Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Press Statement - Green Councillor condemns undemocratic Mill Ponds decision

Green Party Councillor Andrew Cooper condemned the decision by the Governments Planning Inspector to approve development on the land adjacent to Newsome Mill Ponds

The land is bordered by Newsome Road, Hart Street and Naomi Road and the Mill Ponds served the now fire ravaged nearby  Newsome Mills Approval was sought for 22 houses on the site.

“ This decision by an unelected Government official from the Planning Inspectorate overrules the democratic decision refusing development made by the Council’s Planning Committee and ignores numerous refusals for development on the land. My concern now is that the loss of the Mill Ponds will mean a serious disruption to culverts and drainage running across the land. This could have an adverse impact on local residents homes and gardens. Many local people have long felt the former allotment site at the heart of Newsome would make an ideal park area. This is now not an option. Though the land is now approved for development this is not the end of the  matter and the developer will have to demonstrate how they will manage the significant drainage issues and respect the Tree Preservation Orders that exist on the site. This is yet another case of landowners doing what is best for their pocket and not what provides the most benefit to the community. I applaud the long campaign by local people and Diane Sims in particular to protect the site from rapacious development. The clear, articulate and informed way the case against development has been made has fought off development for over 30 years. A Government Official with no democratic mandate has made this decision. If we need to ‘take back control’ anywhere it is about decisions that directly affect our local communities ”

Link to Newsome Mills Campaign website


Monday, 21 August 2017

No Fracking Way - Day 5 - Onwards to Preston New Road and the end of our quest

Start of Day 5 at Longridge
Arriving at PNR
Breakfast at Jai and Andy's followed by washing down a couple of paracetamol. Preston New Road today! This was to be a shorter 19 miles from Longridge but a more complex route with miles of it going on country footpaths off the roads. Navigation was going to be tricky. At short notice Jai ran off 20+ A4 sheets off our online plotaroute map which were hastily put together in a long line, folded together and handed to Nigel as the 'responsible adult'. The cars were loaded and we set off for Longridge.With so much of our route being off road we were going to be hard for the Police to keep an eye on. Relations between the Police and the Anti Fracking Activists at Preston New Road had taken a bit of a nosedive following some heavy handed and fractious encounters. So we were keen to finish our walk and not have any unnecessary hold ups.

At Longridge about a dozen people joined us for our final day. A cameraman was on hand from Lancashire TV after a short walk out of Longridge we were walking across fields, got lost in the wrong field for a bit then carried on till we came to a footbridge over the M6. Very soon we were on the muddiest canal bank you can possibly imagine. Almost impossible to walk on in some parts but we did. We were greeted to the sight of a heron tackling an eel on the canal bank which held us up for a bit of a natural history display, then we carried on. Leaving the canal we headed towards the penultimate village before our destination: Kirkham.

In Kirkham we met at the pre arranged Pub with up to a hundred people there to walk with us for the last 5 miles to Preston New Road. Among them was Natalie Bennett, former Green Party Leader who had come to join us on the last leg. We set off and the drumming and chanting from our long line of fellow walkers. I just felt carried over those last few miles. The Core Group were subsumed within the mass of walkers as we headed by road to our destination. Then we arrived. As destinations go it was not in itself particularly inspiring. A Heras security fence with a row of dayglo guards behind it The chanting continued from us all on the opposite side of road "No Fracking in Yorkshire, No Fracking in Lancashire, No Fracking Anywhere". The 8 of us from the Core Group crossed the road  with a banner standing in front of the fence for the photo opportunity. It was a lovely moment. To have actually made it the whole 120 miles and to be there with those who had shared the experience, the joy and the pain of walking all those miles.

We left the site and walked a short distance to a nearby Garden Centre that had allowed the local Anti Fracking Activists to use a huge polytunnel as their HQ. Lined up in a row at one end were 8 chairs with bowls of warm soapy water in front of them. we were handed red and white roses to hold to symbolise our 2 historic counties unity in the campaign against fracking. I addressed the crowd while standing in a bowl of water. I've got to say that is a first for me. The things I remember talking about was that the struggle we face against fracking being as much a global as well as a local issue. When I talked about the kindness shown to us on our journey I did start to feel a bit emotional as I it had really touched me but held it together as any repressed 52 year old Yorkshireman would. Then I reached into my rucksack and pulled out the Harrogate toffee tin filled with 'holy Yorkshire soil' from Kirby Misperton Protection Camp and we went outside and planted a Yorkshire Oak tree in Lancashire soil and symbolically mixed the soils of our 2 counties around it. Duncan from Blackpool Green Party said a few words and a poem. There were hand shakes and hugs and it was over.  Simon Duffy from Huddersfield Green Party was on hand to take me and Louise home to Huddersfield and back to what passes for normal every day life for me. Some time to heal, sit on the sofa and watch crap telly. Heaven!

