Wednesday 16 September 2020

The book of Trespass....Reviewed


The Book of Trespass-Crossing The Lines That Divide Us. Nick Hayes. 464 pages Hardback with Dust Cover and illustrated with Black/White Linocuts. Bloomsbury Circus £20.

The stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand, to prove the upper classes have still the upper hand’. Noel Coward (1938).

I believe this is an important book for it would be hard to read without agreeing the case it makes for the need to change and enhance Public access to the English countryside. The vast majority of our country is entirely unknown to us because we are banned from setting foot on it! By law of trespass we are excluded from much of the land and even less from its waterways. Blocked by walls whose legitimacy is rarely if ever questioned, behind which lies the history of the enclosures of what was once common land leading to exploitation and a dispossession of public rights of way.

The history of landowning in England is detailed in eleven chapters in The Book of Trespass, each one is illustrated with a double page linocut and is named after an animal the author believes characterises the history that is told within; Badger, Fox, Dog, Sheep, Cow, Spider, Pheasant, Cockroach, Hare, Toad and Stag. These take one on a journey over the walls of England, and into the thousands of square miles of woodland, hills, rivers, lakes, and meadows that are blocked for public access. By trespassing on the land of the media magnets, Lords, politicians and private corporations that own most of England, Nick Hayes argues that the basis of social inequality is the uneven distribution of land? He does this by weaving together the stories of poachers, vagabonds, gypsies, witches, hippies, raves, ramblers, migrants, and protestors, charting acts of civil disobedience that challenge orthodox power at its heart?

The author decides chapter by chapter to trespass in one of the private estates and stately homes that still dominate large areas of England. Sometimes with a colleague, most often alone, he identifies a weak area of access into these forbidden lands, quietly and with no worry he finds himself a comfortable hideaway, sketches the area, spends-a night, then retreats the way he came in, making sure he does not leave any litter/sign of his presence. This works well even when near the end of the book he takes to kayaking and following the Thames downstream, and includes a trespass (or not) into the Royal estate at Windsor. A little more information I guess is needed about who Nick Hayes really is; a well reviewed writer of four previous novels, a cartoonist, an illustrator, and a print maker, the list of the publications that have published his work is impressive; Time Out, Literary Review, The Spectator, the New Statesman, the Guardian etc, and he has held several exhibitions of his artwork in galleries across the country including at the Hayward. In a recent video he has made for the land justice net work about the need to reform land use and improved access, he still appears frighteningly young, to be such a high achiever.

The large landowners in England are still a privileged cohort, some are old money, descendants of the 180 Barons who arrived in 1066 with William, who kept a third of the land for himself and then parcelled out the rest to his henchmen. What these Norman aristocrats did with their time was hunt, and to do this deer forests were set up. And this was the real beginning of enclosure, the commoners who had previously had long-established rights, to graze their animals, to take wood, dig peat and fish the lakes were moved out, and within a hundred years there was 2,000 Deer Parks in England. This was the real beginning of exclusion, and trespass for commoners either had to do this or starve, poaching became a national sport, but the penalties for those so caught were usually severe.

Moving on the new money estates and stately homes came from lucrative service in countries of the Empire or the slave trade. I have winced at some of the anti comments I have read on the Internet about The Black Lives Matter campaign, even on some of the sites followed by fellow climbers; the demonstrators supporting this might be unsettling but sadly their cause is just. In The Book of Trespass there are so many instances of barbaric cruelty meted out on the sugar plantations of the West Indies, at the behest of slave owners, by men who garnered riches beyond the dreams of avarice. Across England the wealth of the sugar plantations was injected into English society, into buildings and infrastructure which remain to this day. And a similar story is true of the money that was transferred from India by men like Sykes, Clive, and Hastings. The scale is truly impressive for there are hundreds of estates and country houses that came from the wealth levered from those two sources. It seems what you had to do was go out to India as a young clerk, climb up the ladder of promotion, become governor of a Province or area, rip all off in bribes and back hander’s and come home with enough money to build a stately home, and an estate which you could then enlarge with help from your mates in parliament by enclosing land round and about. Once that was done you became an MP through a rotten borough (or Lord Mayor of London), then you became titled with a seat in the House of Lords. The history of the Slave Trade is truly awful, so anyone reading this who thinks the story of what happened might be exaggerated should read the sections about this in The Book of Trespass. And as an indication of the looting of the wealth of India when it became the Jewel in the Crown it enjoyed almost 27% of world trade, by the time it was handed over this had diminished to 3%!

