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Developing greater contacts through Social Media

02/12/2010

We have been aware of the need to always try to develop a dialogue between our business and the walkers who may access our websites or who have been our customers. We have encouraged this with on-line questionnaires and comment links however we have up until now omitted to enter into the 21st century with the use of Social Media.

Having recently attended a seminar on the topic of Social Media we have concluded that unless we “dip our toes in the water” we will never learn or know if this is helpful to both our business and our customers. We are sure that our initial attempts may be unsuccessful or very limited in producing a well used blog that receiving an exchange of views with the readers, but here goes with our first posting.

In addition to a BLOG we are also setting up a Fan Page on Facebook and we hope that we will begin to gather some friends through this means as well. For those who are already registered with Facebook , search for Walking Support and make a request to become a Fan, we will be delighted to grow this community also. All this is additional to the already set up although infrequently used e-newsletter that we already offer, and we do hope that through this new social media activity we may hear more about what you are interested in as regards the great outdoors and walking.

As for this BLOG, we are still in the development stages and learning the options and tools that come with WordPress. We will as time allows add more material and links, and we hope more images – an image can relay more than a thousand words. As for topics that we intend to cover over the next period they are a debate on the topic of wind farm developments and we would like to get responses from all sides of the debate. Clearly there are a number of very active applications for wind turbines that are on or very close to popular walking routes, is this a concern or not? Another topic is likely to be on the development of “Pilgrimage walks”, are people looking for experiences that draw them closer to some form of spiritual experience. We additionally see the blog as being a place where we can update and provide news type data on the many wonderful walks in Northern Britain and to inform the bloggers of the events and activities that might be of interest.

Most of all Walking Support is looking at Social Media as a means of  learning what is important to others in the area of walking and enjoying the beautiful and interesting countryside. From our profile you will see that Walking Support is involved in may activities that are not business related, so please enter into dialogue, this is not a pure promotional endeavour.

Click on this link to learn more on Walking Support and our various activities and interests. Please also comment and keep an eye open for our next posting.

Pilgrimage walks

16/12/2010

Across faiths and centuries, pilgrimages have always been a significant reality and in many cases walking has been a core part of that pilgrimage. For many this was part of a penance and the issue of pain and hardship was not uncommon. There is also a large body of written material on the history of Pilgrimages and where the 20th and now 21st century people stand regarding such activity. This blog does not intend to cover this ground other than to identify that in our current times there is a significant renewed interest in pilgrimage walks and a demand for more routes and opportunities for such pursuits.

This blog is only going to consider Pilgrimages that are related to the Christian faith, not that I want to ignore other faiths but simply because I have little knowledge of them and their pilgrimage experiences tend to be in areas of the wold where I have no knowledge or experience. Christian pilgrimage is different, right on my doorstep is a walking route that has its name and routing defined by one of the 7th century Christian Saints, namely St Cuthbert.

Image of St Cuthbert on church stained glass window

This walking route is enjoyed by thousands, perhaps the majority walking it simply because of its attractive route and countryside, but it is clear that some are walking this for other reasons that are of a spiritual nature. Even in this category it would be true to say that many would not consider themselves to be Christian or religious, but they are looking for some form of questioning and inner understanding which they may not experience in everyday living, due to the pressures of time and activity.

 
This example of present day pilgrim may be a pale shadow of the earlier day pilgrims who would travel across vast distances to arrive at holy sites such as Jerusalem or Rome. For many it was also a form of penance for past wrong doing and sin while for others it could be part of a judicial punishment. The distances travelled and the proportion of the population that were involved in pilgrimage has varied significantly over the centuries but in the 12th century it was not unknown for people to walk across the width of Europe to reach the Holy Land.
 
Even in the 20th and 21st centuries distances walked by some pilgrims can be up to 500 miles in length and the numbers walking routes such as the Camino to Santiago were 180,000 in 2004. In general however, the pilgrim is undertaking only a part of a route like the Camino to Santiago or the St Olav – Nidaros in Scandinavia, spending perhaps a week or so. Alternatively pilgrims are walking the full length of shorter routes such as St Cuthbert’s Way.
(For those wanting to read more about this development of Pilgrimage we would recommend a book written by Ian Bradley titled “Pilgrimage – A Spiritual and Cultural Journey ” ISBN 978-0-7459-5270-3)
 
Our own experience of pilgrimage walks comes through the planning and support of group walks across the St Cuthbert’s Way and in discussions regarding the possible development of further walking routes that have a pilgrimage focus. We have handled groups from the continents of America, Africa and Europe as well as more local UK groups where the primary focus for walking the St Cuthbert’s Way is that of a Christian pilgrimage. For many we have embellished the trip by additionally arranged times on Iona and retreat time at the end of the walk on the Holy Island. For many of the groups there is a group leader who is a cleric and this walking experience is certainly more than just an enjoyable trek. Indeed with one group it was clear that for some the 100km of the St Cuthbert’s Way was a very significant physical challenge and caused them considerable discomfort, but that was for them a part of the overall experience of Pilgrimage.
 
