Tuesday 31 October 2023

#084 The Ranger Ultras (Day Race) Compulsory Kit List - Dissected

Today I'm going to jump into the Corryvreckan and chat about kit lists in trail running.
More specifically, the compulsory kit list for Ranger Ultras' day races.

Designing kit lists is a minefield of opinions, often polarised, a thankless task and impossible to navigate without someone being upset. So, in this blog, I'll share the rationale behind the RU kit list, how it is designed to suit the RU ethos and why it needs to apply equally to everyone. Then we'll look in detail, item by item. 

Why even have a kit list?
Why indeed? Shouldn't an event just let everyone do what they like and participants take personal responsibility for their choices? 

That's all very laissez faire and it would indeed be much simpler for Race Organisers to take this line. But how this would stand up and be defensible in a court of law if something went wrong? Not a situation any event organiser wants to be in to find out.

Similarly, a 'recommended kit list' not enforceable in the race rules would have, for me, potentially concerning implications, no matter what caveats are in place. Especially where there is not a mechanism to prevent participants heading out in conditions for which they are obviously inappropriately equipped or dressed.

Ok, so why not fully specify each item by make and model?
Of course, I'm being flippant and not seriously suggesting such. Neither am I aware of any trail running event which has done so. However, I'm illustrating the implications of the completely opposite stance to participants doing whatever they like. Here, the act of being so proscriptive is taking away the element of personal choice and preference of kit which is best suited to the individual. By doing so, the responsibility for the outcome of using that equipment is shifted onto, if not further towards, the organiser. 

Informed Consent
So we return to the spectrum of the middle ground. 
Here are the factors which have gone into formulating the Ranger Ultras kit list.

  • RU trail races are proudly promoted as welcoming and accessible to trail running newbies as well as offering adventure and enjoyment to experienced runners alike. 
  • As such there is a broad span of ability and experience among participants.
  • The RU kit list is applied equally and therefore fairly to all participants.
  • It is very obvious that it would be completely impractical and unworkable to have different levels of kit list for participants of differing paces or abilities.
  • Being a faster runner is not a justification for not carrying kit.
  • RU races are generally held in the spring and autumn shoulder seasons, where a variety of weather conditions can present differently year on year.
  • The RU kit list is reasonable and proportional to carry in the potential weather conditions, such that the list can be published months in advance, allowing participants time to acquire and test their kit.
  • The RU kit list for one race is readily transferrable to another, so that there are not multiple variants. (With the exception of non-stop, expedition-style events where there are additional items)
  • The RU kit list is as least onerous as possible, given that obtaining kit and equipment can be costly and a barrier to participation.
  • In fulfilling the requirements of the kit list, there is an strong element of personal choice in terms of make and model of items.
  • There are additional explanatory notes beside the kit list to help participants.
  • Informed consent. Within the context of the race and actual forecasted weather conditions, participants are responsible for their level clothing protection selected on on the day. 
  • The RU kit list is appropriate, not just for when the participant is moving, but also to protect the participant in circumstances where movement is compromised or no longer possible.
  • Not intending to be injured, or the unlikeliness of such, is not a justification for not carrying kit. 
  • The RU kit list is developed and reviewed with the collective input of mountain professionals, mountain rescue personnel and experienced trail runners.
  • The RU kit list is described as the minimum standard to pass kit check. All the items are compulsory and be worn/carried by each individual participant. Participants may choose to add to the list if they wish.
  • Informed consent. The race brief and kit list are freely and easily available to participants prior to entry.
  • There remains an element of personal responsibility for each participant to ensure that their level of kit and clothing as a minimum meets the compulsory kit list, then is additionally supplemented according to their individual needs. 

The RU Compulsory Kit List - Item by item

1) Suitable backpack - large enough to fit all the kit list items, which is what you would reasonably and foreseeably carry on a shoulder-season full trail day. But it doesn't need to be a monster. 

2) Waterproof jacket - must have an attached hood. Beware of going too lightweight.
Note: Windproof and water resistant jackets are not waterproof and will fail kit check.
Note: Paramo and similar recognised quality mountain jackets are not taped seams, but will be acceptable. Users should be aware of the limitations of the Paramo system.
Tip: If in doubt about your jacket not being waterproof, look it up on the manufacturers website.
Tip: A good way to ensure your jacket is waterproof is that it has taped seams (noting that Paramo mountain jackets does not have taped seams).
Tip:  Beware of going too lightweight. In some years we have had very wet, windy and cold conditions where participants with ultralight clothing has become waterlogged. So you're not committing to being cold from the outset, choose a more robust mid-weight waterproof, or bring one as an alternative which is appropriate for the weather.

3) Waterproof trousers - possible to save money and weight here with a lighter pair. 

