Dear Mr Turner,
Re: Your plans to install 8 separate zip wires across Thirlmere, in the Lake District. This is published as an open letter.
“Come take a walk with me” *, and I’ll show you some of the most beautiful vistas in the Lake District, and share some of its natural secrets. The photo above is the most important photo I may have ever taken, and you will understand why, far better than many people. It shows my 5 year old daughter in the old bothy building above the Western shore of Thirlmere, formerly Countess Ossalinsky’s Summer House, and she’s writing a note to you. Her handwriting is shaky, her letters slightly mis-formed, but her writing is crystal clear. If you take the time to read this letter, you will find out what she wrote to you.
We live in an era that is technologically connected, social media is all pervasive, and where it is people rather than landscapes, who are often labelled as ‘national treasures’. I believe our National Parks are truer national treasures, than the often cited Joanna Lumley, Richard Attenborough, or Mary Berry. Our national parks should be revered, lauded and protected even more closely. Should anything happen to one of our celebrity ‘national treasures’, the nation would be in mourning or uproar. You plan to deface the landscape and soundscape of Thirlmere forever, installing 8 zip wires across this beautiful vista. Your plans attack a real national treasure, and strike at the heart of all our values.
This letter isn’t a personal attack against you. I’ve never met you, and I doubt our paths will ever cross. Your plans are a personal attack on a place that thousands visit each year, to escape the real and electronic noise of their worlds. Your plans are a personal attack on the wellbeing of us all, for your personal financial gain. There is nothing that gives you the right to damage the stunning national treasure that is Thirlmere. The ethics of even dreaming to steal the peace and tranquility of this area, to endanger the habitats of so many endangered species, gives us an insight into your true values.
Your company has the word ‘adventure’ in it’s title, but permit me a moment to explain what adventure is to you. The world is full of self-styled adventurers, and outdoor ambassadors, yet it only took my daughter to show me what true adventure was. She led me to this remote bothy, high above Thirlmere, delighting in seeing red squirrels, a peregrine falcon, and hearing the hoot of an owl. She spotted different mosses, noted that larches shed their needles, and drew a map of her exploration on the back of an envelope in her pocket. She searched for Gruffalo tracks, sniffed pine cones, and got her waterproofs all muddy. She ran ahead, she sat on a rock, she laughed, and she was still. Once back home and tucked up in bed, she told me a story about the day, re-living her adventures above Thirlmere, as she fell asleep.
So, adventure is discovery, and that necessitates exploration, with an uncertain outcome. Your zip wires offer no adventure to anyone. The Lake District does not require any physical installations, to make it an activity capital. We possess the landscape, forged by volcanic activity, scoured by the holocene era glaciations, and currently eroded by becks and ghylls, frost action and wind. The landscape is the unique installation that we have already been gifted. We can already enjoy it, and find our own adventures in it, by whatever means we have available to us; in walking boots, on mountain bike, in fell running shoes, on horseback, or by canoe or paraglider. Our adventures leave no trace. Once we have left, there is no sign we were ever there. Each experience was unique, with each adventure carved by the individual.
Adventure cannot be created, packaged, and delivered. Each person can forge their own experience with the landscape, some by sitting still watching the nature and weather, others painting or photographing, or some physically challenging themselves in the mountains, perhaps running over the Helvellyn fell tops, or cycling over Dunmail Raise. Your plans offer no adventure to me or my daughter. There would be no exploration, and no uncertainty in the outcome of the activity. The grandeur of the Thirlmere landscape requires no installation to enjoy it more. Your plans would detract from the enjoyment of thousands.
So what did my daughter write to you, without assistance or persuasion? Simply this; “Freya, Age 5, no zip”… There’s also a line drawing of a heart, and a picture of her toy duck. She loves them, but your plans weigh equally on the mind of a 5 year old. You seek to steal a place where she knows what true adventure is. You upset her. As a father, I could not look her straight in the eyes, unless I fought to protect her values and rights. In the future I dream of her showing her friends or children, the Thirlmere landscapes that her values helped save.
I hope 2018 brings a golden new dawn for Thirlmere, and that the only ‘gold’ made from this landscape doesn’t line your pockets, but the hearts and minds of young true adventurers who immerse themselves in this unique and beautiful landscape.
Mr Turner, you have a fight on your hands. When a 5 year old has better ethics than you, it’s time for some deep introspection. “You’ll never take a walk with me…” *
P.S. For anyone reading this open letter, the deadline for writing objections to the Lake District National Park authority is 12 Jan 2018. You can even simply e-mail them. For advice on how to write an objection, see the excellent summary written by the charity Friends of the Lake District; link.
Note * = credited to the opening and closing lines of Pink’s song Dear Mr President view lyrics here, which is equally poignant and thoughtful, and has many subtle parallels to this debate.
Thank you so much for such a thought provoking and moving open letter to Mike Turner of Treetop Trek (TTT). Your daughter’s input embraces the purity and natural richness of Thirlmere. Your point about what adventure is really all about is so well expressed in my opinion.
I was very involved with the community of Glenridding when TTT wanted to install 4 one mile zip wires in the open landscape of our valley in 2014. We won and our valley has been saved.
In his submission to the LDNPA Mike Turner has stated that there is a group of people who are against zip wires. He is wrong. We had discussions with hundreds of people and not one was against zip wires per se. There are however many people who are against zip wires in the open landscape of the LD National Park. When Mike Turner gets it he will stop tilting at windmills and identify suitable places for these installations.
Thanks again for such a good open letter.
PS I submitted my objection to the LDNPA a few weeks ago (6 pages!).
Thank you for your heartfelt letter. I have also sent my dreams of Thirlmere to LDNPA, hoping that I have expressed my longing for it to remain unsullied, but fearing that it will not be read, that it will be lost in the outpouring of anger, that it will be smothered by the “commercial realities” of making the Lake District “earn its keep”. I love the area because it has been shaped not just by nature but by man’s hand in trying to carve out a living. It is a real and living example of symbiosis between the two, of how “commercial realities” can still leave mankind with a respect for the land, and of how nature can recover from the most unfeeling discourtesies. The old stone walls show how one generation builds for the next, handing on a legacy not just of financial gain but of intimacy with the landscape. As many aboriginal peoples would express it, the land does not belong to us, but we belong to it. The old stone bothies embody that graft, that love, that “hefting”, so to see the one at the top of the new road to Fisher Crag at risk of erosion and collapse because of the uncaring way United Utilities’ carried out their evident preparatory work for the zip lines installation shows how little that symbiosis means to them and to Treetop Trek. I struggle to express how I feel, seeing that desecration, but it is perhaps best expressed by how Lawrence described why he loved the Arabian desert, when there was nothing there: “It is clean.” The zip wire would change that. And if Mike Turner does not understand, he does not belong.
Well said. How elequent. You have summed it up. You speak for a nation. All best wishes.