"So did you save the world from the Frackers then?" was one mildly sarcastic question I have been asked. No unfortunately we didn't that day. If anything it is the people who go to Preston New Road and Kirby Misperton nearly every day to protest who deserve the most credit and will hopefully save the UK from the Frackers I believe. The aim of the No Fracking Way walk was to show that Fracking is not simply a NIMBY issue but that an attack on the environment in one place was an attack on us all. A sort of NATO pact for the Environment. For those places to be in Lancashire and in Yorkshire with all the historical connotations of supposed rivalry gave it additional significance. Walking a 120 miles in 5 days on roads is hard  but then we know that if it had been easy it wouldn't have been newsworthy or drawn as much attention and support from people across the North of England as it did. Division is everywhere in the UK. North and South, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Leavers and Remainers and so all actions which reach out and bring people together across divides are intrinsically a good thing to do. So as a proud Yorkshireman I'm also now the proud owner of a Frack Free Lancashire t-shirt. I hope to be wearing it at Preston New Road again very soon.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

No Fracking Way - Day 4 - Colne to Longridge

The Core Group assembled in the Black Lane  Ends Pub car park, just over the Lancashire border, that we had left from the previous night. Today was going to be a manageable 25 miles but because we had fell short yesterday we had to add another couple of miles to take us into Colne. It was a nice morning and the walk into Colne was an easy start down country roads. Psychologicaly we were in the home straight now. One more sleep before Preston New Road Fracking site near Blackpool, tomorrow was a theoretically easier 19 miles.We were well past half way. This morning it felt possible

As we reached Colne we were joined by Diane Green from Marsden who was to be with us for the rest of the day. Then it was a long trog towards Barrowford along the side of a busy A road. I was just glad it wasn't going to be like this all the way. Then we turned off  to a deserted back road with hardly any traffic with a great view of Pendle Hill. It was eerily quiet and for no apparent reason as I was wandering along I saw a small tree done up with baubles. All quite magical really.

In Whalley we stopped for lunch and met up as pre-arranged with 3 Lancashire Greens who were going to be joining us for the rest of the day to Longridge and act as our native guides. As we left Whalley in the far distance  a long ridge of land was pointed out to me. At the top of the ridge was the aptly named village of  Longridge. It became clear that our day was going to end with a very steep climb. Oh joy! Colin was now comfortably positioned in the passenger seat of Ann's car. Comfort for Colin I guess was anything that didn't involve standing up and walking.

By the bridge at Ribchester
As we came to the bridge at Ribchester to pose for a photo a Police van stopped to 'have a word'. All very pleasant but I could hear over the radio someone in another vehicle or a control centre somewhere saying the words 'Fracking' and 'Green Party'. clearly we were being kept an eye on and this was not necessarily a chance encounter. I wondered whether as we got closer to the Preston New Road site tomorrow that we might have our way impeded. Still we had got a plan for that! Some more locals joined us at Ribchester for the last haul up to Longridge and it really was a haul just like the previous day. Another hill that rose for several miles. Our group was stretched out again as we each plowed on at paces we were each 'comfortable' with. In retrospect we should have stuck more together as it wasn't always clear to us all which roads we should take.

Chatting with locals in Ribchester (courtesy of Louise Galvin)
The light was fading as we reached the Longridge pub where we had agreed to met a great crowd of Lancashire Anti frackers and Green Party members. We sat down exhausted and were gratefully to be plied with sandwiches, chips and beer. From there we were whisked off quite a way to Burnley for a Public meeting at the Methodist Church in the Town Centre. We had a good Lancashire audience and I explained the thinking behind our walk, showed the audience the 'holy soil of Yorkshire' in my Harrogate toffee tin. I could sense other members of the Core Group had heard the same 'jokes' now for 4 nights on the trot. Well I say 'sense' they had actually told me.

What was really lovely was that on our last evening all the Core Group were going to be all together.  Burnley Green Party members Jai Redman and Andy Fewster had a huge Victorian house and served us a beautiful meal as we talked about the last few days and looked forward to tomorrow. They really looked after us.

One thing I was acutely aware of was that I was now sore, very sore! It was a great house that we were in and I was on a comfortable blow up bed on the very top floor. I made my way up the stairs gingerly and wondered about tomorrow. The idea of walking 19 miles in this sort of pain was not appealing yet it had to be done. Following a bit of research for reassurance on the web, Compeed was boldly carefully applied to places it may never have been applied before. Feeling a bit more confident and patched up a bit I fell into a deep sleep. Preston New Road and the end of our quest tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

No Fracking Way - Day 3 - Onwards to Lancashire

We reconvened on Day 3 ready for the walk across country. To recap, when we were planning the walk, the route we had intended to take (as per googlemaps) took us on a dual carraigeway with no footpath. Our only alternative route took us south across country for a few miles then catching country roads to Ilkley then Silsden and over the Lancashire border to Colne.

My (and probably everyone elses) confidence in my navigation skills following the end of Day 2 had taken a dip after I had taken us through the boggy woods of doom. Then came Ed Carne to join us at the starting point that day. Ed told us how he was always walking round here and knew the paths really well. Ed talked to Nigel Corser (ex Army) and they nodded in agreement a lot while looking and pointing at the map. Ed knew what he was doing. Ed wore a bushmans hat! I had been usurped as the Fellowship of the Frack's navigator and felt pretty good about it! Colin Noble on the other hand did not feel good. He had applied 'Compeed' to his blisters the previous day and then removed them in the evening. Compeed acts like a second skin and isn't supposed to be removed like a plaster. Consequently Colin's feet had gushed blood rather spectacularly. He decided to soldier on and recompeed at the earliest opportunity.

