I walked up all of these today. #StepUpMountain 20th floor in Battersea's Somerset estate. #StepUpMountain

52,252 steps up

Everest

After 10 days of walking up stairs in London’s blocks of flats, skyscrapers, offices, train stations, car parks and shopping centres I have ascended the equivalent height of Mount Everest. In all I counted 52,252 steps up, putting my slightly above Everest’s 8,848m (29,029ft) peak. According to my Fitbit (that was measuring my cumulative elevation change while walking) over the 10 days I walked up 3,306 floors or 33,060 feet, the cruising height of many commercial flights.

Many thanks to Ordnance Survey for the building elevation mapping that underpinned my planning and for the Step Up Mountain calculator. Thanks too to David and Hilary (my parents) for helping to plan my routes and get permissions to access key buildings. Finally, thank you to all of the people who have given me access to so many incredible and interesting buildings over the last few days. Without your help my walk would not have been possible.

I will be writing a more detailed post that will include some of my reflections and photographs in the very near future. Until then, I hope you enjoy this short video that London Live made about the #StepUpMountain challenge / London Skyline Expedition.


Join me on the #StepUpMountain challenge from Monday

I have set myself the challenge to step up to the height of Mount Everest (8848 metres / 29,035 feet) without leaving London. I plan to do this by exploring London’s skyscrapers and high-rise buildings over 10 consecutive days. I love going on adventures in London and am excited to start this big challenge.

My challenge starts on Monday (8th September) and I would love for you to join me…

The #StepUpMountain challenge is something that we can all do. Without leaving your home, office, school, neighbourhood or city you can ascend the equivalent of Ben Nevis in a day, week or month. You could aim to hike the height of Snowdon by avoiding lifts or aim to climb the height of Everest collaboratively as a team. Simply accumulate over 2,000ft (609m) and you will have stepped up to the height of the mountain.

Step Up Mountain Challenge

 

Ordnance Survey have been helping me to plan and prepare for my #StepUpMountain challenge in London. As well as providing my with important location data and mapping, they have created us all this great calculator. Simply type in the number of steps you have taken… or plan to take… and it will tell you what you could have walked the height of. It also shows how many more steps you need to take to reach higher points. For more details on the calculator see the Ordnance Survey blog.

This is a great tool for schools and I do hope lots of young explorers join in.

Over the walk I am going to face a number of challenges. I worried about my feet for starters, but luckily the urban environment means that I will be able to wear some very comfy trainers. The number of shops nearby will mean that I can easily get food and water during the day too.

While the city may keep my energy levels fuelled, it has been very hard to get permission to access buildings. I have a few thousand feet pre-planned, but I am going to have to blag around 200 floors of elevation a day – which is going to be hard… very hard.

Technically I also need to keep track of my accumulated height. I’ll be using Ordnance Survey’s Locate App, a Garmin GPS, Fitbit and my ability to count to keep track of my progress.

My biggest challenge is my level of fitness. I’ve not tried to walk the height of Everest from sea level before… so we’ll see how it goes. 

You can keep track of me and join in on Twitter using #StepUpMountain.

I hope you are up for joining in.


Step Up Skyline Expedition

You don’t have to go to the ends of the Earth to go on an extraordinary journey.

This September I will ascend the height of a mountain by walking up stairwells in buildings. Mountain’s are anything over 2,000 feet (610 metres) in height. As most floors in buildings are 10 feet apart, this means walking up 200 floors.

For the Step Up Skyline Expedition I am challenging myself to walk the height of Mount Everest (29,029ft) by exploring London’s tallest buildings. This is a creative way to explore London’s skyline and I am looking forward to meeting people who live and work in London’s highrise communities. The walk is going to give me an entirely new perspective on London not only because of the tall vantage points, but the experience of trying to gain access to so many different kinds of buildings.

I am doing this expedition from September 8th with the support of Ordnance Survey, Great Britain’s mapping authority. They are helping me find the buildings to climb, routes to take and places to explore. This geographic information is at the very heart of all the planning that we are doing. They’ve also whipped up this great mapping tool. Type in the number of steps that you have climbed and the calculator will show you on a map the name of a hill or mountain that you have ascended the equivalent height of.

Step Up Mountain Challenge

You can do your own Step Up Challenge by walking the height of a mountain and you don’t even have to leave your home or school, all you need is a good staircase.