Independent research would suggest that activity holidays that are driven in part by a spiritual searching are experiencing substantial growth. In a time when organised religion is in decline in many countries perhaps the personal searching for some spiritual answers while in the relative peace of the countryside is understandable. So is there a need for more opportunities for pilgrimage walks, and do the support businesses that service these routes and walkers need to be more focused on the walkers’ needs and the potential business opportunities?
 
Walking Support is of the opinion that this is a sector of the walking market that is important and has significant potential. We also feel that this is a niche but large market that can be developed if a group of like-minded business and organisations were able to get together and provide pilgrim friendly support. Additionally we believe that there are new pilgrimage experiences that can be developed within the UK and we would like to talk with others that see a similar opportunity and need.
 

Minchmoor wind farm – appeals process

03/12/2010

Like them or loath them, wind turbines generally cause controversy and the planning and approval stage can take years to resolve.

In writing this blog the objective is not to present a view on what should be the best outcome, rather it is to inform interested parties of the lengthy procedures relating to this and many other wind farm applications and to encourage individuals to express their opinions on how they would react to further developments of this form of renewable energy.

First it is worth identifying this particular proposed development. The application is for 12 wind turbines on a section of high ground between Traquair and Clovenfords in the Scottish Borders area. These turbines if built would be very close to a very popular walking and multipurpose track which also forms a part of the Southern Upland Way and Sir Walter Scott Way. This application was first lodged in 2003 and it has taken to August 2010 for the Planning Authority to reach a final decision on this application, which was not to approve the application on a number of stated grounds. One that is very relevant to the walking fraternity was that “the proposal will cause significant and unacceptable visual cumulative impacts when considered with schemes approved or proposed, including coincident and sequential impacts from road and path in this area, especially the Southern Upland Way“. It is interesting that they make comment on the cumulative impact for almost immediately east on the same track is a further application for additional wind turbines under the Broadmeadows application. Add to that a scooping site at North Common it means that this popular days walking route could become heavily dominated by continuous turbines.

Since the Planning Authority refusal the developer has, not unexpectedly, raised an objection to the decision and this is now about to be considered by the appointed Reporter from the Directorate for Planning  & Environmental Appeals. It is likely that there will then follow a public inquiry where the varying parties will present their positions with the support of opposing QC’s.

The problems that we see in this process are numerous and in particular they seem to be tipped against the objectors to the application. Developers of such wind farms have very deep pockets and dedicated employees to carry the application through to the end point. In a case such as this where the application has been turned down by the Council, it can be argued that they (the Planning Authority) also have the money and staff, but is it public money well spent on then having to have their decision challenged. However behind the Council’s decision there have been countless other individuals and bodies making representation to the Planning process and this has cost them in many cases significant amounts of money and lots of time, in most cases voluntary input from community groups and individual objectors. What is important but difficult to sustain is this input and effort over extended period of time and often the money and stamina of these community groups may run out.

In this particular application the objecting lobby worked hard and were finally delighted in August with the Planning Authorities decision and perhaps they thought the work was done. What is now the new problem is the fact that through the right of appeal the challenge still needs to go on and to remain silent and by not continuing to put that point of view forward the victory may pass to the developer who will certainly be still applying their resources to the process.

Another concern to fairness is the fact that an applicant who has had the planning application refused can appeal to the Scottish Ministers (in Scotland) however if the application had been accepted the objectors to a planning application have no redress or right of appeal. Are the scales tipped towards the big developer and those with money, or is this a democratic and fair system? That is to a great extent the question.

Walking Support has in a previous Appeals process been asked to speak on behalf of the Authority who had turned down an application. We spoke with the knowledge of walkers who had taken the time to respond to a questionnaire that still is live on our website. It lets individuals state their thoughts on the impact of wind turbines as they interface with walking routes. We have consolidated the results and given this data to the appeals process. We can say that the responses are not polarised to any one point of view, many dislike the wind turbines but there are also those who are very supportive and find no difficulty with them being close to their walking route. Indeed the impact is much to do with how close they are positioned to the walk and how many there are along the walking route. It is often to do with positioning and the cumulative impact. We would still encourage individuals to respond to this in one of several ways.

  1. Reply to this blog with your impressions and thoughts
  2. Take a few minutes and link to our survey, then you views will be consolidated with all others to give a much more robust survey result that may be of some help in this appeal or future development applications.
  3. Visit the Walkerburn community website for more information on this specific wind farm

Indeed you do not need to just action one, why not, if you have a point of view, explore all of the links.