We set off and soon our footpath entered a muddy farmyard as I passed the farmer I asked him "Is this the way to Blackpool?" and smiled. Then we were crossing boggy fields, went over a river and started working our way up the hill and foumd our way onto another farm driveway which became a country lane and at the top of the lane we met up with a group of about half a dozen Greens from Ilkley and surrounds. They were going to be with us all the way to Lancashire.  We were back on country roads again and had saved ourselves a huge detour.

It was now a tale of hills. Down we went into Ilkley around lunchtime and we went into Boots to buy up all their Compeed, pain killers, cushioned insoles, that sort of thing.  As we got to the main street we were greeted by a big crowd of new walkers plus a table with tea, coffee and cake. My feet were tired. I didn't know before this walk that feet could get tired but they undoubtedly were and we had another half of the day to go. So after posing with a huge banner our much enlarged group set off towards Silsden and back
Clive Lord - No Way Fracking!
up country roads up one of those never ending hills. Eventually we reached the top and a few of us took a break to allow others to catch up. I took off my walking shoes and socks and enjoyed the cool air on them. Then we were off again down the hill into Silsden. Hospitality in spectacular cake form was on offer to us travellers at the home of Caroline Whitaker. We also had an offer of tea and cake at the HQ of the Ecology Building Society that was also based in Sildsen so a few of us whizzed round there to say hello. In total we probably had about an hour and a half in Silsden. It was a good break and good cake eating but eating into our walking time and daylight hours. We set off again. No rest now till Lancashire. We had been joined at this point by Green Party legend Clive Lord he had joined shortly after the Party first formed in 1973 and can talk to you in the minutest of detail about all aspect's of the Green Party's Citizens Income scheme. He is in his 80s and had decided he was going to walk with us for the next 3 days. Don't get me wrong Clive is in good shape but the pace we were putting on was a bit of a challenge even for this sprightly Octagearian. We kept a watchful eye on him and he kept with us for many a mile but was retreived before the more punishing stretches to come. As I was walking behind Clive I noticed something different about his fluorescent tabard. All ours said 'No Fracking Way' but his said 'No Way Fracking'.

Heading out of Silsden along a canal was a novelty and a nice break from the traffic, not that we had seen that much on the roads we had taken for most of the day. Then we were heading up another long deserted road. I remember this from the recce I had done with Ann Forsaith in January and of course it seemed much shorter in the car but I knew that near the top of the hill was a sign saying 'Welcome to Pendle'  and therefore Lancashire and shortly beyond that a nice looking Pub. When one of the people who joined us that day pointed out a footpath we might take that might be a little shorter and take us all the way into Colne I could see us losing the picture of us entering Lancashire. I decidedfor good or ill we would plough on. It was a very long way and the group must have spread out over a mile. By the time we all reached the 'Welcome to Pendle' sign people in the Core Group , now at the end of Day 3 were exhausted and some us were very clearly in considerable discomfort.

Lancashire border - no checkpoint!
After a short break in the pub our hosts for the evening whisked us off. Me Nigel, Colin and Brian were taken off by Andy Brown to his home in Cononley near Skipton. To say we felt cared for was an understatement. Andy allocated us rooms, showed us where the bathooms were. I pretty much collapsed in a heap in one bedroom. Across the hall I could hear Colin, "Ah! Ah! Ah!" If I didn't know better I would have thought he was having a very pleasurable experience in there. What he was doing was slowly taking his socks off and inspecting his poor feet. We all gradually made our way down to Andy's dining kitchen where he and his wife had prepared a lovely meal for us and out came the bottles of beer. After the day we had had this was really welcome and lifted my spirits immensely. The day wasn't over and we were taken into Skipton for a
Janet Russell
Folk Evening held to mark our walk above a pub in the Town Centre. This again involved the torturous activity of walking up some stairs. I sat down and vowed not to get up for a good while. It was a good crowd of about 50 or so folks and there were a number of good turns that went on including Andy on his guitar. For me I'll always remember Janet Russell and her beautiful scottish voice singing. There was one line where she said something about a long hard road and I felt myself beginning to well up a bit but held it together. Being an unreconstructed Yorkshireman I never felt blubbing was a particulalrly good look. It had been a hard day.

Time to take stock. It had been tough and the Core Group were clearly not all in the best of shape. My chafing required a wee bit of attention. Colin's feet were shot and he clearly wouldn't be walking tomorrow and was assigned to help Ann in the support vehicle. Otherwise we were all up for it. Getting into Lancashire, going past half way and the warmth and care we'd had at the end of the day were all good reasons to carry on. Back to Andy Brown's, topping up the Compeed, the careful application of soothing creams, on with the compression tights and sleep. Onward to deepest Lancashire tomorrow.

A Levels - Your grades don't define you.

