Many, many moons ago, in days when I had lots of hair (yes it’s that far back), I recall going into a well known department store and approaching the ‘Pick’n Mix’ counter. That’s a clue to some of the older generation reading this! Looking for something sweet that would doubtless add to my svelte waistline, I studied the choice and politely asked the shop assistant, “can you tell me how much these pear drops are please?”.
Without looking up and making eye contact, she continued to plunder the merchandise that was all around her. Whilst one hand twiddled the abundance of unkempt hair that had fallen out of her striped hat, she replied, “No idea. It’s not my counter.”
That disinterested, stilted but succinct conversation stayed with me, as I had the notion reinforced that not everyone is happy with their lot in life. I wasn’t naive. I already knew that but it encapsulated the fact that some folk really and I mean really do not care about what they do, how they appear or worse have any sense of value to themselves or others.
So, let’s fast forward to today and see why I feel the need to write about something that has me re-visiting that ‘momentous’ conversation.
Whilst I am lucky to walk the fells, writing and photographing them for a living, I never forget that I am on land that is honestly toiled on by hard working folk that carve out a living that way. Irrespective of it being arable or livestock, ‘we’, ‘us’ that roam around on it, are in someone’s work place.
As I write this, we are still in the months known as ‘lambing time’. There are signs all over the countryside informing us of that fact. It is assumed that we are naturally responsible and respectful but it is a rightful reinforcement, a reminder for us to take even more care as we pass through the working environment of others.
A few weeks back, my wife Irene and I were over by Loweswater as I was undertaking a ‘recce’ for a forthcoming job. As we walked back from the shoreline, we passed through fields where sheep and lambs were in abundance. It was a very pleasant day and a typical spring scene. Walking towards Mellbreak, we stopped to turn around and admire the fells and how timely it was. A couple following on behind, decided that their dog should be let off its leash. Why? I have no idea. The animal then ran off with purpose towards the sheep. By now, the sheep were scattering in all directions. To the dog this was natural behaviour and sadly I have to say, for the owners too. Why? Because putting it simply, ‘it wasn’t their counter’. They had no respect for the animals that were grazing or the land they were on and just stood there watching as ‘fido’ ran amuck. They weren’t interested and definitely had no responsibility or care for where they were. I went over to ask them to put the animal back on its lead but was met with a torrent of abuse. They did eventually call the dog back and re-harnessed him but as we were getting back into our car, the woman with the pink and orange hair looked at me and uttered something about my parentage.
A couple of weeks later, I was running a workshop over in Eskdale and was teaching by the quaint water fall on the right hand side of the road at the foot of Hard Knott. There is a lay-by on the slope. People park there and make for the path to Harter Fell.
A few minutes in and two cars arrive and park up. Out pop a number of adults and their children, followed by two dogs that immediately leap out of the car and start running all over the place. They then jump into the beck and are acting naturally. Sadly so are the adults, as their ‘natural’ behaviour is to ignore the two animals and just stand there eating sandwiches even when they are running in front of cars that have to suddenly stop to avoid a collision.
I watched them all gather their walking kit and make towards us. Actually, the dogs took off and ran past us as if we weren’t there, women and children next, followed by the two dads. Behind me was a gate and posted there on it was the sign informing us of lambing time and the need to restrain dogs on the fells.
I had to say something because I knew that if I didn’t they would simply just allow the dogs to run a muck once through the gate.
I want to stress out at this point that I am NOT a busy body or someone who pokes their nose into other folks business but I love the outdoors and want people to enjoy it and pass on the message that it’s a great way to spend time but and it’s a big but to be respectful for those who earn their livelihood there. It’s called, being respectful and considerate.
As soon as I politely mentioned it, the two guys were horror struck and apologetic, then shouted to the families to get hold of the dogs. I think using the phrase, ‘the farmer will have no hesitation in shooting the dogs’ hit home.The guys went back to the car and whilst one returned with a lead, the other passed me with a large, thick piece of rope in his hand in the shape of a noose. No it wasn’t for me, it was for his dog. He didn’t have a lead for the dog. Yet here they were, coming out for the day to roam on live farming land, totally unprepared.
Dare I say ignorant of the ways to behave?
I am delighted that more and more people now venture out to the hills and mountains for the day but it seems we need to keep reinforcing the message of respect.
As I was growing up, I loved being taken out to the countryside by my parents and I enjoyed it even more when I did the same with my children. You not only feel a sense of pride but you know that you are introducing them to a whole new world. Admittedly some won’t share the enthusiasm but I am pleased that all of mine have. They also learn to respect the environment they are in. It goes with the territory. No pun intended!
In the main, the majority of folk who love the hills, the great outdoors respect them and we need to keep ensuring that this message is regularly reinforced. It isn’t dogs that are the problem but the common denominator known as ‘us’, human beings.
In the past couple of years this has gathered momentum and sadly on my travels I have come across lots and I mean lots of litter, used disposable BBQs, soiled nappies, cartons, broken bottles and even a dismembered, dog ravaged sheep carcass. One friend posted a photograph of a tent he came across that had been dumped after presumably being used on a wild camp. It was abandoned by a wall and as he got closer realised it had evidently been used as a toilet and left there. Bravely they bagged it up and disposed of it appropriately. Why on earth would someone do that?
Oh yes I nearly forgot, it wasn’t their counter…..
On a more positive note, spring has finally sprung and before long the social media sites will be bursting with blue bell shots. Without doubt one of the best places to visit and see them in all their glory is at Rannerdale Knott by Crummock Water. Worth the visit if you have never been.
The Swallows, Swifts and House Martins are now busy arriving back and the first Cuckoos have been heard. Still a little chilly, it won’t be long before I leave my superb Berghaus Ilam down jacket in the wardrobe for a few months and dust down my shorts allowing my hairy legs to breathe in fresh mountain air!
Enjoy the summer. When it arrives…….
Mark Gilligan – wastwaterphotography.co.uk