Haute Route Pyrenees - the journey one year on

Just over a year ago, I finished walking 900km coast to coast across the Pyrenees from Atlantic to Mediterranean.  It was never just a walk, and it probably never is.  It turned out to be a life changing trip for me personally in ways I never foresaw.  But this post isn't about me.

Many of the readers here donated to the two charities I chose to walk for.  To date, you helped raise £3,527 (includes the gift aid) - for conservation and education.  I had no idea we could raise this much together just by doing a long walk, I am really grateful to you all.  The money was split between the John Muir Trust, and Soundmix.  I wanted to update you with how your donation had been spent and to say a massive thank you again for your support.

Soundmix is an education charity working with young refugee people without family support in the UK.  In the last year the charity began the process of moving venues from 2 community centres in which the project was based, to work with schools in the south London area where many of the young people live.  This enabled improved access to the music and arts services Soundmix provides.

An initial 6 week pilot project at one school led to regular classes in 2 neighbouring schools, a further 4 week project based at the Refugee Council, and now a new class on Saturdays working with Compass, a community group in the Croydon area.  There was a successful handover of leadership from the founding director to a new and very capable manager, with Trustees taking on more of a directorial role.  The two music staff are now aided by two previous students who volunteer as mentors, providing encouragement to the students and gaining valuable musical and tutoring skills themselves.

Soundmix is a small affair, and retention ranges from 37% to 88% dependent on the school/community centre client group, total numbers stand at 91 for the year, a mix of young people from (in order) Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Eritrea, amongst many other nationalities.  The age range is now lower than before, which reflects the new schools work, 68% being under 18 years old.  Given the client group, and the demands that resettling makes on their lives, these are excellent results.

The diverse mix of cultures, languages and musical influences continues as a healthy environment for the young people to study keyboards, guitars, vocals and composition, but also to gain confidence and other social skills useful to them in the wider world.  The group has performed live at a end of term concert with great success, but the long term improvements in well being, confidence and ability to interact are even greater.  This has a direct and proven impact on school attendance and ability to self sustain long term by engagement in employment, housing and further/higher education opportunities.

The John Muir Trust is a conservation organisation that aims to conserve, campaign and inspire.  They directly protect 24,000 hectares of wild land and contribute to community land partnerships across many thousands more.  They run an award scheme to encourage people of all ages to engage with and care for the natural environment.  They also campaign for better protection for wild and remote places, to protect habitat and wildlife against inappropriate development.

In the last year, the organisation continued to gain ground in its wild land campaign, contributing to Scottish National Heritage’s wild land mapping, an essential tool for protecting sensitive habitats against accelerating wild land industrialisation and planning deregulation.  There have been several representations to Scottish parliament, 460 delegates engaged at party conferences, 5 objections made to development threats to wild land, and the employment of a new advocacy officer based in London to bring the case to Westminster.

The education program remains a hugely energetic and vital part of the organisation, empowering many to experience nature sometimes for the first time.  Last year the Award worked with well over 23,000 participants, 27% from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.  An audit of Award conservation work showed a staggering volume of voluntary engagement undertaken by participants, totalling close to £1million if valued monetarily - an area the size of 100 football pitches cleared of invasive species, over 82,000 bin bags of litter cleared, the list goes on...  The Award is a key 'in' to conservation and environmental concerns for the urban majority across the country and often the first point of contact and information for children and adults about these issues.

Work on the Trust properties continues apace, with productive partnership agreements made with Harris and Rannoch estates, a Wild Land Management Standard introduced across all the land in their care, (with an accompanying website launched in order to share information with other land managers), and a growing depth to the scientific monitoring of biodiversity across all the properties.  20km of path were maintained by staff and volunteers, with an increased level of coordination provided by a new paths officer, working Trust-wide to better balance access and conservation in this way.  On Knoydart, where volunteering activity has had the longest time to have an impact, exclosure fences were removed for the first time, allowing deer back into their natural habitat for the first time in years.  The native woodland is blossoming there.
I hope this update has been useful and not too long.  I think both of these charities are quite different in terms of scale, but not in terms of outlook.  What inspired my support (and maybe yours?) at the time of the walk is still true - both organisations are focused on refuge, and engagement through inspiration – providing a practical platform for change, 'digging where you stand'.

Funding is an ongoing challenge for both these charities. You can still donate if you feel moved to do so - by clicking HERE  In return you get detailed route info, screensavers, a gear report, and nearly 5 hours of audio trip report.  Also a copy of the video below.  Here are what one or two backpackers had to say about the Trip Report they received for their donation:

''David’s is one of several blogs that I referred to in preparing my own trek along the Pyrenees.  His is the best. It is different in that it is only available if you make at least a £10 donation to his charity page. The £10 donated to charity will help save walkers other, more rash expenditure.  I carried the notes on Joosten with me on my journey and found them very useful. Referring to them saved me from getting lost a number of times. David provides much additional information about where a short journey off route can save you days of carrying additional food and water.  The pictures form a slide show which is creatively  spliced with short video. The slideshow is inspirational and at times amusing. It records not just David’s journey but also the changing landscape of the Pyrenees''  Roger O Doherty 

''I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audio reports; they captured a sense of the journey and provided some interesting insights into the highs and lows of the HRP.  Footsteps crunching up gravelly slopes, the clanking of cowbells, or the rumble of distant thunder were great audio markers for the passing of time and the occasional interview with someone else broke up the fascinating narrative nicely... I also enjoyed the slideshow, really appreciating the opportunity to see more of David’s excellent photography, and getting a better visual sense of the changing scenery and landscape... I found the kit list a useful reference. I’m sure that, though specific items may become outdated, the ideas and approach will remain valid.Nick Bramhall

"David’s pack of podcasts, slideshow and notes gave me an enjoyable way to gain some vicarious pleasure from a wonderful walk that I’ll probably never be able to do.  Some of the pictures were jaw dropping. For anyone wanting to attempt the route, David has provided some useful information with maps used, amendment notes to the guidebook he used and a kit list with comments. All in all, I’m happy to have contributed to some good causes and received a good report of his trip." Robin Evans
As a reward for reading this far (!) and to celebrate the route which many more people will have experienced for their first time this year, here's a slideshow of the trip.  Vive le HRP...