Shortly after the dawn of time, as primitive life made its way onto the shores of the virgin Earth I received my A Level results. Pretty fair to say that they were embarrassingly rubbish and reflected the time and effort I put into achieving those grades. Me and my mate Jim Griffiths often arrived late back at Greenhead College following a heavy drinking and pool session at The Grove Pub. The Grove then wasn't the real ale emporium of today but had chemical Stones bitter on tap (not hand pulled) at 50p/pint and a pool table. We'd arrive back for History or English late and end up having to skip out for an emergency pee after half an hour or so. So the results shouldn't have been a surprise. I was offered North Staffs Polytechnic to study Politics and International Relations or North London. I opted for Stafford. In Stafford I discovered the beer was an amazing 45p/pint. Fortunately half way through my degree I took 3 years out to work for the old Liberal Party as a Political Agent. I went back as someone with more knowledge of life and with a greater appreciation of the value of education. I still went to the bar but I spent a lot more time in the library and put much more effort and thought into my work. I ended up with a 2.1 and a First in my dissertation. So A level grades didn't define me, nor do they necessarily dictate your path in life. It is just important that young people are given many routes to achieve their personal goals and have a good chance of a happy and fulfilling life be that through education or work or vocational training or whatever and at different points in their young lives. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

No Fracking Way - Day 2 - From Brafferton to Harrogate and Beyond!

Day 2 start in Brafferton
I awoke on Day 2 not feeling too bad thanks to my compression tights. Got showered, had breakfast, thanked my host for his hospitalisty and got my lift back to Brafferton to meet with the rest of the Core Group in the same Pub Car Park we had been picked up in the previous night. Tom, our Gandalf, was looking uncomfortable and came with 2 of those nordic walking sticks. Our walk today was not supposed to be as long as the first days 30 miles but was still a challenging 25 miles. I'd noticed via Facebook that today was Tina Rothery's birthday. Now Tina is a formidable dedicated anti-fracking campaigner from Blackpool who has been pursued through the courts by Cuadrilla for legitimate protest at our destination the Preston New Road site. A classic case of big business taking on the individual and fortunately losing. The judge threw out the case against her but not after a lot of  angst for Tina personally. I successfully recommended that the Green Party give her a life membership in recognition of her dedication and tenacity. So before we set off we sang her Happy Birthday, filmed it and put it out on Twitter.

Then we set off. 4 Days to go. We were joined by a woman who'd been searching around for us. More the merrier on our rolling band of folk. Next stop Boroughbridge. The way to Boroughbridge was long stretches of busier straight roads with rather flat featureless fields. It was clear that Tom was suffering and as we got to Boroughbridge he sensibly bowed out. We'd lost our Gandalf and his nifty satnav GPS gizmo. He would make his way back to York but not on foot! Not to be defeated Tom did later did make the 120 mile journey a few months later but this time by on the bike with a group with the inspired title  'Tour de Frack'.

As we entered Boroughbridge, in fact just over the bridge at Boroughbridge we were met by about a dozen folk from Harrogate Green Party all resplendent in their ' No Fracking Way' vests provided by Ann from the support vehicle. It was great to see so many of them particularly after the disappointment of losing Tom. They were to join us on the rest of the trek all the way to Harrogate. We posed for pictues in the village square and set off. Pretty soon with a bigger group we were stretched out and formed into smaller groups and as a consequence we lost some folks on a big roundabout as we headed out of Boroughbridge. We probably lost at least half an hour of walking time. With us were Shan Oakes and Bill Rigby from Harrogate Greens. Bill was Mayor of 
No Fracking Way enters Knaresborough

Knaresborough which we were about to go though. The political nature of our walk meant that he couldn't offer us a Civic Reception, wear his chains of office or offer us the Freedom of Knaresborough but he could walk with us and welcome us to his Town. From what I have heard of Freedom's of the Borough this honour usually gives you the right to let your flock of sheep go through the Town Centre unimpeded or you can march your battalion through with bayonets fixed. We definitely weren't sheep neither did we own any and there was probably more than enough pacifists in our group to ensure that we would never have need of bayonets. There was a particular pleasure however of shaking the hand of a Green Party Mayor by the 'Welcome to Knaresborough' sign.

After a tasty lunch in Knaresborough at a great cafe called Henshaws staffed by people with learning difficulties we headed off towards Harrogate. I got a garbled, difficult to hear, phone call from someone called Brian who said he'd come from Darlington to join our walk. We caught up with him, a white haired pensioner and it appeared he wanted to come along for the whole thing and join our Core Group. OK this required a bit of logistics regarding where to sleep. It got sorted by Ann in the support vehicle. Thanks Ann!

Harrogate Centre was where I wanted to stop but we still had about five miles to go to the end of our walk. I was very conscious that every mile we didn't do one day would be added on to the following day. So the Core Group started making our way out of Harrogate leaving our friends from Harrogate Green Party behind on a constantly rising path by a very long busy road which seemed to be unending. Surely it was shorter than this when me and Ann recce'd this back in January in the car? I wondered why the path was there anyway much as I'm in favour of facilities for pedestrians. Who used it? Who would want to use it? I was glad it was there but I reckoned we were the most pedestrian traffic it had seen all day. Mercifully we got off this main road to a still rising country road heading towards a National Trust car park rendezvous out in the countryside. Eventually we got there with a great view of Fylingdales 'Golf Balls' across the Moors. It was beautiful, the sun was low in the sky but it was still light. This was to be the beginning of a cross country section across footpaths and little used country roads but most of that was for tomorrow.

