Posted by & filed under Books, Mountains & hills, August 13 2007.

I recently watched the second episode of the BBC series ‘Mountain (with Griff Rhys Jones)‘ and found it pretty disappointing. It seemed to spend more time talking about Coleridge, Wordsworth and Kendal mint cake than about mountains. I also checked out the book that accompanies the series and my disappointment increased further. Of the 250 pages in the book, fully 150 are devoted to England and Wales.

The argument that this is a fair coverage of Britain’s mountains because the Lake District and Snowdonia are nearer to large areas of population in the British Isles and hence have had a larger impact on the culture and history of Britain, won’t wash with me.

Nowhere in the British Isles compares for sheer magnificence, challenge and beauty than the mountains of Scotland, and Lord Byron agrees with me. Despite this, magazines, books and television programmes purporting to showcase the mountainous areas of Britain regularly feature areas in England and Wales out of all proportion to their true nature and scale. TGO magazine is a serial offender in this respect.

This is just one narrow aspect of the parochial (yes, parochial) London-centric media, but there are many more general things that incense people in Scotland so much (I’m not even going to start on the BBC weather forecasts, or the way that the Guardian newspaper treats Scotland as a foreign country). Perhaps the recent call by Alex Salmond (Scotland’s First Minister) for Scotland to have greater control over broadcasting matters that concern Scotland will change things – but I’m not holding my breath…

9 Responses to ““England, thy beauties are tame and domestic…””

  1. Mountain Lurker

    While you’re criticising the London-centric media it’s a bit unfair to include
    the magazine TGO in that generalisation.

    First-off it’s published in Glasgow, so you’re way off the mark. TGO alone among the wider-read outdoor mags gives undue bias to its coverage of Scotland. Its editor and all the rest of its full-time staff reside in Scotland and its gear editor is rumoured to live in a Hilleberg Akto in the heart of the Cairngorms and the mag sponsors the only proper backpacking event in the British Isles, the TGO Challenge, a coast-to-coast crossing of SCOTLAND.

    The allegation that all the magazines’ coverage of mountains outwith Scotland is unbalanced is itself unbalanced. If any consumer mag focused entirely on Scotland how many copies do you think it would sell every month? Do you think that would be financially sustainable?

    The fact is that mags like TGO exist to cater for their readership, not a few eccentric Scoto-philes; and the vast, VAST majority of their readership live south of the Border. For many of those people the serious hills of Scotland are a full day’s journey away and are simply objects of desire.

    The mountains haven’t had the impact on culture and history of England and Wales; but culture and history have had THEIR effect on the mountains for the simple reason that the population lives close enough to get to see and visit them occasionally.

    The mags tailor their content to their readership accordingly; they’re not out to provide some historical record of who’s got the biggest hills.

    And if Alex Salmond get his way I’m sure the Scots are looking forward to the new-look broadcast world: Panorama investigates the disappearance of Mrs McGinty’s cat. Bring back Take the High Road! The White Heather Club! Maybe more quality output like River City and Taggart…

    Reply
  2. Eddie

    Well, perhaps I shouldn’t single out TGO; Trail is bad, too. And perhaps the case can be made that if TGO is published in Scotland, and its staff are based here, then its focus on Englandandwales is even more deplorable; and the argument that this is purely for financial reasons is hardly going to endear it to an audience that appreciates the things in life that don’t require cold cash, such as mountains…and the TGO challenge is something I utterly deplore – as if walking across the breadth of Scotland with hundreds of others at the same time is something that has to be done under the auspices of, and endorsed by, a commercial organisation to become somehow a worthwhile and creditable thing to do – I just don’t understand it at all.

    Reply
  3. Mountain Luker

    Granted, Trail is published by a company that employs a few disinterested journos and relies on the likes of Graham Thompson, Jeremy Ashcroft and others to tell them where the hills are.

    That publisher, Emap, is also a huge magazine publisher that’s very efficient at turning in a hefty profit – its prime concern.

    TGO, on the other hand, seems to be run by genuine enthusiasts and experts but is a very small part of Newsquest, a publisher that knows little about anything other than newspapers which, other than TGO, seems to be all it publishes.

