I hike barefoot. That’s right, barefoot as in skin on the ground, not as in stupid rubber gloves for feet. My biggest bugbear in places like the Lake District, the Highlands and many other beauty spots is the sheer amount of sharp ballast, grit gravel and other unwanted stonework dropped on the paths to try & prevent erosion, often using 4x4 vehicles, or even helicopters, which while they may not churn up the ground are a massive waste of fuel. And the crowning irony is, I notice that even the boot wearers tend to avoid these surfaces because they are unpleasant to walk on! So the net result is is simply to spread erosion out.
I met a man up near the summit of Coniston Old Man, who as some people do, took the opportunity to make some remark about my hiking barefoot. Putting on my most serious face I said, “Haven’t you heard? The park authorities have brought in a new rule to combat erosion, you have to walk barefoot or face a £200 fine for wearing boots.” He looked at me thoughtfully a moment and then said very firmly, “Ill pay the fine!”. Ironically, his dog was barefoot, and was enjoying himself just fine.
OK, I’m an eccentric outlier, but in the end, the only answer to these problems of human impact on the environment is to go quietly, softly and less often to the most vulnerable places. Just like the only real solution to car/cyclist conflict is less use of cars. It’s the attitude fight that matters, not the rules and regulations. Now I know I am seen by most as an extreme (nut) case, but even so it is not impossible to change attitudes. On a hike some years ago, I met a young woman who expressed astonishment and scepticism at the whole idea of barefoot hiking. It was an out and back hike. On the way back, I glimpsed her walking along a parallel route . . . barefoot. That’s just one person, but whole groups can also change. Changing attitudes to smoking, seatbelts etc are often mentioned on here, when discussing the possibility of changing attitudes to cycling. It can be done. The running world has not gone entirely barefoot, and I don’t suppose it, or the hiking world, ever will, but the ‘barefoot running’ movement did lead to lighter and saner approaches to running shoe design.
My emotional reaction is outrage that anyone would do anything so arrogant and stupid, but my reasoned thought is that the ‘4WD’s in the Lake District’ problem is about shifting wider social attitudes toward an understanding of the importance of low impact activities. It’s a very big job. But it is doable.
And if you want a real off road adventure . . . take your shoes off!
Ok, I’ll ramble off into the mist now . . .