would only infrequently encounter another person. And they would be on foot, perhaps with a dog, not hurtling past at breakneck speed scattering mud and stones in all directions on some two wheeled contraption.

After your walk, communing with nature, you could stop for tea in the visitor centre cafe - a beautiful spot looking out over the forest. On one memorable occasion I remember that a Sibelius symphony was playing on the sound system - perfect. Nowadays the sounds you'll hear should you venture in are the thumping cacophony favoured by the adrenalin-seekers who now get their refreshment there. If Hell was a forest, it would be Whinlatter.

This has not happened by coincidence. There are now businesses in the forest that rent out mountain bikes to visitors and offer other "thrills" like the chance to whizz from tree to tree suspended by a pulley from aerial ropeways. So the Forestry Commission, the public body tasked with the management and conservation of our forests, has presumably been complicit in this transformation.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that mountain bikers are entitled to enjoy their fun just as much as portable operating radio amateurs. But they are much harder to ignore because there is a lot more of them - not that ignoring them is a good idea due to the speed they travel. I would have thought that the adrenalin junkies could get their kicks just as well in a converted disused quarry where they would not offend those who are looking for peace and quiet. Who gave the Forestry Commission the right to tear up a place of outstanding natural beauty and tranquillity in the name of profit?


Dick said...

Consider yourself fortunate. We in the USA have our own mountain bikers. Worse, screaching, buzzing off-road vehicles in summer. Screaching, buzzing snow mobiles in winter. OH yes, screaching, buzzing jet-skis on the water. True, because of the size of the country, one can generally find an area free of noise pollution. I do in the Adirondack mountains near my QTH. I know Britain's population has exploded in the past twenty or so years.

Steve GW7AAV said...

There is still undiscovered country in the UK but it usually means traveling to the wilds of North Scotland and using HF rather than VHF. Unfortunately the Forestry Commission can make more from tapping in to the leisure market than forestry. The advantages are better paths and signage less noise from chain saws and heavy machinery. You have found the disadvantages. The popularity of the Lake District has boomed since programs on TV like Wainwright's Walks and parking is at a premium everywhere. It will probably wane eventually and peace will return one day.

Hank Wangerford said...

The Forestry Commission gave the Forestry Commission permission for the Forestry Commission to commercial exploit the Forestry Commision's forests.

I love reading your blog. So much negativity and the fact that everyone, and I mean everyone, is out of step with you. To read your blog makes me realise how wonderous the world is and how lucky am I not to be your neighbour.