4) Insulating hat & gloves - are essential. Around 10% of heat loss is through the head and if your hands are cold, you loose dexterity. A back up / second warmer pair of gloves are recommended if the temperatures and wind chill feels Baltic, or you suffer from circulation issues. Many participants have found that sticky-thinny gloves are just not good enough for all day in the wet & cold. A buff does not count as a hat. Having your hat & gloves in a readily accessible pocket, or clipped in, means you're more likely to put them on when you actually need them.

5) Wicking base layer - to be worn. But if you know that you sweat freely, having a second in your pack is a sensible option if you start to become chilled or immobile.

6) Long sleeve mid-layer - i.e. your choice of insulation layer. Can be fleece, Primaloft etc. Either worn or in your pack. However, this is where personal choice and self-responsibility come in: If the weather on the day is cold enough to need to wear it at the start, would it be sensible to add an back up layer in your race pack?

7) Appropriate footwear for trail running - i.e. trainers or lightweight boot hybrids with a trail grip sole. Ranger Ultras courses follow paths & trails which are rights of way. In any one course there are combinations of soft trail, mud, grass, gravel, hard pack, bedrock, some tarmac, flat, rolling hills, technical ascents and descents. Hence, road shoes or trail shoes with no grip left are not acceptable.

8) Maps - in each event kit list the OS and Harvey's maps to cover the course are listed. 

  • You have a choice of the commonly available OS 1:25,000, OS 1:50,000, Harveys 1:25,000, Harveys 1:40,000 scale maps which are designed for navigation use.
  • These are to be carried as a hard copy. 
  • Some of these maps are available in waterproof versions. Some are also in booklet form.
  • If your map is not waterproof, you have a choice of using a map case, or other method of waterproofing such as laminating. But one way or the other, your map must be waterproofed.
  • You may also print out your map from an app. But is must be at a navigable scale and be of a navigable type listed above. Print outs must also be waterproofed.
  • Not acceptable, these will all fail kit check: Road atlas style maps. Google map prints. Aerial maps. Maps not printed at a navigable scale. Maps not showing navigable features. Side profile ascent diagrams. 
  • You may also have your map loaded onto an optional electronic device. But you must still carry a hard copy.
9) Navigation compass - a baseplate design. So a button compass will not pass kit check. If your compass is old, check whether the needle still points to north. If you're looking for a new all-round compass, with useful features, the Silva Expedition / Expedition 4 (civilian degrees version) is a good choice. A navigation compass must still be carried even if your primary navigation method is an electronic device.

10) Head torch & spare batteries - there's now a wide selection of commercially available battery powered & rechargeable head torches. The intent in the kit list options below is that you have a primary and a useable back up in the event of battery or charge depletion. So you can continue to safely navigate the course, or in extremis signal for help. Choose from...
  • Battery powered head torch with spare batteries carried.
  • Rechargeable head torch with a spare rechargeable battery
  • Rechargeable head torch with a separate power bank – the head torch must still be functional while charging.
  • Rechargeable head torch with a second back up head torch.
  • Tip: Even with the above options satisfied, in the event of all other contingencies failing, a Petzl e-lite is a cheap and very light weight emergency head torch.  
  • Note: A mobile phone torch does not count as a primary or back up and will fail kit check. As you may also need all the available charge on this in an emergency situation to call for help.
11) Whistle - needs to be nice and loud in the context of signaling for help. Some of the very cheap whistles are woefully quiet.

12) Emergency bivvy bag - This can either be one of the cheaper brightly coloured plastic survival bags, or a reusable bivvy bag. Foil blankets will fail kit check as they have been proven to be inadequate at retaining heat in a exposed, outdoor environment. Tip: a bit more expensive, but small and light are single use Sol bivvy bags. Just make sure you keep it dry, as the material degrades, becoming fragile, if stored in damp conditions.

13) Fluid container - your choice of bottles or bladder

14) Emergency hill food - your choice of type

15) Personal first aid kit - with contents for typical outdoor uses: Cuts, abrasions, blisters. Don't forget any personal medication and personal items. Glasses & contact lens wearers, should carry a back up if long sight or map reading is compromised without them. 

16) Mobile phone - fully charged. With race HQ emergency number, given at registration, loaded into contacts.

Optional Items

Electronic navigation devices - we're not at all sniffy or elitist when it comes to electronic devices. We regularly use them ourselves and acknowledge that for many participants they will be the primary navigation method. Which is absolutely fine. But, despite manufacturers guarantees, electronic kit does fail. Hence, we will continue to have paper map and compass as part of the kit list.
Also, electronic kit is far more expensive than the traditional map & compass. Price of kit is a financial barrier to trail running, so we do not make GPS devices compulsory on our day races. 

Unbreakable mug - we're doing all we can to eliminate plastic waste on our events. This is still a work in progress. But one aspect were actively promoting is participants bring their own unbreakable mug for on-course refreshments such as soup and other hot drinks.

