Yorkshire's ‘Mick the Vic’, a.k.a. the retired Reverend Canon Michael Storey, has been running walking clubs since '57. Since he were a lad, Yorkshire has changed quite a bit. Yorkshire's Mend the Mountains campaign is focusing on Whernside, the highest hill in the Dales and Mick explains why he's rattling a collection tin to encourage folk to pitch in.
One of the main paths up Whernside, known as Bruntscar, has become a mess. The stone pitching has become loose and the path is now extremely difficult to use, leading to an ever-widening scar on Yorkshire’s highest hillside as walkers step off the path. That's why Mend Our Mountains has teamed up with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to raise funds for its repair through Mend Our Mountains (donate to the effort via Crowdfunder here).
The aim? A 200m section of stone-pitched path, sensitively designed to minimise impact while standing up to the enormous walker numbers. 150 tonnes of hand-picked stone will need to be flown in. The scale of the task is huge, given Bruntscar’s remote location and the steep conditions. The estimated project cost is a whopping £46,000. We feel that saving Whernside is worth it!
Sarah Stirling talks to Mick the Vic about the changes he's seen as a Yorkshire walker over the decades and why we should chip in to repair the landscape.
SS: I gather you've been getting out with a collection tin to help raise funds for Mend our Mountains – that's wonderful!
MV: I am now nearly 82 and so don’t get out into the sticks as much as I did in the past. A friend and I were at Ribblehead last Monday, however. We walked along to Bruntscar Farm and up the Bruntscar path for 200 yards or so, to check on it!
The collecting tin is new – very new. It was given to me by Kate Hilditch, Area Manager of the Southern Dales YDNPA, after I had attended a gathering of BMC and YDNPA folks at Broadrake on a snowy day, 20 March 2018. I had asked for this to rattle to people when discussing wear and tear on the footpaths, if I thought they valued the countryside.
SS: Let’s start at the beginning – how did you get into hillwalking?
It was the end of summer term, 1950. Mirfield Grammar School. The end of my Third Form days. Mr Barker, the English master, invited a group of us to take the train from Mirfield to Hebden Bridge in the summer holidays, and to walk up Stoodley Pike. The views down into Calderdale were wonderful. Later, during the same hols, I walked up Beamsley Beacon in Wharfedale. The seed was sown! I loved the views from the tops and seeing places from a new perspective. The ground level is not the same.
I quite agree. Are you Yorkshire born and bred?
I was born in Mirfield in ’36. I’ve lived in West Riding ever since. My parents were from East Riding – so I was brought up in both West and East Ridings, in which there is a variety of countryside including the lovely East Coast – Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington, the Yorkshire Wolds.
The Yorkshire landscape must have changed a lot during your life.
I remember the ‘dark, satanic mills’ etc! Washing hanging out getting dirty from the soot! World War II! Remember I am nearly 82; I have seen more and more cars, and people visiting the countryside, with the greater wealth in general and leisure time. The Dales and the coast are both much busier than when I was a lad!
What impact has the increased footfall had on the paths in Yorkshire?
The paths have taken a beating. When I think of my first trip across the North Yorkshire Moors doing the Lyke Wake Walk in ’64 – there were few paths and you could get lost easily! There is so much more wear on footpaths these days.
My serious walking days were from 1960 to 2012. As the years passed on, it was obvious that paths were more and more obvious, and more and more worn. Consider my first trip up and down Whernside on 18 April 1960, and my last to have a look at Whernside, on Monday 10 September. 1960: spot the path; 2018: spot the unworn bits!
As my walking is very much not recent I can only comment on paths below the heights, but in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District paths in general are VERY well used and, too often, dangerously worn. The state of paths doesn’t stop me, though; my age does. Were I still younger, I guess I would walk with a stick.
What’s your favourite walk?
If God granted me one last walk, it would be Pen y Ghent. Fine or wet, snow or sleet, dry or muddy – the views are wonderful. Pen y Ghent, Hill of the Wind, has it all. The three Peaks are favourites too. The North York Moors are a favourite with young people. My favourite proper mountains are Skye Ridge and the odd shapes in Northwest Scotland. Suilven is a real favourite.
My last 2000+ peak was Pen y Ghent, 8 Oct 2011. To celebrate my 75th birthday I led others up it for my 75th time. 89 people turned out – folks I had led over the years since first going to the top on 1 August 1960. Not to boast, but so that you know, I have done The Three Peaks 28 times, Pen y Gent 75, Ingleborough 42 times and Whernside 40 times. In England, Scotland and Wales I have been up 280 different peaks over 2000’.
I understand you’ve run a lot of walking clubs in your time?
All Things Bright and Beautiful were made by God and I have long encouraged people to go out there see the countryside and marvel at the wonders of God’s creation. Since 1957, I have always run a walking club – a boy's church club from '57 to '73, a school club when I was an RE teacher from '69 to '73, and then church groups when I became a vicar, from '75 to today. Walking is good for health, for valuing God's nature, for friendships and for encouraging taking care of nature.
How did you become a vicar?
When I was 13, during the same summer holidays that I went up Stoodley Pike, I scalded my left foot very badly. Being a churchgoer, the vicar called on me. He trained me to be an altar server, pretending the front room fireplace was the altar! At some point after a rehearsal in church, St Peter's Knowl, Mirfeld, he said that he always asked new servers to consider whether God was calling them. I never forgot the conversation. It led me to running that church boys' walking club for 16 years – there were many mountains, camps and so on.
Later I became the RE teacher at Birkenshaw County Secondary School. Here I teamed up with a good friend, Chris Barker – PE master – son of Mr Barker of 1960 fame. We organised lots of walks and camps. The call was still there for the priesthood, though, so I gave in and served in Illingworth, Rastrick and Crosland Moor between 1975 and 2006, after which I retired aged 70.
I am still following my calling – preaching tomorrow in a Methodist Church. I finished the sermon before talking to you – remembering St Matthew, whose day is 21 Sep, and how for him, like Christians today … especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, there is the battle between God and Mammon. Enough sermon!
I’m exhausted! Time for tea at 7pm and the football results. How have Huddersfield and Halifax Town gone on I wonder? I do hope that this is of some help and can help in raising the £1 million and the £46,000 for Whernside. All the very best to you all. AMEN.
The Mend our Mountains appeal, which is generously supported by headline sponsors Cotswold Outdoor and Snow+Rock, is on track for its £1 million target with eight months still to go. So what can you do to get involved? From organising your own fundraising challenge (check out BMC member Richard Duckworth’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ challenge to walk all the projects supported by the appeal here) to donating money or buying something like a box of Cliff bars, there are plenty of big and small ways you can do your bit, depending on how much time you have! You can either donate specifically to one National Park or generally to the greater cause.
Check out the Mend our Mountains website for more details of the campaigns currently going on in our other National Parks and how you can help.
For more information on the Yorkshire Dales National Park: www.yorkshiredales.org.uk
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