Inevitably the Kinder trespass of 1932 is well covered and in fact the book begins with the story of a young climber from Preston, George Beattie Elliot who on the weekend of that event spent the night before in the cave at Laddow, and set off early the next day to walk over Bleaklow and then onto Kinder. Reaching its summit he started to descend but was astonished to see below him a large crowd of young ramblers, singing and shouting out loud and advancing towards a line of keepers. He had known nothing about the Trespass and although he was only a teenager he knew he was trespassing, and suddenly he was surrounded by a ring of keepers. He was punched to the ground but some of the crowd arrived and the keepers were hauled off him and George by then totally bemused was pulled to his feet, slapped on the back and praised for his heroic work for the good old cause. The scene ended as quickly as it had sprung upon him, the crowd moved on and poor George was left, as before, to the silence of The Peaks. Bruised, utterly stunned, with stars spiralling around his head, George continued his walk as planned, descending into the Goyt valley and out of history. Entirely unwittingly, George had fallen upon one of the most notorious protests in English history, the Kinder Trespass.

It seems that few in the modern climbing world know much of the struggles for access that have occurred over the years. For instance the late Dave Cook, organised a trespass at the MOD Castlemartin Range in Pembroke which although criticised at the time by some of the older generation of climbers, did draw attention to this area of world class sea cliffs, and eventually led to today’s individual access agreements. And I can bear personal witness to access difficulties at Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire before it was handed over to the National Trust to avoid death duties. When I returned to Leeds from my National Service in Manchester in January 1956, I persuaded my friends in the Rock and Ice Club to visit Brimham. We used to camp at the farm down below the Cubic Block, but from that base wander freely, climbing around the estate. I was one day gob smacked to receive an injunction from the landlord, via his solicitor forbidding me and my friends from visiting Brimham Rocks. We simply ignored this ban and kept on going there, the real reason for his intervention was he felt we should pay him for our visits, although we always did this to the farmer who allowed us to camp on his land. I am sure all will acknowledge the importance of access and conservation, for without the first it is not possible to freely climb, and thinking further about this, when I was at the BMC we obtained from Peter Boydell QC, an opinion as to whether rock climbs could ever be registered as ‘Rights of Way?’. He advised us that if a climb has existed for 20 years or more, it might be. This would be crucial to gain such a legal agreement. We decided not to go ahead and set up a test case to prove this at law, but we would keep it in mind if ever a long traditional climbing area was threatened as to having access removed. And unfortunately the access battles of earlier years might now to be revisited with the present government plan to make Trespassing a criminal offence, allied to a recent ruling in a High Court case that the defendant had the right to develop their property in any way they felt the need to do so!

I do remember when I was Secretary of the Hunt Committee on Mountain Training, when John Hunt and I were drafting our final report he insisted that we include a statement advising all our readers the need to observe and recognise the rights of landowners. I was not as sure as he was about that but obviously as he was the Chair, I demurred. But in retrospect reading The Book Of Trespass one realises that many who do own the land in England obtained it against the wishes and well being of their fellow citizens by using the previously mentioned process of enclosure. What happens to the land is of immense public significance, but in England it has always been categorised as private information. A recent book by Guy Shrubsole ‘Who owns England?’ contains much material which should make Joe Public take note, of how many of the large estates and landowning’s are now registered ‘Off Shore’, pay no tax yet have received large taxpayer funding for many years. And abroad for instance in France if you wish to know the history and who owns certain areas of land, all one needs to do is head for the local Maire. The same is true in some of the States of the USA and in a State like Montana this is available on line.

Nick Hayes is a keen supporter of what he believes are ‘good and rightful’ historic causes; the ladies of Greenham Common in their fight against a nuclear Armageddon, the former migrant camp at Calais where he was a voluntary worker and supporter, the tree huggers in Sheffield fighting to save their wooded street environments, the poor flooded inhabitants of Hebden Bridge, who blame their situation on the management of the moorland above the town by the Walshaw Estate. Extensive burning takes place there each year, to encourage new plant growth to feed the Grouse, ready for the next shooting season, but in doing this it depletes the lands ability to retain water. Which flows off the moor and down into their homes. In the last twenty years, six serious floods have occurred in Hebden, in 2015 over 3,000 houses and businesses were so damaged.