Walking poles - these are fine to use. Please be careful and aware of other runners and members of the public, in front and behind, especially at the start or in proximity to others on the course.

What can I do to make sure I pass kit check?

In designing the RU Compulsory Kit list, our primary motivation is your safety and well-being. As well as that of your fellow participants and the on-course safety team. The decision of the Safety Team Kit Checkers is final, but we're not being pedantic, devilish or trying to spoil your day. Treating the kit list in the spirit it is intended, rather than something to be angry about and try to beat, will make everyone's experience on race day smooth and stress-free. So we can all crack on with enjoying our trail running.

  • Review the kit list well in advance of race day
  • If concerned about an item passing kit check, first look it up on the manufacturers website.
  • No sharing of any item in the kit list, you must personally have each item 
  • Gather the kit items in one place
  • Check that each item complies, eg rain jacket with hood
  • Check that items work, eg headtorch is not kaput
  • Allow time to buy and test replacement item(s)
  • Ensure your map meets the kit list standard
  • Ensure your headtorch & back up meets kit list standard
  • Ensure you bring a survival bag
  • Trail shoes not road shoes
  • Double check you have all items before leaving home
  • Arrive at kit check with items ready to show in a box or large shopping bag. This definitely helps, as the checkers can clearly see all the items are present and speeds up the process. 
Help us to help you
Most participants accept the list without needing to question it's integrity. Questions checking compliance are of course perfectly fine. But each race edition, there is an inevitability of email requests for individual special exemptions for not carrying items on the compulsory kit list. This diverts a huge amount of time away from essential build-up activities.

The rationale behind the list only works if it applies without fear or favour and equally to all. participants. I'm sure you'd rather the team were able to fully focus on preparations which benefit everyone and make the best trail race experience we can provide.

In conclusion
So, hopefully by now, we've illustrated the considerations and complexities of the thought and attention to detail that goes into making a trail race kit list. Other race organisers will have their own take on this process, which will be suited to their preferences. But we're happy that the result for Ranger Ultras is reasonable and proportionate for our events.

Happy trails
The RUSTies
(Ranger Ultras Safety Team)

Friday 29 September 2023

#083 Sycamore Gap, or just another Cecil?

A solitary tree framed each side by geological folds on a craggy escarpment, growing atop the most well know of Roman boundaries.

Source credit: Wikipedia
It’s easy to see how the Sycamore Gap tree became imbued with meaning and symbolism as well as being so perfectly photogenic in all seasons. Accessible by a short walk and thanks in no small way to the film Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves it attracted visitors and tourists from around the world. It’s mere existence has quite simply brought pleasure to many people.

Not at all starstuck

My own memories are associated with being asked to guide a walk for a well-known outdoor clothing company, who’s attending ambassador was a veteran of British mountaineering in the 1960’s, 70’s & 80’s. Make no bones about it, my presence was little more than ticking the insurance box. Although it was a pleasant morning walk along Hadrian’s Wall in fresh winter sunshine. With the requisite group photo at the Sycamore Gap tree.

Yet, the Sycamore Gap icon is no more. Felled by chainsaw under cover of darkness, in an act of apparent vandalism by a 16 year old boy. The destruction has, quite justifiably, led to outrage, incomprehension and sadness. 

But will the Sycamore Gap incident fade to another moment in time such as Cecil The Lion did?

In 2015, a lion was lured out of the protected area in Hwange National Park and shot dead by Walter Palmer, a bow-hunter who had travelled from America to Zimbabwe for the purpose trophy hunting.

Source credit: Wikipedia

The lion was much the same as any other successful male. Having asserted his strength and guile to win the battle of natural selection, establishing a pride and siring cubs. To the guides and rangers, he was well-studied. In essence, in his maturity, Cecil had become an icon.

The manner of his slaying was unspeakably cruel and gave rise to international condemnation and outrage. After the first arrow wounded Cecil, he lived for nearly 12 hours until killed by a second fatal arrow. There were calls for trophy hunting to be banned and renewed campaigning for much tighter restrictions on international shipping of animal trophy products. Especially so, given that the global lion population has fallen by 43% in the past twenty years. Palmer, from Minnesota, had to suspend his dental practice and go into hiding. The trophy hunting industry also found itself under scrutiny. 

Eight years on from Cecil, very little has changed. Trophy hunting is locally reduced in Zimbabwe, but its proponents generally keep a low profile and the killing still goes on unabated elsewhere in Africa.

So what has a long dead lion got to do with a tree in Northumberland?

Just last week the guardian reported that one in six species native to Britain are in danger of becoming extinct. 


The feature faded into the archive of news, with few ripples of shock or upset. It illustrates our complex and seemingly contrary relationship we have with nature. People focus on icons of individuality, because the big picture is too overwhelming. 

