Are we wearing out the outdoors?

So this wasn’t me surfing at Belhaven Bay on Saturday:


Although, obviously, I am that good, I just didn’t happen to have my staff photographer on hand.

We headed off on the promise of a pretty good weather and surf forecast and we weren’t wrong. As a result the beach and especially the water were really busy, the first time I have ever seen it like that. When I first got onto the board I nearly ran into a young lad and his dad, and then another guy nearly hit me twice, the first time going over my head as I dived out of the way. I scooted off to a less crowded bit but the waves weren’t quite so good there, of course.

On Sunday I was out on my bike on the Glasgow-Luss-Helensburgh 50-miler. It’s a good one for those who’ll do roads but prefer not to, as much of it is on cycle tracks.

The problem for road bikes on such tracks is lack of maintenance. Hard skinny tyres combined with root-bumps and ancient shattered tarmac are not much cop; at this time of year deep wet leaf-litter is a bit scary too, especially when you get a bit of speed up. I have no idea if anyone has a statutory responsibility for cycle-track maintenance, but I suspect it’s a voluntary effort by local authorities.

I’ve only been surfing and road cycling in the last 10 years, so I don’t know if busy beaches and worn-out bike trails are just a modern phenomenon, but I do know with (ulp!) nearly 50 years of hill-going experience that the outdoors is getting busier and busier, and certainly in Scotland there is no real budget to fix bits that get worn out.

Amazingly no-one has any statutory  duty to maintain or repair or build our hill and mountain paths, and with the exponential (OK not really, mathematically, but allow me a bit of hyperbole …) growth of  Munro-bagging there are bigger and bigger trenches all over the place being rutted into hills.

Conservation owners and national parks do their bit, and a well-made path with proper drains and set stone is a joy,  but I hear ‘lottery funding’ and ‘grant from such and such’ and I know that that will mean capital funding for big projects that funders can pin their names to, not the day-to-day funding needed to repair and maintain footpaths every year. Volunteers can do some work, but not the hundreds of kilometres needed on the Munros alone.

With governments all advocating healthy outdoor exercise it’s time they put their money where their mouth is and coughed up for such paths, and for the cycleways for that matter. It would prevent scarring of the landscape (and on the cycleways, bruised bones …) and damage to delicate ecosystems, make paths properly walkable, benefit the tourism industry and provide employment in rural areas.

I don’t think they could stop the overcrowding at Belhaven Bay, and the sand will probably survive without maintenance, but the car-park there could do with some holes filling in …