The author’s major cause now is for a new ‘Right to Roam’ campaign. Along with Guy Shrubsole they are promoting this as vigorously as they are able. In countries as different as Sweden, Norway, Finland, Austria, Estonia etc this is the law, and in the Scandinavian countries it is one of long standing. It could have been so here in Britain if the Atlee government of the 1940’s had managed to get such through the House of Lords. They were deflected by the landowners who agreed with the setting up of the National Parks, but who refused to support a general ‘Right to Roam’. Nick Hayes is not calling for a revolution and for landowners to be dispossessed, but he points out so succinctly that the CROW act of 2000 is very much inferior to the Scottish Land Act of 2003 in allowing more and easier access for wild camping and onto hills and rivers. The late Alan Blackshaw played a major role in the drafting of that legislation, and it seems that to win access and or conservation campaigns you need a good acronym! The one that impresses me is STAG (Sheffield Tree Action Group). I think over the CROW act I should remind readers that 2026 is the cut off point for registering footpaths, access routes and rights of way.


Author-Nick Hayes

I return to my belief of the importance of this ‘The Book Of Trespass’. Besides its claim of a need for improved access, it also enhances the way one sees and appreciates landscapes, whilst noting the health promoting effect of direct contact with natural environments for all human beings, bolstered by examining the belief of the Japanese in the beneficial effects of walks and stays in a wood or forest....shinyin yoku. This is a work of great erudition, the research it required is staggering and I must congratulate the author on the finished thought invoking result! 


Dennis Gray: 2020 


Thursday 3 September 2020

Winter 8000: Climbing The World’s Highest Mountains In The Coldest Season: Reviewed


Brief encounter!

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear beginning to live!’...Marcus Aurelis

Bernadette McDonald continues to mine the rich history of the Polish ‘Ice Warriors’ of the 1970’s and 1980’s. For almost twenty years Polish mountaineers dominated the Himalayan winter climbing scene. Surely the most demanding form of climbing physically, and of the fourteen 8000 metre peaks, eight were first ascended by Polish climbers in that season, and a fact that is true, it was the example of that countries mountaineers which inspired other nations to enter this arena. One that is still the case, despite the improvement in equipment and technical knowledge, a form of mountaineering that can only be successfully overcome by those well versed in the art of suffering, whilst facing up to potential wind speeds in excess of 150 kph and temperatures as low as minus 50C.

But why was this type of climbing so suited to Polish-mountaineers? I learned first- hand in 1967 during a visit to their mountain range, the Tatra how hard physically they were. History had dealt them a challenging hand, for in the last war and the subsequent Cold War they were victims of ruthless neighbours, first Nazi Germany, then-Stalinist Russia. In 1967 camping with some of their climbing fraternity one realised how hardy they were, for their equipment was rudimentary, and some had no tent and just slept out covered by a blanket, living mainly on beetroot! This in a mountain area with less settled weather than the Alps; a higher rainfall and in winter almost Himalaya type of conditions.

The Polish climbers were as I learnt on a lecture tour post climbing in the Tatra, very good at ducking and diving and milking the communist system to their benefit. McDonald makes a good job of setting the scene in her introduction to ‘WINTER 8000’ , and she has already made an outstanding contribution in recounting Polish climbing history, for her two previous books ‘Freedom Climbers’(2011) and the ‘Art of Freedom’ (2017) were both Boardman/Tasker prize winners. However the Chair of the Judges at the first of these mused ‘how come a Canadian is writing the history of another-countries climbers?’I guess it is because despite the geographic separation Bernadette finds this history so compelling, and to be fair she is the author in total of eleven books on mountaineering and mountain cultures, the majority of which have little or no Polish connection.

Andrzej Czok and Przemys┼éaw Piasecki, on their way to Camp 2 during the Polish 1985–86 winter Kangchenjunga expedition. Photo: Krzysztof Wielicki Archive.