Take another example. For as long as I can remember, conservation charities have been campaigning to save the Amazon rainforest…and donate money to the cause! But here we are, globally rainforest is still being cut down at an appalling rate. If the jungles of Brazil and Indonesia are too abstract and conveniently far away, look closer to home. These days, in Britain, the great boreal forest casts few shadows. Only 2.5% of the land is still covered by ancient woodland. Somewhat less now that the white elephant of HS2 has ploughed its way through. 

In the past 100 years the natural world has been shockingly degraded and the rate of destruction continues unabated. Why should the vandalism of one sycamore tree make any difference? 

Of course whatever the reasons, vandalism is a selfish act of disaffection which impoverishes life for everyone else. What of littering? Is this not also an act of vandalism? Look at the state of roadside verges. Or, the discarded refuse of fly campers in the Peak District. Should there be any less outrage at these insults to nature? This is before we get onto large scale ecological vandalism and residual pollution left by industry and corporations. 

Photo credit: S Westfield
(I did clear it up after the dirty bastards)

Yes, I’m a hypocrite, the components of the laptop I am now using are a direct product of this process. I’ve not even looked at how much palm oil is used in the food I buy. And I drive a fossil fuel car because, as an unpaid carer for over fifty hours a week, I can afford neither the cost or the practicalities of an electric one. No one gets a free pass on these issues.

Sycamores do sprout regrowth shoots, although maybe there will be calls to replace the Sycamore Gap tree with a similarly mature one. At what no doubt would be considerable expense. Certainly, I would understand the sentiment behind this and any motivation from the tourism sector. The outcome, situation normalized, carry on as you were.

However, I advocate to leave the site as it is, complete with felled tree. A monument to destruction, a symbolic spike in the conscience. A metaphor for what we have lost and continue to lose.

Sometimes, it is one distinct action, that can be picked out as a tipping point of change. It is our choice to decide how this moment influences our relationship with nature. 

Time will only tell whether Sycamore Gap will be a rallying cry for the natural world. 

Or just another Cecil.

Friday 16 June 2023

#082 A Morning At The Museum

The Golden Mummies OF Egypt

I love visiting museums. Especially those which tell the human story in ethnographic artefacts and also have natural history themes. Recently I had a couple of hours free time in Manchester, which happily coincided with the Golden Mummies Of Egypt exhibition.

This exhibition focuses upon the later Greek & Roman pharonic period (circa 300BC to 600AD). On show, of course, is the amazing artisanal craftmanship of the iconic gold funerary masks and intricate symbolism painted on sarcophagi. 

There are also, artefacts which give us insights into the beliefs and daily lives of people outside of the elite priesthood. We see a social stratigraphy of administrators, clerks, workers, servants and slaves. 

Evidence of metal working, originally excavated by Flinders Petrie during the 1880's, can be seen in the Ancient Egypt And Sudan permanent exhibits.

However, for me the most captivating artefacts of the special exhibition were the anatomically realistic carvings and portrait panels, originally incorporated into the mummification process. These showed an idealised image of the deceased features and finest clothing style, as how they wanted to present themselves in the afterlife.

Nuggets of Wisdom

As well as the exotic, Manchester Museum also has a fine selection of paleo and archaeological artefacts found in the surrounding counties. These piece together to form our story, from a time where giant tree ferns grew, then decayed into coal. To when lion, hyena and wooly mammoth roamed the Peak District and were hunted by Neanderthals. 

Memories of Africa 

On expeditions, I've been extremely fortunate to spend many happy days in sub-Saharan national parks.  The 'super-seven' is a wildlife enthusiasts version of the 'Big 5', which adds cheetah and wild dog to lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and African buffalo. There have been several occasions where I've been in the right place but, alas, not the right time to see African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus). 

When I see taxidermy of creatures, it brings such sadness at the pain and destruction that was caused. The specimens in Manchester are historic, from a time of differing cultural values to those held by most people these days. I say 'most' because there remains a small sick minority who enjoy killing endangered species for fun. 

Which makes my final choice of exhibit to share all the more poignant.

Last year I tracked down the very rare remains of a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) to the
University College London Zoological Museum 
At the time I didn't realise there was a specimen closer to home in Manchester.

The story of the thylacine is heart breaking. After dying out in Australia and New Guinea, probably due to indigenous human encroachment accompanied by dingoes, it's last stronghold was Tazmania. This carnivorous marsupial came into human-wildlife conflict when it was blamed for sheep deaths by European Settlers leading to a bounty of £1 being paid for the head of each adult thylacine.

Persecuted and relentlessly hunted, transmissible canine distemper and habitat destruction did the rest. The last known living thylacine died in Tasmania at the Hobart Zoo in 1936.