We decided to finish by going across a short section of woodland that took us to another road and another car park rendezvous. I had the map and I lead the way! It didn't look too far on the map. The
path we started walking on became muddy, then boggy, then it was clear that it was getting darker, then I started doubting I was leading us on the right path. I was quietly 'crapping it'. The small hut we passed in the forest had the look in the fading light of the sort of place your average axe murderer might hang out in. I ploughed on walking along something which only vaguely resembled a path. Then I heard cars, a road, was that a gate? Thank f*ck! I was relieved and my attempts to style it out with the rest of the Core Group when we reached the Car Park of course didn't wash.

We were picked up by Harrogate Green Party folks and taken back to a bar for another evening bash in town. I got my bag out of Ann's car and found that you entered the bar by walking up some stairs. It hurt! We got beer and pizza and I said a few words. We all looked pretty knackered. There were blisters on feet, some of were hobbling a bit having stiffened up. Compeed had been applied to feet. We weren't yet half way and I was worried. I knew tomorrow was another tough day. Then the pro fracking Conservative Leader of Harrogate Borough Council arrived bought me a beer and gave me a bed for the night. He is my brother after all.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

No Fracking Way - Day 1 - Kirby Misperton to Brafferton

Dawn at Kirby Misperton
We set off from Scarborough just before dawn. Me and Louise were driven by our kind hosts from the night before to the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp and we arrived around 6.45am in the early morning.

The makeshift, homemade camp had its own charm. Temporary looking and colourful with banners from frack free organisations from all over the country. Colin Noble was already there. I spotted him by the wood fire having a cuppa. A few of the campers were there to see us off including Ian in his bushmans hat. Then I met Nigel Corser for the first time. He was carrying a large blue plastic barrel full of food supplies that he wanted to put in the support vehicle. The support vehicle was Ann's little blue Peugeot hatchback which was already crammed with our bags and a large supply of protein bars, a sapling etc. The barrel stayed at the camp!

Gathering 'sacred' Yorkshire soil
The media had sportingly got up to see us off. The Yorkshire Post photographer and a BBC Radio York reporter (who also did some filming for Look North) were in attendance.

I remembered! "I have a toffee tin to fill with Yorkshire soil" I found a suitable patch of earth, posed for the photographer, smiled and filled the toffee tin with 'holy Yorkshire soil'. It is God's own country after all! I wouldn't even let my atheism interfere with that firmly held belief. I put it in the bottom of my rucksack. Time to get everyone together.

There was the Core Group of 7 plus about
another 10 hardy souls who joined us for the first few miles. We posed for more pictures and then turned left out onto the road ( just as the original Fellowship did when they left Rivendell). We were off! No Samba Band as Kirby Misperton residents wouldn't thank us for that at this hour. No Leo Sayer! His agent had ignored my emails. We were walking with 120 miles to go.

About half a mile into the walk the BBC Radio York van had stopped and the reporter wanted to interview me live for the morning show. I stopped by his radio van and all the other walkers carried on as they should do. I explained about the walk, its purpose and how great I was feeling about it, which I did! Then the reporter recounted a recent encounter he had with someone who said that all these people walking in the road were more dangerous than fracking. I pointed out our 'No Fracking Way' Hi Vis vests, the Highway Code rules that we were following for walking in the road. Interview over and the other walkers were now nowhere to be seen. I pegged it up the road and caught sight of them just heading into the Kirby Misperton village proper. Once I'd caught them up we walked on for about another half mile and came to the point where the fracking site was to be developed, just opposite a farm with a few cows looking curiously at us. This was the point when the Core Group parted ways with those who'd come to see us off. We said our goodbyes, shook hands smiled and hit the road.

These were country roads, B Roads, quiet but long. We were to go on a trek from village to village. We came to our first village 'Great Habton'. I'm sure people who lived there thought it was great but like many of the placesit was  just a lovely little village. We posed by the boundary sign and I tweeted. This was to become a feature of many of our triumphant entries into hamlets, villages and Towns throughout the walk. We were really getting a pace up. We made our way through Amotherby, Appleton Le Street and Slingsby ( I believe they make Gin there). As we entered Hovingham we were met by a group of about half a dozen folks from Frack Free Ryedale. This really lifted our spirits. People were thinking about us on the way, were tracking our progress and wanted to join us on our quest.

As we entered the beautiful village of Hovingham we made a stop at the Worseley Arms Hotel. A country hotel  with nice carpets and big sofas. The sort of place that well to do country folk might frequent but on this occasion it was just us. Boots, walking gear and placards. We looked out of place but were made very very welcome sitting by the roaring fire being provided with tea and biscuits. I felt a certain amount of guilt. This was all too pleasant and not what I was expecting at all on this trek. The Manager of the Hotel proudly showed me his 'Frack Free Business' sticker alongside those from Michelin and Trip Advisor. Opposing Fracking was clearly good for business! We set off with still a long way to go. The good news was that for several miles the road we were to take out of Hovingham was closed to traffic for maintenance, but not to us so the next few miles we were able to bomb along without having to be too concerned about traffic. We were joined by Ian and Wendy from Rotherham Green Party. Wendy to walk with us and Ian to take some video footage of us on our trek.