The story of this book comes to life with the Polish climbers Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy summiting Mount Everest (8,848 metres) 17th February 1980. The leader of this expedition was Andrzej Zawada, and if anyone can be cited as the grandfather of Himalayan winter climbing it is Andrzej, someone who I personally counted a friend and who in 1975 led a party of Polish climbers to visit Britain as guests of the BMC. I remember lively discussions between Dennis Davis and Zawada about if it was possible to climb 8,000 meter peaks in winter, and why any climber would wish to risk such an ascent in the inevitable extreme conditions. Dennis was well versed in Polish climbing for he had lived and worked in that country in the mid-1960’s, based at Oswiecim near Krakow he had climbed regular weekends in the Tatra, including with Kurtyka and Rusieki making the first winter ascent of the super-directissima of the North Face of Mieguszowiski. 

A climb still held in high regard by the Taternik’s. Before the success on Everest, Zawada had built up winter experience on other mountains with a successful climb of Noshaq (7,492) the second highest Peak in the Hindu Kush range in February 1972 and led an attempt on Lhotse in the 1974/5 winter season. One has to agree with the author that he was some kind of visionary, and he had learnt that above all one needed patience for success on such ascents. With days and weeks spent at a lower height and or in a Base Camp waiting for a window of settled weather. But ready to make a summit bid if radioed in with a good weather forecast; such support especially provided for each expedition. By the decade of the 1980’s much was to change for the Polish climbing fraternity, with the political developments brought about by the Solidarity movement, they were now living in a democratic capitalist country. One of the ways that they were able to better finance their climbing was by what we call ‘Access’ work, especially painting and pointing the high factory chimneys around such cities as Katowice.

Post Everest the doors opened for Polish winter climbers, and next was to be Manaslu(8,163metres). An expedition led by Lech Korniszewski, and the summit reached on 12th January 1984 by Maciej Berbeka and RysardGajewski. Followed by Dhaulagiri(8,167 metres) 21st January1985, on an expedition led by Adam Bilczewski and summited by Adrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka. The latter someone who became famous in his quest to be the first to climb all fourteen 8,000 metre peaks. He was the second to do so, and his ascents were notable in that they either were by a new route or in winter. Cho Oyu (8,188 metres) was also ascended in the winter of 1985 and Kanchenjunga on 11th January 1986. Annapurna was to be climbed the next year by an expedition led by Kukuczka, who summited with Artur Hajzer.

Simone Moro on the summit of Shishapangma, having made the first winter ascent with Piotr Morawski on 14 January 2005. Photo: Piotr Morawski.

Post these six winter expeditions, the Poles joined up with other nations climbers to mount expeditions. One of the reasons they did this was because of the need for some hard currency, for the Zloty like the Pound had real difficulties in the 1980’s. Lhotse (8,516 metres) was climbed on 31st December 1988 by a joint Belgian-Polish expedition led by Krzysztof Wielicki (who also summited Everest as above and Kanchenjunga with Kukuczka). Shisapangma (8,027 metres) was climbed on 14th January 2005 by a Polish-Italian expedition, with the summit reached by Piotr Morowaski and Simone Moro.

This latter marked the end of Polish dominance of this field of climbing by the so called ‘golden generation’ of their mountaineers. Adam Bielecki was to observe later, ’Our Winter domination was the fault of Stalin and Beirut because they locked us in a cage. When others were doing the first ascents of the 8,000metre peaks we remained trapped behind the Iron Curtain. When it finally lifted we jumped out of the cage. We were very hungry’ (Beirut was a Stalinist style first President of Poland after the war). It also was the start of a new style of expedition, smaller, more compact, more in the style of Alpine ascents. This was only made possible by improved weather forecasting, and equipment. Makalu (8,485 metres) was the next to be climbed on the 9th February 2009 by an International expedition led by Simone Moro, who summited along with a new 8,000 metre star Denis Urubko. The same team climbed Gasherbrum 11 (8,034 metres) on the 2nd February 2011.

A new Polish winter programme initiated by Artur Hajzer fired up a younger generation of their mountaineers and on the 9th March 2012 during an expedition led by him, Gasherbrum 1 (8,080 metres) was summited by Janusz Golab and Adam Bielecki. Unfortunately Hajzer died in a fall during the expedition. The following year an expedition to Broad Peak (8,051 metres) led by another Polish winter guru Krzysztof Wielicki which was successfully climbed by Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Artur Malek and Tomas Kowalski on 5th March 2013. Finally Nanga Parbat (8,125 metres ) was climbed after many attempts on 26th February 2016 by Alex Txikon, Ali Sandpara and Simone Moro. Included in the new Alpine style of expeditions was a more comfortable life experience whilst waiting out for good weather windows in Base Camps. A generator became de rigeur, providing access to the outside world, with phone connection and social media. Simone Moro it seems is a star on these latter with so many likes and followers he could be a part of a cutting edge Rock Band.