Stu Westfield

Friday 12 May 2023

#081 Why Is Conservation Failing?

In 2016 I wrote the blog Expeditions, Projects & Extinctions. It was, in part, a contemporary view on wildlife and habitat conservation. Seven years on, it’s time to revisit this subject.

The intervening years have seen the world go through the Covid pandemic and then be plunged into  energy market price inflation and food production instability. This has manifested itself within the United Kingdom as the cost of living crisis. To some extent, our current situation was precipitated by war in the Ukraine. But there are other deeper rooted causes. 

What has all this to do Conservation? 

The natural world is inextricably connected and affected by global geopolitics as well as domestic government policies. We’re not just talking here about the obvious: Such as burning fossil fuels for energy production, or whether there really are any green alternatives which can match the exponentially growing demand for electrical power. It may seem abstract, but it is basic things like people’s health and wellbeing which are a truer litmus of conservation and it’s potential.

The recent David Attenborough series Wild Isles showcased the beauty, spectacle and wonder of our domestic wildlife. The tenacity and talent invested throughout the production came across in every frame. Wild Isles also broke new ground in its narration timbre, consistently informing viewers of the precarious state of degraded and polluted ecosystems in the United Kingdom. Reading the reviews, this approach was too much for some, didn’t go far enough for others.

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

But the statistics show that, as a whole, conservation efforts are failing to prevent habitat and species losses on a catastrophic scale. The dedication of scientists, rangers, custodians and volunteer groups is simply is not enough to halt this trend. Twenty three years on, David Attenborough’s closing address in State Of The Planet has become even more prescient

“The future of life on earth depends upon our ability to take action. Many individuals are doing what they can, but real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics. I’ve been lucky in my lifetime to see some of the greatest spectacles that the natural world has to offer. Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy and inhabitable by all species” – Sir David Attenborough (State Of The Planet, in closing. November 2000)

However, for anyone who campaigns for the environment and by extension, the future of our species, there is a question which should be asked.

Why would a hard working member of the public care about anything you are saying when their thoughts and actions are wholly preoccupied with putting food on the table, clothing their kids and paying the utility bills. 

Bit too strongly worded? Until conservation can win wholescale support from the population, it will continue to be a by-word for management of base-line shift towards irreversible habitat loss and consequential species extinction.

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

So let’s look at some of the reasons why people have neither the capacity or ability to engage with conservation. Without addressing these issues, there’s not going to be any meaningful progression onto inclination and choice. Only then, with understanding, comes love and value. 

Within the context of my own experiences and other insights, I’ll also share the rationale behind some the choices I have made to directly and indirectly support people and conservation. 

Circular Signposting.

I am a carer for my wife, who has suffered irreversible decline in health due to complications which originated with cancer and its treatment fifteen years ago. To the extent that, for some time, she has had persistent, chronic pain and is registered disabled. I’m not fishing for a pity party here and I am very much aware that there are people who are considerably worse off than us. But being an unpaid, non-voluntary carer, has an undeniable impact upon our choices and opportunities. After prompting by friends, I have looked at what help is available specifically for carers. My experience of this is so deeply shocking that I could easily write a whole feature on this alone. 

The only conclusion I have reached is: Unpaid carers, the sooner you abandon hope, the quicker you reach acceptance and the realisation that there is no provision for you. 

As a brief illustration, there are several organizations to which the UK Government signposts carers. These are very good at signposting onwards, without doing anything useful in terms of actual help or assistance. If you follow the trail to its conclusion you end up back at the UK Government website. 

Some crumbs are out there, but they are so narrowly targeted as to be inaccessible. 

Flippantly, it all starts to sound like: Were you a nurse, working in Edinburgh, between the December 1970 and January 1971? Then you can fill out this lengthy form and see if you’re eligible for £300 towards a new boiler.

Source credit: Carers UK

Annually, around 4.3 million people become unpaid carers (source: Petrillo and Bennett, 2022). With such high barriers to accessing welfare, many of these folks are simply existing. It’s delusional to think that they will give anything other than a passing thought about the amount of untreated effluent the water companies are discharging into Britain’s rivers and coastline. 

Food banks.

In 2022/23 approximately 2.99 million people used a foodbank in the United Kingdom, an increase when compared with the previous year. Between 2008/09 and 2020/21, the number of foodbank users increased in every year, from just under 26,000 to more than 2.56 million. (source: Statista, 2023).

“When it first opened, pre-Covid, our food bank was serving mostly homeless people. These days, most of those coming through the door are people working full-time” – CNN Business, on food banks in Doncaster. May 2023

So many people are now having to choose between affording to heat their homes or buying food. When faced with such an existential crisis, do they care if salmon numbers in the Spey have been decimated? 

