Saturday, October 02, 2004

Snuggery in the Stiperstones

Thank again to the Shropshire Star for a story which brings together two of the larger bees in my bonnet.
  • Earlier this year, in one of my House Points columns in Liberal Democrat News, I coined the term "snuggery" to describe the exaggerated concern for safety that afflicts us these days.
  • I love Shropshire and often go there to walk in the hills and enjoy the food and drink - hence my regular reading of the county's leading newspaper.

To expand the latter point, one reason for my Shropshire fixation are the books of Malcolm Saville, which I read when I was young. In them nicely behaved, bare-limbed children rounded up German spies and foiled criminals in the English countryside. And the setting to which Saville returned most often was the Shropshire hills. (Quite why so many villains chose to base their operations in rural south Shropshire was never explained, but for more on the social background to such stories see an early posting of mine on Serendib.)

The most striking of the Shropshire hills is the range known as the Stiperstones. Saville writes in his preface to The Neglected Mountain (1953):

The scene of this story is in the wild and lonely border country between Wales and Shropshire, hard by a mountain known as the Stiperstones. It is said that the curious outcrop of black quartzite rocks on the summit, known as the Devil's Chair, is one of the oldest parts of England - older even than the ice age - and it is little wonder that this desolate, neglected country is rich in folklore and legend.

So to the Shropshire Star story. The paper reports that:

A Shropshire school was forced to cancel a sponsored walk it had planned after the education authority raised fears over the safety of pupils and staff.

About 500 youngsters from the Mary Webb School in Pontesbury had planned to take part in the 13-mile walk yesterday, which it was hoped would raise more than £5,000 towards the school's minibus fund.

But education officials warned that because the route would take in the Stiperstones hills, described as a "high risk environment", they would need a minimum of 10 people with the basic expedition leader's qualification supervising the walkers.

Granted, the Stiperstones are serious hills. But the children and teachers taking part, as someone quoted in the article says, are familiar with them. These hills are their backyard. Yet they are being told they should not venture on to them unless accompanied by someone with the relevant qualification. And, as the article says, the school has been staging an annual walk for the last 17 years.

If these hills are so dangerous, the answer is clear. They must be levelled and the spoil carted away. I know it will be expensive, but [sniff] if it saves one child's life [sniff] it will be worth it [breaks down in tears].

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