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Trailblaze blots on the landscape

I'm about to set off for my first long walk in the south of England: the South Downs Way. The goal is to sample the route and its waymarking and to make any final tweaks to our forthcoming guidebook.

At least, that was the original goal, but over the last month I've become aware of the spread of Trailblaze on our National Trails: garish metal boxes with a hole into which runners are supposed to stick their timing tags in order to prove how fast they ran. These blots on the landscape also advertise the Trailblaze website. Here's a photo sent by a friend while walking Offa's Dyke Path:


So far these things have been installed on 8 National Trails, including apparently the South Downs Way – so I shall struggle not to be distracted by them. I was delighted to find that some enterprising person has set up a Say NO to Trailblaze website and I must have been among the first hundred to sign their petition. Please follow this link to find out more and read people's comments, including some big names in the outdoor world.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for endurance runners who push themselves to the limit, whether on a National Trail or elsewhere. I just can't understand why they need to clutter our lovely countryside walks with these clunky metal boxes. If you are proving something to yourself or to others who trust you, what is wrong with a wristwatch – or, if you prefer, GPS? And if you don't trust other runners to tell the truth, the Trailblaze system won't work: there's nothing to stop cheats from cycling or mostly driving between boxes in their desperate attempts to be named on the website and win their coloured wristbands.

The system seems hopelessly low-tech, even obsolescent: you register online but then the timing tags have to be posted back and forth, so there's a delay before the results appear. It's also sadly open to misunderstanding and vandalism. Somebody suggested (in jest) on a forum recently that the flame logo and hole might confuse people into thinking it was a safe place for smokers to stub out their cigarettes. But a friend just sent me this photograph of the start of the Cleveland Way:


Look closely and you'll see that some vandal or fool has already done just that:


I can't say that I'm looking forward to seeing one of these "in the flesh" for the first time on the South Downs, and we'll avoid any photos that include them in our guidebook. I'm so glad that Hadrian's Wall Path has stood out against the trend among Natural Trail managers to agree to Trailblaze being installed.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 2, 2011 6:43 AM.

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