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

In January 2022 a survey found that 30% of nurses had difficulty paying for food, and that 14% were relying on food banks. (source: Nursing Times, January 2023)

"To have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are." - Jacob Rees-Mogg, Member Of Parliament, 2017

The fact that food banks have become normalized and working people from diverse professions require them is an absolute tragedy. That the Government have simultaneously failed to address the causes of this and actually say their existence is a good thing, shows a deep disconnect and inconsiderate disregard for their constituents. 

Source credit: The Russell Trust

A persistent agenda promoted by Government policies and certain elements of the tabloid press has been the demonization of the desperate and vulnerable. Shaming and making them pariahs, as if they are deserving of their circumstances. It’s a nasty and vindictive strategy of setting people against people. 

Source credit: TUC

But this only works for as long as those on the receiving end are few and have no voice. Now the numbers are rising into tens of millions. Lets stop listening to the bile and point the finger back at the true architects of this hatred and propaganda.

Mental Health Care.

At the Peak Centre in Edale, where I work as a freelance instructor a couple of afternoons each week, we frequently welcome organizations with guests from challenging backgrounds or in recovery from traumatic life events. The Peak Centre is not operated as a therapeutic venue, per se. But its location and facilities do offer space and tranquility which is appreciated by many. Post-Covid it became noticeable how many young people had been affected in negative ways by the lockdowns and absence of in-person social contact.

When the opportunity arose, I enrolled on a funded three month online mental health first aid course. The course was assessed, requiring some proper learning input and the potential for good was obvious. However, when it came to ongoing help for folks in crisis, we might as well have been reading a fairy story, full of catchy phrases like holistic care, mental health continuum and signposting. Yes, that word again. Which, when you take an in depth look at mental health care provision, these words are actually an aspiration, an ideal, which rarely matches reality.

Source credit: Champion Health

The cost of living crisis, so soon after Covid, has caused terrible anxiety and widespread mental health illness. It is also known is that stress on this level can and does also give rise to physical illness. Despite a few weaselly words, little action is being taken by politicians. They’ve been more interested in appropriating taxpayers money and lining their own pockets with lucrative PPE and other dodgy contracts to their mates.

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

Engagement with nature, fresh air and physical exercise has been proven to be beneficial in promoting good mental health and recovery. Given no hope or means of escaping a downward spiral of mental ill health, how does a person find the energy to campaign against their local ancient woodland being felled so that the train can get into London ten minutes quicker?

Annexation of land and opportunities.

Sufficient money is out there to solve many of Britain’s social issues. But, it is being accumulated in the hands of the few. And the inequality gap is growing. 

Billionaire Britain 2022 reveals that: The wealth of the UK's billionaires has skyrocketed by over 1000% between 1990 and 2022, ballooning by around £600bn. The number of billionaires exploded from 15 in 1990 to 177 this year. Between 2020 and 2022 alone, billionaire wealth increased by almost £150bn (source: Equality Trust. December 2022)

Stratigraphy of earnings within an economy will always exist and is not in itself a bad thing. It is human nature to try and do better for oneself and family. In a healthy society, reward is rightly distributed to those putting in the effort and achieving results. But a fair proportion is also set aside to protect disadvantaged people from deprivation. We do not live or work in a healthy society.

Source credit: Rob Evans, The Guardian, 2017.  https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/apr/17/who-owns-england-thousand-secret-landowners-author

Wealth distribution is now so unequal that half of England is owned by 1% of the population. (source: The Guardian. April 2019) The justification for this situation, trickle-down economics, has been proven not to work. The uber rich don’t like sharing their wealth or assets. 

Annexation and exclusion is a modern take on 'Gerrof my land'. As seen when millionaire hedge fund manager, Alexander Darwall, successfully blocked public wild camping on open land. 

“To lose this right at a time when nature connectedness in Britain is the lowest across the whole of Europe is a travesty. We should be increasing, not impairing, people’s ability to spend time in nature.". – Lewis Winks, The Stars Are For Everyone campaign.

Don’t get mad. Get everything.

While outside of context, Ivana Trump’s sentiment epitomizes the attitudes of the obscenely wealthy towards money and assets. It begs the question, how much do these people want, how much will ever be enough? Rapacious greed, also makes them mean, crass and incredibly cheap. 

Millionaire politicians have joined in. Spaffing tax payers money on £840 rolls of wallpaper, claiming expenses for heating their stables, stuffing their tax evading, off-shore accounts with unashamed impunity. All while enjoying self-awarded pay rises totaling 32% over the past 10 years. It’s not as if they were worth it, having presided over the worst drop in living standards in modern times. 

Are you still surprised that tragedy of species extinction causes so few ripples?

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

Is there a political solution?