Only K2 (8,611 metres) remains of the 8000 Peaks to be climbed in winter but this is not from want of trying. Polish, Russian, Italian and International teams have all tried. Zawada inevitably was drawn to this mountain of mountains and put together a joint Polish/Canadian/British attempt in 1987/8 where the realities of the geographic situation of this mountain, being further north than Everest, and its higher reaches swept by winds emanating from Sibera have made it the most challenging of all the winter objectives. However the Poles have announced they will make another attempt in the coming winter 2020/1.

Climbers on the Polish 1979–80 winter Everest expedition in base camp, listening for messages from their families and friends back home. Photo: Ryszard Szafirski.

There is so much more to McDonald’s book than I have so far intimated, in some aspect it is a grim ‘thanatos’ story with death a possibility looming on almost every other page. In Appendix A at the rear of the work is the list of the climbers involved in this story. And of all the climbing games, attempting the highest peaks in the Himalaya in winter must be the most dangerous. More than a dozen have died in this form of mountaineering some of whom were well known names to British climbers: Anatoli Boukreev the elite Kazakh alpinist died in a winter attempt on Annapurna on Christmas Day 1997, Jerzy (Jurek) Kukucska one of the stars of Himalayan winter climbing died on Lhotse in 1989, and Wanda Rutkiewicz disappeared on Kanchenjunga in 1992. Wanda was one of the key note speakers at one of the BMC National Conferences in Buxton. And her mountaineering record was impressive, for she had climbed eight of the 8,000 metre peaks, including the first female ascent of K2, and when she was in the UK we intended to do some climbing in the Peak but as usual the weather in mid-March, the time of the Conference it was too bad.

There is however much that it is uplifting in this story not least the rescue by four climbers taking part in a winter K2 Polish expedition which also included Denis Urubko, who left that mountain to take part in the rescue high on Nanga Parbat in 2018, of the French female climber Elisabeth Revolv. Her partner had died and through a super human effort, Adam Bielecki and the ethnic Russian Urubko raced up thousands of feet to reach her, for she was too high for a helicopter rescue. Revolv eventually made a complete recovery and returned to Himalayan climbing.

Inevitably in such a demanding arena there are personality clashes, and though McDonald does not over egg these she does cover them with some diplomacy. One dispute is to whether winter ascents in the Himalaya should cover the Calendar winter, starting on 21st December and finishing 21st March, or the Meteorological –winter, starting 1st December and to be completed by the end of February. Simone Moro who has made first ascents of four winter 8000 metre peaks is a proponent of the latter view, and he has carried out quite a strong campaign over this, disputing winter ascents made in March! This has not enamoured him to those making such claims.

8000 WINTER is I believe the most outstanding work of McDonald’s three Polish mountaineering history books. Her research and detail is so thorough, the only weakness is in the writing up of dialogue. It seems that Polish mountaineer’s in particular only talk to each other in platitudes? ‘Have you put your down trousers on?’ is a typical example of a Base Camp call to a climber at a camp higher up the mountain. I suspect that like British climbers in such a stressful situation the language would be more- fruity!

I will finish by quoting directly from WINTER 8000, as a tribute to those climbing friends from that ‘Golden Generation’ of Polish mountaineers including Andrzej (who succumbed to cancer in 2000), Tadeuz who died on K2 and Wanda who disappeared on Kanchenjunga in 1992; ‘These imperfect tales are all that we have and in sharing them, we can try to understand the souls of the Ice Warriors, those men and women who find the greatest fulfilment in the highest mountains in the coldest, shortest, darkest days: the cruel days of winter’

Climbing on Manaslu, winter 1983–84. Photo: Lech Korniszewski.

Everything about WINTER 8000 is excellent, as someone who once studied graphic design I think Vertebrate have excelled themselves on this production; and it is for me their best yet.

Winter 8000.Climbing The World’s Highest Mountains In The Coldest Season. Bernadette McDonald.256 pages black and white text including some relevant pictures plus 2x8 page inserts of colour prints, case bound with dust jacket cover. £24.

Dennis Gray: 2020