Entering Easingwold at about 4ish meant we still had a fair trek of another 7 miles before we hit Brafferton where we due to finish for the day. If we didn't crack on we were going to lose the light. In retrospect we spent far too much time in the Pub before setting off. Some of us were looking a bit knackered. It seemed like a very long 7 miles and the sun was starting to go down. Only Louise Galvin had a head torch and someone else had a hand torch. The sharp bends with hedges made this all feel really dangerous and it seemed to take ages before we actually entered our end point, a pub car park in Brafferton, in the dark after 30 miles feeling pretty tired and done in. We were relieved to be retreived by members of York Green Party in a couple of cars. They took  us to York  for an event in a local Hall in our honour with music, poetry, food and beer! When we got there the boots and walking shoes all came off and we hobbled around or sat down as if we were never going to get up. June Tranmer from York Greens provided us all with a foot massage and we each had some quality time in a footspa she brought. Heavenly! Then I saw Tom Franklin's knee. It had ballooned rather spectacularly and worryingly. He was clearly in some pain. We would just have to see what tomorrow would bring but the thought of losing Tom, our guide, our Gandalf was pretty worrying. This was the first of 4 evenings where we looked after by local Greens and Anti Fracking Activists along the route I was immensely touched by all the care we received along the way. So I stiffly rose and went off with my host for the evening, shared a glass of wine with him before going to bed, donning my compression tights and falling immediately into a deep sleep.

The Fellowship reaches Brafferton

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

No Fracking Way - The Fellowship of the Frack assembles

Nigel Corser
We needed a group that would walk the whole 120 miles, who we could get accommodation for and feed. After I'd worked out/ been told it probably wasn't too smart an idea to do the whole thing on my own in January, I began to seek out a core group of walkers. An email went out to Yorkshire and Humber Green Party members entitled ' No Fracking Way - Call for Walkers'.  It did seem to get circulated outside the Party and we had 2 people apply who weren't Green Party members. We had Carolyn Popple who worked in a bookies in Scarborough. I'd asked for a head and shoulders picture and some personal information and Carolyn's came back with reflective sunglasses. You can't really understand a person from just a photo but this did make it a bit more difficult. Another non member was Nigel Corser from Lincolnshire, ex Army,  Leave voter but anti fracking. He was from North Lincolnshire. Again the photo he sent was a bit enigmatic and not quite what I was expecting.

Within the Green Party I sounded out a few people to see if they were up for the challenge.

Carolyn Popple
Tom Franklin from York was the Yorkshire and The Humber Green Party's Treasurer. I'd had a few drinks (too many) with Tom following a leafleting session in Scarborough. We'd had an entertaining time and I reckoned the walk may involve some time in the odd Pub or two so pleased when Tom agreed to join the team. He also took on the role of doing the navigation for our route and plotted the route in detail into a GPS. His calculations came back with some significant revisions if we were to get to Preston New Road in the early afternoon on Sunday. The first day was going to be the longest. From Kirby Misperton we were to walk not a leisurely 20 miles to Easingwold but a more punishing 29 miles to Brafferton. Worryingly for me Tom, a keen cyclist, told me about his practice walks which seemed more frequent and further than mine.

Tom Franklin
Colin Noble from Leeds was positive about the walk when I asked him. He had been the Regional Chair of the Yorkshire and Humber Green Party when I stood as our Region's Lead Candidate in the 2014 European Elections. We got on well. He had a good sense of off beat humour, he seemed in pretty good nick and went skiing and cycled a lot.

In response to the email from the Green Party we had Louise Galvin from Huddersfield who I knew as one of our leaflet deliverers in the area I represent on Kirklees Council. Louise's Facebook feed was full of pictures of her on various runs and fell races looking terribly energetic. Her bandana proudly declared 'vegan runner'. If I had to get a suitably descriptive bandana it would have to say 'omnivorous slob'.
Louise Galvin

George (Georgina) Perry was from Leeds Green Party and worked in the health sector. For a while I'd got her mixed up with the George (Georgina) from Lancashire who had helped us work out the route. I'm easily confused.

So we had a magnificent 7 walkers plus Ann Forsaith in the support vehicle. I christened us 'The Fellowship of the Frack'. There were 8 of us, just like in 'The Lord of the Rings', we were being guided by a tall guy with a beard (Tom). I of course was the moody, good looking (self deluding) Aragorn.  I would have to be careful about how far I should take the analogy because that would mean we would be equating our final destination in Lancashire with Mordor, the home of the army of Orcs and that
Colin Noble
wasn't compatible with the message of interregional goodwill we
were seeking to seeking to send.