After the recent drubbing of the Conservative party in local polls, there is an expectation that these results will be replicated in the next national elections, bringing a change for the better. When you look at the history of opposition over the past decade, I’m not hopeful: Where was your anger, where was your passion, your outrage? I’ve lived long enough to know that, with the next incumbents, there will be a brief period of optimism followed by the same monstrous self-serving, self-interest.

It's a waste of time to hold out for the self-proclaimed ‘brightest and best’ in parliament to show real leadership, actioning policies which enable people to do more than just exist. They just don’t comprehend the concept of service, let alone the nuance of leaders eat last

Conservation will only become important to people who have the ability and choice to love and cherish it.

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

So what can we do?

Getting out to experience the countryside and nature is a first step. Sharing opportunity and means with friends who are having a tough time, or could not otherwise afford to, is a gift of kindness which can go a long way. Giving directly, maximizes the benefit by removing intermediate steps.

As the organizer of Ranger Ultras trail running races, I’ve always attached great importance to the affordability of our races. Yes, I still need to make a living and put food on my own table. But year on year, we've consistently held back on anything other than very modest price increases to make ensure that all our events are as affordable as possible. 

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

From the beginning, our trail races have embraced a low-key ethos, which are capped in numbers to respect communities while bringing beneficial trade to local business. We have also rejected the razzmatazz of overhead gantries and excessive plastic paraphernalia. Ranger Ultras’ participants can see that their entry fee has been invested in an authentic uncommercialized experience.

In comparison to similar events, Ranger Ultras events are an excellent combination of price, quality, service, participant experience and value. By putting people before profit we make the enjoyment of trail running and outdoor life accessible to as many people as we can.

Our Ranger Expeditions walks also go a long way in helping people affordably engage with nature in a fun, entertaining and adventurous way. Our clients are treated as individuals, not lost in a mass participation crowd. 

We support charity groups and individual fundraisers with a transparent approach to fees and fair pay for local guides. We do not operate any take-back, or minimum sponsorship schemes. If participants choose to fundraise, all their efforts go directly to the charity of their choice.

Photo copyright: John Figiel

Ranger Expeditions and Ultras may not change the world or solve the problems that conservation is now facing. But what we are doing is helping people make the choice to enjoy the outdoors and engage with nature. And, by taking less, there is more left to go around.

In conclusion.

The welfare of all people is bound to a biodiverse and thriving environment. If conservation is not engaging the broadest possible demographic then environment policy will continue to be driven towards the vested interests of those with the greatest power and influence. 

“I am not sure that human beings need strong leaders. But the idea that the people in charge ought to be responsible grown ups seems pretty engrained in most of us” – John Harris (Columnist, 2021)

Elected members of parliament, without exception, should be asking themselves some serious questions of morality and justice. In terms of what kind of country they wish to preside over. One which is grotesquely unequal, run for the benefit of the few. Or one where people are not relentlessly driven into poverty, but have the means, capacity and choice to engage with and cherish their natural spaces. 

Photo copyright: Stu Westfield

Author: Stu Westfield, May 2022

Ranger Expeditions Guided Adventures

Ranger Ultras Trail Running

Sunday 29 January 2023

#080 Ranger Ultras - Peak District South & North Trail Running Weekend

The Ranger Ultras, Peaks District South & North is our longest established trail run.
2023 will be the 7th edition.

Ranger Ultras * low key * great value * big enjoyment * inspiring trails

Over the years we've been delighted to welcome UK and international participants, including friends from Legends Trail in the Benelux countries. In this time we've grown from Race HQ being based in a small village hall, to exclusive hire of the Peak Centre where we can offer offer space to relax, showers, bed and breakfast, for participants who need this option.

Ranger Ultras has always aspired to bring you freindly, low-key, low-impact, trail running races, with generous timings. Meanwhile, bringing as much support local buinesses as we can. Living and working in the Peak District, we're especially mindful of the impact of events on small communities. 

Therefore, we'll never overload the trails or local infrastructure. We work closely with the National Trails Authority and National Park in our planning process and donate to the upkeep of the trails too. Our high standards of event planning and trail usage meant that Ranger Ultras was the first trail running event provider to be awarded the National Trails supporter and received every year since 2019

Ranger Ultras has kept true to these guiding principles and continues to put participants' experience first before profit.

The 2023 Peak District South & North

In these current economic times of high inflation, rising prices and stagnating wages, for many folks these are difficult times. And so it's more crucial than ever that your leisure funds give you greater value and enjoyment. 

Ranger Ultras has also seen a massive hike in event costs, which has led us to change the Peak District South & North to loop routes for the 2023 edition. Doing this has enabled us to cut some costs, absorb other increases and avoid making significant rises in entry fees. 

PS&N entry link
Choose from Saturday White Peak 50km, Sunday Dark Peak 43km or both...


