Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 10th October 2017

IT was a dead giveaway really. We want more volume from tourists, not numbers said the touristy chap being interviewed the other day on local radio.

What’s wrong with that, you might say. Well, volume is another way of saying we want to attract a richer audience. The Lake District, all dressed up in its new world heritage clothing, wants big spending visitors. If you are from the poorer side of the tracks go somewhere else, but don’t block up our high streets and our roads if you are not coming with wallets and purses jam packed with cash and credit cards.

Why not means testing for tourists? Perhaps they could be persuaded to hand over their cards and pin numbers when they arrive. Chuck your wallet into a basket as you pass through the checkpoints on the A591 and A66. You will get it back, empty, on departure.

One can understand that our tourist hosts need to make a living, but I sense, more and more, that some of them would like to make the Lake District an elitist place where the spenders are more welcome than people who don’t have a lot of spare money, but want to enjoy the lakes and the fells and do it economically if they can.

We’re not alone. In Corfu local politicians have appealed for more affluent tourists. Even grotty Magaluf — yes, I’ve been — is reviewing the clientele it wants to attract. Anti-tourist graffiti has been spotted in Barcelona.

So who decides, and who is thought suitable to provide that extra “volume” then? Cyclists, ramblers, crag rats, bus trippers? Do they spend enough? After all, those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Lake District don’t actually own it. It should be there for all to enjoy, whether they eat at Michelin starred restaurants or camp in the rain in Borrowdale.

A classic example has been seen in Keswick recently where a bunch of traders decided that they didn’t want Conventioners — visitors to the 140-year-old Christian gathering — turning up in the school holidays. They were quite up front about it. Conventioners don’t spend as much as other visitors and this is peak holiday time.

Convention organisers have backed down and next year will revert to their original planned dates rather than shifting more of the event into school holiday time when a lot of their families want to come. If I’d been the Convention I’d most probably have told them where to go with their bullying approach, but being the Convention they want a happier relationship with the local community. Some of the language used during this dispute — parasitic, a cult — was a disgrace to Keswick. And I’m not entirely convinced this was representative of the town as a whole.

The Lake District for everyone? Only when it suits us. Only when it’s not the less well off. Booked into a top hotel have we sir and madam? Come on in. Welcome. But you, you and you, camping and living on baked beans and fish and chips as a treat once during the week, we don’t really want your sort, but we’ll tolerate you as long as you come in November or February.

A CLIMBING “ROCKSTAR”

IT don’t usually spend Saturday evenings tuned in to Radio 3. But last Saturday, a program mixing poetry with the Lake District crags, proved irresistible. My only criticism of Helen Mort’s Between the Ears: Give Me Space Below My Feet, was that there was rather too much rustling of waterproof trousers and not enough of Gwen Moffat.

At 93, Moffat has a dream of climbing, where she will come to a rock and realise she can’t climb it. “It’s gone, I know that, even in a dream,” she says. In this unusual and charming episode of Between The Ears, Helen Mort attempted to let Gwen Moffat feel the rock and the air beneath her feet again, by playing the sounds of climbing in Langdale.

All the best bits were Moffat speaking about her extraordinary life as a climber. We didn’t hear about her other career, that of a best-selling crime writer. Instead of fascinating, but all too brief, snippets about this unconventional female climbing legend, I could easily have spent an hour just listening to Gwen’s stories and memories.

She’s been described as a “rockstar” of British climbing history. Age 21, she met a rock climber in Wales, and with World War II at an end, deserted the Army for a life of climbing. She defied the conventions of the 1940s and 50s, and became Britain’s first female mountain guide, and climbed all over the world. One climbing publication said she “struck a blow for women’s equality in climbing.” There is an interview with Gwen on the Women Climb website, and a couple of years ago a British Mountaineering Council film, Operation Moffat won awards at mountain festivals. Gwen lived on a boat and travelled and climbed widely, latterly moving to the Lake District to continue her writing career. Between 1961 and 2007 she produced at least a book a year and her 1961 personal story, Space Below My Feet was followed by Two Star Red, about mountain rescue.

Speaking on Saturday’s program, she said: “I always wanted to go high. I know where I am in mountains. They have been my life since I was 20. They mean more to me than anything else I suppose. Why? Why not? It’s so dull, life, isn’t it.” I have vague memories of Gwen Moffat coming to the Herald office, in the early 1960s to talk to editor, Frank Shaw, about her latest book which he was reviewing. In her 90s this remarkable woman achieved fresh acclaim with the film of her life. Retired to Eamont Bridge, there was still much of the free spirit to be found in her chat with Yorkshire climber Claire Carter, who produced the film with her friend Jen Randall.

There may no longer be space below her feet, and Gwen’s dreams are those of a frustrated climber, but what a woman and what a life story. Well done Radio 3 for remembering her, but surely there’s another program to be made, one which concentrates more on Moffat’s colourful careers than just a few snatches of an interview.

FLU JABS NOT TO BE SNEEZED AT

TIME to toddle off to get my annual flu jab. Do they work? if you escape a winter without the dreaded lurgi there’s no proof it was the jab, but hey, it’s free, so I’ll hold my arm out, grit my teeth and give it a go.

The headlines suggest we’re in for a flu ridden winter. Some particularly virulent bug that started in Australia is due to find its way over here. But wait a minute. Weren’t we told this time last year that we were facing an epidemic? And all the years before that? We are warned that the “worst ever” winter for flu is coming, and sometimes it does, but most years we survive with nothing more serious than a bout of man flu. That’s us blokes. Women seem mysteriously immune.

The medics also tell us that our flu jab will work better if we smile. A positive attitude helps I suppose. No nurse, that’s not a grimace. You might think that, but it’s the closest thing we grumbling old Victor Meldrews can muster to a cheerful smile.

DIVERTING PROBLEMS

TRIED getting round on the roads in this neck of the woods recently? I’ve never seen so many road closures and diversions. Every available “road closed” sign in the county must be in use at the moment.

After my latest frustrating round trip to avoid yet another diversion, it struck me that booking a package holiday with Monarch or a return ticket on Ryanair would offer better prospects of arriving at my destination on time than motoring round Cumbria’s roads.

UDDERLY DAFT

INSPIRED by a champion Herdwick ram at a local sheep show, a Cumbrian company has produced what it claims to be the first-ever cuddly toy fully equipped with … ahem, testicles. They reckon their limited edition Herdy, complete with tackle, will prove a best-seller among collectors. Well, it’s reality I guess.

Reading the story reminded me of my earliest experience of reporting an agricultural show when I was despatched with instructions to obtain full breed details of the champion animals.

Talking to the exhibitor of the champion Shorthorn, he remarked: “It’s a reet good bagged ‘un.” Being uneducated in the ways of the countryside, I thought he said “Good Bagdon” meaning the breed, and had no idea he was referring to the size of the udder.

Being udderly useless in knowing farming terms, I got in trouble when I wrote my report. Never work with udders and testicles. That’s my message to aspiring agricultural reporters.