The day of the walk drew near. We were to assemble in Scarborough at a 'kick off' meeting in the towns Central  Library on the Tuesday night. After a leisurely trip I met up with Louise in Scarborough she found a Vegan Friendly cafe on her Vegan eating app and we strolled towards it. I remember thinking it was a bit of a long walk to the cafe (it wasn't) and then thinking  If you think thats a long walk Cooper what sodding chance will you have of completing this walk you fool!" I can be a bit tough on
Georgina Perry
myself. Louise had a vegan friendly burger and chips. I had an
animal unfriendly burger and chips. We strolled towards the Library. I remember feeling stuffed and unenergetic "No backing out now Cooper you idiot!" I thought.  The hall in the Library was beginning to fill up a bit for our 'send off' event with about 40 or so in the audience and a panel I was on with representatives from the Green Party, Frack Free Scarborough, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats and me for the Core Team of Walkers. All good earnest stuff from all the speakers about why Fracking was such a bad thing from different perspectives. I stood up to talk about the walk itself and it occurred to me that I didn't know who Carolyn Popple was or Georgina Perry. I knew Nigel Corser was meeting us the next day at Kirby Misperton Protection Camp where he was camping. In a moment of inspiration I said " Can
Ann Forsaith
all the people in the Core Group of walkers stand up". They did
to applause! Ah! Carolyn Popple doesn't always wear reflective sunglasses. She must be George. Right got that! I then went on to explain that we were the 'Fellowship of the Frack' and that every Fellowship should have a 'precious'. I revealed an old battered Harrogate Toffee Tin which had been the repository for our tea bags back home before I liberated it. I explained how soil would be dug up from Kirby Misperton Protection Camp and carried all the way to Preston New Road where Lancashire and Yorkshire soil would be mixed together. Then the soil would be used to help plant a self seeded oak tree sapling that Ann Forsaith was bringing with her from Yorkshire. This was to be a symbolic act to demonstrate that an attack on land in Lancashire would be an attack on land in Yorkshire. Our soils were mixed, our fates entwined.

The meeting ended, we did some photos and went off to our respective beds for the night. We were to set off from Kirby Misperton at 7.00a.m. The next morning we would be on the road. Here we go.

The Fellowship of the Frack assembles (minus Nigel Corser)

No Fracking Way - Physical limitations

When people asked about what physical preparation I made so I was able to walk the No Fracking Way I generally replied that I received some good advice, " 120 miles in 5 days? Don't do it!".

As a guy who could do with losing a pound two or more realistically a stone or three, I approached the task with a certain amount of trepidation. Having come up with the whole idea and fronting it up, the prospect of making a complete 'balls up' of it and having to drop out after a day or two would not go unnoticed and be quite embarassing. Some degree of preparation would have to be done. The walk between our house in Brockholes and Civic Centre 3 in Huddersfield Town Centre was exactly five miles. I tried to get as many of these walks there (and occasionally back) as possible just to build a bit of stamina and confidence. I could bomb along quite happily. It was just like leafleting without having to walk up the driveways and I could do that for hours. On average it took me about an hour and ten minutes. So given the fact that our longest walk was supposed to be 30 miles all I had to do was times my morning walk to work by 6 and it would all be done in 7 hours. This of course assumed no breaks for lunch, no stopping for 'natural breaks', no late starts and no days when we didn't quite make where we were scheduled to be at the end of each day. All of these things happened to some extent or another so we ended up walking from 7.00 or 7.30am most mornings till the sun started going down at dusk at around 6.00pm. So pretty much 11 hour days with occasional breaks.

I and my fellow walkers were in pain to a certian extent a lot of the time so a couple of paracetemol with breakfast helped. No drug testing on the No Fracking Way fortunately.

Compression tights
I did get some good advice besides 'don't do it'. The best advice I had was from my old friend Robin was to wear compression tights to sleep in. Normally if I do a long stint of walking for several hours after a long leaflet drop I'll wake up in the morning with stiff legs and walk like your average 90 year old for a couple of hours. After the first night I woke up in York took off the tights and I was amazed it actually worked and the legs were fine. Feet on the other hand were a different matter. I got some good advice on footwear from the Manager at Outdoor World on the Piazza in Huddersfield, which seems to be having a permanent closing down sale. He was really knowledgeable and got me lined up with a good pair of Merrell walking shoes with plenty of cushioning and '1000 mile' walking socks. All good but 10 hours + pounding on tarmac a day takes its toll. I got off relatively lightly on blisters but all of us in the Core Group of walkers got blisters to some extent or another. We discovered the joys of Compeed. Huddersfield Green Party Chair Simon Duffy had told me about Compeed, the plaster that you put over the blisters which then acts like a second skin. We were all using this wonder material that enabled us to carry on walking and according to its website it also helped women in poorly fitting high heels dance all night as well. Though blisters weren't that much of a problem for me the tiring effect on your feet of walking on tarmac meant that every time there was a nice level grassy verge I'd end up walking on it for a bit of relief. Having a camelback in my day sack filled with water and electrolyte to stop me getting cramps was more good advice. It also meant I could drink easily out of a tube without having to go in and out of my bag.   Other physical effects of the walk were a certain amount of chafing here and there and the application of soothing creams to tender areas was essential. No more detail on this will be provided you will be relieved to know! Except I'm told it is the area "between the Funfair and the toilets".  Don't ask!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

No Fracking Way - Preparations January 2017

The date was set, the route vaguely agreed (between me and Googlemaps) and at least one walker recruited - me. There was clearly more to do. How many people could we get on the core group of walkers? Where would they sleep? How sure were we that the route Google picked would be suitable?

