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Author interview: Ed Douglas and John Beatty, Kinder Scout

Friday, 23 February 2018

We caught up with Ed Douglas and John Beatty ahead of the much-anticipated release of Kinder Scout – The people's mountain.

How did you first meet?

Ed: I can’t remember, because I knew of John before I met him, and it was a quarter of a century ago. I do remember that we persuaded him to let us have a photo of Everest for the launch edition of a magazine I edited. It was a stunning image.

John: Our first meeting was when Ed and I went in search of pied flycatchers in the Ladybower woodland reserve … I remember making Ed wade waist deep across a swollen river to get to the pub … yep, we were soaked!

Does a particularly magical personal experience on Kinder stick in your mind? 

Ed: I think some of the winter days I’ve had up there have been special, a couple were with John watching hares and ravens. I camped up there once with Kate, my wife, which was a laugh. Some of the climbing days I’ve had on Kinder have been exceptional too. I went up with an American friend who lives in Nepal to climb Herford’s route on the Pagoda. That was also special, although he couldn’t get his head around the walking to climbing ratio.

John: In 1993 Kinder was frozen solid for a week and covered entirely in spears of frost. This was the day that I photographed the cover image, when the plateau was shrouded in thick freezing mist; it felt like a lost world, another planet – a common feeling on Kinder!

What does the mountain mean to you and has your relationship with it changed over time?

Ed: I think the mountain means different things to me now than when I first walked up it aged eleven or so. It’s time that has changed the relationship. Kinder was at first the destination, the first wild place I explored properly, then became a gateway to other destinations, first Scotland, then the Alps, then the Himalaya, now it’s become repository for my life’s experience, one that only I can access and will disappear when I do. That’s a pretty profound relationship. It deepened writing this book, when I realised how enmeshed its story is with industry, something I knew all about growing up with a dad who worked in the steel business.

John: Kinder is both a place of constancy and a place of change. When I’m on Kinder I feel a strong sense of separation from the world. Whatever is happening in the world below, it isn't happening up there! That is a very reassuring feeling, like knowing a trusted friend for a lifetime. But Kinder is changing, not the structure as such, but the recent restoration of the drainage and natural vegetation has ameliorated the sense of desolation of the old black peat hags. 

Of the characters and individuals weaved into this story of Kinder, is there anyone in particular you would like to have met and/or spent some time with?

Ed: Hannah Mitchell, for sure. Her story was inspirational but also because she was quirky and I’d like to find out how. And Siegfried Herford too, because I suspect that whatever was in his head would seem very familiar to me. I met Benny Rothman a few times, but it would be nice to have a catch-up.

John: It would have been interesting to meet pioneer climber J.W. Puttrell. He was a silversmith from Sheffield around 1900 and made some extraordinary forays into the gloom of Kinder downfall ravine climbing – some of the steep wet cracks that have held a fearsome reputation to this day.

(For John): You must have visited Kinder hundreds of times over the years: what does it offer to a visual artist such as yourself? 

Space, emptiness and simplicity.

(For Ed) In your research for Kinder Scout, was there anything that surprised you and which of the many topics covered did you find most fascinating?

I settled on a handful of characters when researching the book who seemed emblematic of what I wanted to say. Then their lives started intersecting in ways I had no knowledge of and that rather blew my mind. The relationship between our psychologies and landscape is always interesting to me; how we invent the eternal and how the eternal morphs into something new. We’re a funny lot.

Over your lifetimes, how do you feel Kinder has changed (in any way) – for better or worse? 

Ed: It’s undoubtedly changed for the better. Fencing the plateau has been an unqualified success, even if it was for a while controversial. Some of the stone paths are hard to stomach, and the trig point at the east end is like a patio. But on balance those are minor grumbles compared to the overall restoration work that Moors for the Future has done. The politics of this place are ingrained and intense, so it was a good effort to get it started.

John: Apart from the rehab of the vegetation, Kinder has changed little. The circular paths around the plateau are slightly improved in parts … but really, it is us who change, Kinder reflects only constancy.

What are the challenges facing our moorland landscapes such as Kinder over the coming ten (or more) years?

Ed: The non-compatibility of intensive grouse shooting with national park status seems glaringly obvious to an increasing number of those who love Kinder and the Peak. If the Peak District National Park, especially those bits owned by the National Trust, isn’t a place that people can come and see raptors like peregrine and hen harrier, then what it’s for? 
 
John: The biggest challenge is probably the relationship between the landowners and the users (the walkers, climbers, naturalists and grouse shooters) all these parties have different interests. Footpath restoration would ease erosion by footfall in popular locations. Heather burning to enhance grouse stocks should cease. Moors for the future have been doing an excellent job in recent years to ensure the biodiversity of Kinder is enhanced, and in the education of our knowledge of moorland ecology in general.

What is the next chapter in Kinder Scout’s story? 

Ed: Kinder has been contested space for a hundred and fifty years for all kinds of reasons, to do with the changing political landscape, industrialisation and environmental degradation. I don’t think that will change but perhaps it can be a symbol of how we can restore some balance. It’s an incredibly important space to protect but that doesn’t mean it can’t change. It will anyway. I just hope it continues to change for the better.

John: The wind will blow, the rain will pelt down, the mist will disorientate and the frost will bite. This is Kinder – enjoy it.

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