Stage 2 Sunday - Course Recce Report

As with all our trail running events, we aim to build comprehensive and informative resources so that both your preparation and race day itself is as smooth and seamless as possible. Leaving you focus and enjoy your endeavours on the trails. 

In this report we cover in detail from Mill Hill 11.5km to Hayfield 22.5km of Sunday's 43km route.

At Mill Hill, do not continue along the Pennine Way. Take the slabbed path to the west.
The slabs do become slippery in icy conditions.
A pair of pavement crampons / studs to fit over your trail shoes is a wise addition to your kit.

Past the Lberator aircraft wreck, which crashed in 1944. The two crewmen survived.
Up to Burnt Hill. Keep on the slabs. Don't be lured north west onto the trod leading Harry Hut trig point.

Go directly across the A624 (care!). Keep on the right of the minor road, facing oncoming traffic. There is a verge where you can step off the road itself. Use your headtorch and back light for additional safety.

Join the Pennine Bridleway and follow the trail in a southerly direction.

You can use the public bridleway to cut across the access land at Matley Moor then re-join the Pennine Bridleway. There is a followable trod and also takes your feet off tarmac.

Through the gate near Blackshaw Farm, a fixed finger post will present you with several routes. The prominently Pennine Bridleway crosses open ground. Don't be tempted to handrail the eastern fence line on your left, it will lead you well off-course down to Little Hayfield.

Around Lantern Pike. On a clear day the views here are far reaching and superb.

Cross over a minor road, continue on the Pennine Bridleway. You'll pop out near to the Sett Valley Cafe.
Turn left (south east) uphill on the pavement. Connect to the Sett Valley Trail, still on the Pennine Bridleway, which takes you east for a couple of kilometers into Hayfield. 

Before you cross the A624, Marmalade Cafe is open until 3pm on Sunday and is one of our often frequented local favourites.

Marmalade Coffee Shop

Cross the A624 (care!) using the pedesrian crossing or the underpass.

Featuring Hayfield

Opposite the church is Millie's Cafe, open until 4:30pm on Sunday.

Millies Cafe and B&B

Also in Hayfield, although not directly on our route, is Rosie's Cafe, open to around 3 or 4pm on Sunday during the quieter winter months.

Rosies Cafe also sells delightful local Peak Bean coffee

If you're reccying the course or enjoying an independent trail run, please call into support one of our established local cafe's. In times gone by, Hayfield was also known as the village with the most pubs in England. There are still five (The Royal Inn, The George, The Sportsman, The Pack Horse, The Kinder) within the immediate village itself, with several more in the close surrounding area. On our race route you'll see an excellent Italian restaurant, The Collosseo. There are also grocery shops which sell take away sandwiches and other hill-food.

Featuring Race HQ: The Peak Centre, Edale

For several years I've worked as a guest instructor for the Peak Centre. Guiding walks, bushcraft, adventurous activites and experiential learning for young people and adult groups. The centre is a superb facility for residential groups.

The centre gives us the opportunity to offer a number of race places with bunkroom accomodation and breakfast. Non-residential race places are also available and all participants are equally welcome. The Peak District South & North is a straightforward event to enter and also very cost effective for folks travelling from outside the local area. Add to this, we have a festival atmosphere in the main hall with table top stalls selling all sorts of goodies: Al's La Chocoalatina artisan chocolates, Paul's East Yorkshire Honey, Lorraine's Quilting, Georgina's Artwork, Jo Barrett's Sports Massage Therapy, Pete's Nutty Poo Bar.

Ranger Ultras PB Race Collection

As of this year, the Peak District South & North becomes part of our Pennine Bridleway race collection, with engaging sections of this classic and iconic nation trail included on the course.

Each of our PB races gives you a progression and experiential journey. From the short 18km to our multi-day 270km, you can hone your skills with us all along the way.

Our other races in our Ranger Ultras PB Collection are...

Pennine Bridleway PB270km in 100 hours Trail Challenge
(Our multi-day, expedition style, trail running adventure, journeying the length of the trail from Middleton Top to Kirkby Stephen. Brimming with quality and great value)

Pennine Bridleway PB137km in 50 hours Trail Challenge
(Journey the northern section of this iconc trail)

Pennine Bridleway PB55km 
(Hayfield to Chee Dale and back. A great day on the trail, all on the PB)

Pennine Bridleway PB18km
(Hayfield to Rushup Edge and back. A short, but hilly, trail adventure all on the PB)

High Peak 70/100km Ultra
(Looking for a fast 100km time? This race is for you. Some inclines and small hills to add variety with engaging trails and elements of the PB)

Yorkshire 3 Peak 70/100km Ultra
(A classic hill day, with a short section of the PB included. Ranger Ultras created the original ultra distance version of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks)

Pen Y Ghent 50km
(Hilly and undulating, a short section of PB, just nudging into ultra distance and a great day's trail running)