With help from fellow biophiles, we ponder how to have truly wild encounters in the mountains of a nature-depleted Britain.
UK wildlife continues to decline, according to State of Nature Report 2023, and we bear witness to significant loss of our plants, animals and fungi through habitat loss, development and persecution. As a result, the UK is now one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. You only need to admire sweeping views from Lake District fells – allowed for by a concerningly treeless landscape – to notice this.
Notice, we must. And indeed, many do. In this issue, nature-lovers share beautiful experiences still possible up and down these islands as we enter the final throes of winter and signs of spring are forthcoming. As the snowdrops pushing through a fresh layer of powder from their subnivean slumber, it is a time for nature to flourish and our hopes for the future along with it.
Main image: At the top of Great Gable’s Pinnacle Ridge, Lake District | Credit: Meirion Watkin
Highlights of this issue:
- After walking the Dartmoor Way, Alex Roddie and Emily Woodhouse share journal entries
- Mark Waring backpacks through grizzly bear territory in Yukon’s Tombstone Territorial Park
- Jess Jones gets nature therapy, capturing the creatures of our mountains and beyond
- Ceri Belshaw and Sarah Hall bikepack the Trans Cambrian Way in winter with Ray Wood
- Encounter mountain wonders with expert advice from photographer James Roddie
- Our experts map 10 walking routes on which to spot Britain’s wildlife
- The TGO Reader Awards: Meet your winners!
PLUS: Jim Perrin paints a portrait of Aonach Eagach; honest reviews of the best hiking daypacks and budget fleeces; Mary-Ann Ochota examines the trend for paid ‘wild’ camping and the land justice revolution; we review two new outdoor books looking at the landscape of the Highlands; and ‘Urban Wildlife Queen’ Lira Valencia gives us a glimpse into life as a London wetlands ranger.
Nature therapy: Jess Jones’ enchanting images of wild animals going about their daily business are all about empathy. Here, she shares how she sought solace in nature and found a new sense of connection through wildlife photography.
“The search for wildlife has since taken me to faraway places such as the Canadian High Arctic – somewhere I thought I would only ever see on the television – but my favourite place of all remains The Scottish Highlands. It was there I first became aware of the mountain hare, and my love of hares in general was cemented. These hardy animals are best found on heather moorlands above 300 metres and as their main defence from predators in the winter their brown coats change almost completely to white. Walking in the Highlands of Scotland when there is snow on the ground and catching sight of a mountain hare in full winter camouflage is a magical experience and completely awe inspiring…”
Unmoored: Alex Roddie joins local mountain leader Emily Woodhouse for the moors, tors, woodland and gorges of the Dartmoor Way. On the way, they share differing perspectives about camping, nature and what it means to feel at home.
“Our camp that night was nothing special – and yet it was. I felt welcomed in a way I never had when camping elsewhere in the English hills. A part of that was being with someone who had invited me there, into their home. There was none of the tension that can accompany stealth camping. Just a few simple hours of peace, sleeping out under the open sky as people have always done. How could such a thing be forbidden? I thought back to my train journey ruminations. Perhaps we belong wherever we find ourselves – or we can create that sense of belonging if we try. A warm, open-hearted welcome most certainly helps…“
Across Cymru: When Ceri Belshaw and Sarah Hall set out to cross Wales by bike, nothing could have prepared them for the wild wind, wet, or relentless mud. They soon discovered that company is key to getting through some of the toughest mountain bike miles of their lives.
“We pushed on, up and over for the next several hours, climbing more steep grassy slopes laden in mud. It felt like I was constantly trying to beat the travelator from the gameshow, Gladiators. Knee deep mud ruts led us into the forest above Rhayader. It took some time to emerge from the forest and we were both covered head-to-toe in thick mud. Who needs to pay for a spa treatment when you could just go and ride the Trans Cambrian in winter? The long descent into Rhayader meant we could replenish some of those spent calories. Upon entering the pub, we were promptly handed two bin bags to sit on. I couldn’t blame them one bit, we were filthy, and I’m surprised they even let us in…”
Ragged land: Mark Waring is no stranger to challenging long walks, but Tombstone Park in the Yukon Territory has more bears, bushwhacking and wild weather than even he knew what to do with. Luckily, he also found a gentler side to this ‘ragged mountain land’.
“The thought of bears waiting behind every corner is doubly unsettling, but I reason that I’m prepared to manage that risk as best I can. Two heavy bear canisters full of food are now nestled in my rucksack and a can of pepper spray sits reassuringly in a holster on my hip. Perhaps most important is the use of my voice, and as I set off, I start a soliloquy that lasts most of my waking hours over the next week. I push into the bush through thick, head high alder and willow, and the demands of the route become immediately apparent. The area’s Hän name Ddhäl Ch’èl Cha Nän translates as ‘ragged mountain land’ and its aptly descriptive of the demanding terrain before me. I slowly head up Foxy Creek and towards my intended camp at Auston Pass over the first few hours, and the thin line of the Dempster Highway recedes behind me…”
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