The first job was to test the route. So in January myself and Ann Forsaith, Coordinator of Yorkshire and Humber Green Party began a 2 day recce in her car of the route. We met at Leeds Station and made our way North to Kirby Misperton Protection Camp. We arrived pretty much first thing at Kirby Misperton. The camp was on land owned by nearby Flamingo Land and permission for the protectors to occupy the land had gone from no permission, dubious permission and now was assumed permission. Word had reached the folks at the Protection Camp and we met the head honcho Ian Crane to discuss our plans. Ian was clearly well connected. We met in a 'studio area' at the camp constructed out of reclaimed wood pallets and plastic sheeting with a comfy sofa and chairs. When I mentioned the Leo Sayer inspiration for the walk he clearly was on more than nodding terms with Leo. He was unsurprised Leo hadn't answered my emails asking him to join me on the No Fracking Way and reckoned my dreams of Leo strutting, singing and dancing with us the 120 miles to Blackpool were unlikely to come to fruition . He did however suggest that he might be able to rustle together a Samba Band to see us off which sounded nice.

 Me and Ann set off in her little blue car to map the route to our intended first stop Easingwold about 20 miles away. Ann had got a load of secondhand OS maps of various ages that covered the whole route which we could use to map out the route in more detail. Easingwold was the village where Fracking loving Tory MP (and once owner of 2 castles) Kevin Hollinrake had his office and perhaps we'd arrange something later in the walk there.  The route to Easingwold was lovely and flat, with quiet country roads, not too busy.if it was going to be like this all the way to Blackpool it would be fine.

We got some lunch in picturesque Easingwold and carried on to map Day 2 to Harrogate. Again not too bad until we reached Knaresborough then a bit of a steep patch up into Harrogate. So far so good. The next intended route was the A57 from Harrogate to Skipton. It looked fine on Google, a nice straight road. We drove along it for a while but it was clear that this was just plain dangerous. A dual carriageway, busy traffic, no pavement that went on for miles and miles. It was raining with heavy trucks when we did the recce. It could well be like this on the walk itself. "We would die on this road" I said with feeling. We would clearly have to find another way. Another way would mean Skipton as a place to walk to would now be out of the question. We would have to walk a more southerly route towards Ilkley and Silsden but there were no obvious roads that didn't take us well out of our way. We did however find a route across country which knocked miles off our route and took us off road all together which would be a relief.

Day 1 of the recce ended and we met up with Harrogate Greens at Shan Oakes and Bill Rigby's house where they were planning for a By Election in Knaresbrough with the exotically named Green Canidate Boadecea MacLeod. Shan and Bill were the owners of a beautiful Esse wood burning stove and oven that I coveted and Bill, the Mayor of Knaresbrough was the proud owner of the same name as my maternal Grandad 'Bill Rigby' who was an Independent councillor in Newcastle under Lyme (back in the day). The good natured meeting was chaired by the cheery Gilly Charters and there were a dozen or so of round the table. Ann and I explained where we'd got to with the No Fracking Way planning and the Harrogate Greens agreed to arrange an evening event and join us for some of the route. All good.

Ann went home to Leeds and I stayed with my younger brother Richard in Harrogate. Me and Richard have a lot in common. He trained as an election agent and so did I. We both were elected as Councillors on the very same day in May in 1999 and we both lead our political groups on our respective Councils. That's pretty much where the resemblance ends as he is the Tory Leader of Harrogate Council and is pro fracking. When the subject of me and my brothers differing politics comes up someone usually says something like "Christmas must be fun?" Actually we do usually get together as a family and things are pretty survivable and even pleasant. We did have one dodgy moment when my youngest son Toby at a family Barbecue said to Uncle Richard "Dad says all Tories are scum". Some time and some wine later we dealt with that issue. Our 2 boys have been exposed to our political views over the years and if something like the Bedroom Tax or ATOS assessments is featured on Channel 4 News the words "Tories are scum" may pass my lips. Actually if all Tories were like my brother and one or two other Tories I know then we'd be in a much better place. Well we would be remaining in the European Union at least.

Day 2 of the recce saw me and Ann carry on and work our way from Silsden to the Lancashire border. We found a lovely straight rising country road that took us up to remote 'Welcome to Pendle' sign. A symbolic and important point on our journey. We stopped and I posed with my passport by the sign. Not far beyond the sign at a junction was a pub. That might come in handy!

From there we had to cut short our recce to go and meet some Lancashire Greens in a cafe in Burnley to do some planning with them. It was a lovely break and we met about 8 Greens including longstanding stalwart Green Party member and all round good guy Dave Penney. A number of really good things came out of that meeting. Jai Redman of Burnley Greens said the whole of the Core Group of walkers could stay at his big house in Burnley on the last night of our walk. A meeting was arranged for the evening in Burnley and best of all we met George. She was a keen cyclist and route finder extraordinaire and would do the Lancashire recce to Preston New Road for us and send us a GPS Map of the route. This was great  Lancashire Green Party had done us proud. We left for home, back to Yorkshire in good spirits.