    As for the TGO Challenge, well, perhaps you just have to be there to understand! You can walk across Scotland at the same time as 300 others and not meet a soul.

    I assume you’ve guessed that, being so familiar with Scotland…

    Reply
  4. Eddie

    More stupid, lazy and biased journalism and broadcasting to moan about from our London-centric media.

    This from the Sunday Times of June 2007:

    http://travel.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/travel/best_of_britain/article1901554.ece

    Note the title of this Times article – BRITAIN’S best 50 days out.

    4 of the 50 are from Scotland.
    3 are from Wales.
    1 is from Northern Ireland.
    1 is from Jersey.
    40 are from England – Cornwall alone has 7.
    There is even 1 from Ireland (County Cork) – I am just hazarding a guess here, but I suspect the inhabitants of Cork don’t wish to be considered a part of Britain….

    To put this into some sort of context, population figures for Britain from the 2001 census (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=185):

    England 49,138,831 (83.6 per cent of the total population);
    Scotland 5,062,011 (8.6 per cent);
    Wales 2,903,085 (4.9 per cent);
    Northern Ireland 1,685,267 (2.9 per cent).

    These percentages broadly equate to the proportions in the Times article, but why should a good day out be somehow equivalent to population distribution given that holidays in Britain more often than not equate to enjoying the natural landscape of Britain?

    Here are some comparisons of land area and length of coastline (perhaps more useful given that this blog is about natural resources like mountains):

    “The land area of Scotland is 78 772 km (30,414 square miles), roughly 30% of the area of the United Kingdom (UK). The mainland of Scotland has 9 911 km (6158 miles) of coastline.”
    [from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Scotland ]

    “England is the largest, most populous, and wealthiest division of the United Kingdom. It makes up 130,410 sq km (50,352 sq mi) of the United Kingdoms total 244,110 sq km (94,251 sq mi). The area of Scotland is 78,790 sq km (30,420 sq mi), the area of Wales is 20,760 sq km (8,020 sq mi), and the area of Northern Ireland is 14,160 sq km (5,470 sq mi). This means that England makes up 53.4 percent of the area of the United Kingdom, Scotland 32.3 percent, Wales 8.5 percent, and Northern Ireland 5.8 percent.”
    [from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761553483/United_Kingdom.html ]

    It’s worth mentioning more here something about Britain’s coastline – according to a table here:
    http://www.coastalguide.org/england/engrcol.html
    England has just 29% of the total coastline of Great Britain. This percentage would be even lower if a comparison were to made with the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland). Scotland (including the islands) has an incredible 63% of the total.

    This last statistic is enlightening when compared with the program coverage of the BBC ‘Coast’ program (http://www.bbc.co.uk/coast/archive2.shtml) in series 1, in which 3 of the 12 programs focused on the Scottish coastline, but double that number, 6, focused on the English coastline. Later series of the program seem to have continued this bias (2 of 8 programs devoted to Scotland in both series 2 and 3).

    This is just a numbers game, but even beyond cold figures, it’s indisputable that Scotland contains a disproportionately high (whatever you compare it with) number of natural wonders, whether that is reflected in its landscape, coastline, geology, heritage, or history. But to see this ignored again and again in publications and broadcasts that purport to cover ‘Britain’ (when what they really mean is England) is incredibly frustrating.

    Reply
  5. Eddie

    Robert Macfarlane, who also wrote ‘Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination‘, has written another book called ‘The Wild Places‘ which has yet to be published.

    Apparently, 3 of the ‘wild’ places that are covered in this book are Dorset, Essex and Norfolk. I have to put off passing judgement until I read this book, but surely this can’t be right? Essex??

    Andrew Motion’s review of the book in the Guardian here seems to suggest that Macfarlane is offering a new definition of ‘wild’ as somewhere where lots of people live, and that places like Skye and Rannoch Moor are somehow not wild because ‘the human and the wild cannot be partitioned’. What complete and utter garbage!!!

    What is certain however, is that most of the people who buy and publish books don’t live in the wild. They live in the south-east of England.

    Reply
  6. Raoul Duke

    Cripes…. you want to try a night out where I live.

    Can be a bit wild at times.

    Reply

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