Take part by:

  • walking 1 floor every day for 200 days,
  • walking the height as a team. 200 people could walk 1 floor once, or
  • walking the height of a named mountain.

You could walk the height of:

  • Slieve Donard (850m), the highest mountain in Northern Ireland,
  • Scafell Pike (912m), the highest mountain in England,
  • Snowdon (1085m), the highest mountain in Wales,
  • Ben Nevis (1344m), the highest mountain in Scotland, or
  • something even higher!

Please connect with me on Twitter @DanRavenEllison if you are planning on doing your own Step Up Challenge during the week beginning September 8th. I would love to hear from you. We will be tweeting using the hashtag #StepUpMountain.


I think, therefore I am – How London can become a National Park City

GLNP Stats

Following my blog post last November (What if… London was a National Park?) the Greater London National Park* website was launched at the start of last month. The website both mirrors official UK National Park websites and makes the case for London becoming the world’s first National Park City, a new kind of national park.

In the 43 days since, the provocative *Notional Park has been gathering supporters and building momentum. 37 organisations are Friends of the Greater London National Park* and this number increases each day. Since the project began, nearly 350 people have signed our petition to the Mayor of London. The plan is to submit the petition to the Mayor’s office in 2015.

To my surprise the Mayor’s office replied to the petition last week.

“Dear Petitioner

Thank you for signing the Change.org petition about turning London into the world’s first urban National Park.

The Mayor welcomes the call for more recognition of the importance and value of London’s parks, green spaces and natural environment. He commends the campaign organisers for their inventiveness in raising awareness of this issue by calling for a Greater London National Park. The idea of a ‘National Park’ is an engaging way of sparking debate.

However, he cannot support a proposal to create a formal National Park as he understands that the evaluation framework for determining potential National Parks effectively excludes large urban areas. Furthermore, he does not have powers to ‘create’ a new class of urban National Park.

Nevertheless, the Mayor, through his London Plan policy and programmes to improve London’s park and green spaces, is providing a leadership role on this issue. In particular he has produced the All London Green Grid framework which, amongst other things, is fostering sub-regional partnerships such as the Wandle Valley Regional Park. These sub-regional partnerships have objectives consistent with those being promoted by the Greater London National Park campaign and are endorsed by London Plan policy and supported through Mayoral programmes. In addition, the All London Green Grid partnership brings together representatives from the boroughs, other land managers and environmental NGOs to ensure a more strategic, integrated approach to the management and maintenance of London’s green infrastructure.

Thank you again for contacting the Mayor.

Yours sincerely
Public Liaison Unit
Greater London Authority”

I find this response highly encouraging.

We celebrate the inspired work that is already being done across the capital and see the All London Green Grid as a fantastic framework from which a Greater London National Park would work. The potential, though, is to create a unit, department, authority or association with the power to do much more than this across a wide range of sectors, just like national parks do elsewhere in the UK.

The Mayor’s office only really gives one reason why they cannot support the idea.

“He [the Mayor] does not have powers to ‘create’ a new class of urban National Park.”

I don’t think this is right.

To be designated as a National Park by Natural England, the Park would have to meet certain (highly subjective) criteria and meet both the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act and the 1995 Environment Act. In an international context, it would also need to be recognised by the IUCN who have their own Protected Areas Category System.

But we are not calling for London to become a traditional National Park. Being defined in the same way as traditional, remote and rural National Parks would devalue the importance of wilder parts of the planet that need to be thought about and managed differently. Equally, a city like London needs to have the freedom to evolve and develop dynamically in a way that is appropriate for its own needs.

I do not want London to become a traditional National Park.

Map of the Greater London National Park* (web)

London should become a National Park City, a new kind of National Park with the same spirit and aims as other UK National Parks, but with its own distinct definition, classification, criteria for qualification, leadership and management.

As it stands National Park Cities do not exist. There is no international agreement or legal definition that prevents London or any other city from becoming a National Park City. The page is blank and the opportunity is enormous – all we have to do is reach out and take the opportunity to create this “new class of urban National Park”.

I call on the Mayor to consider how London could become the birthplace of a new kind of smart city, a National Park City.

Show your support for a Greater London National Park by adding your name to the petition

 

 


We are Crafty Explorers

Over the last few months I have been working with an outstanding team on Crafty Explorers, an innovative project to improve the health of children aged 5 and below. A response to the Knee High Project design challenge that is run by the Design Council and funded by Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, Crafty Explorers is a friendly and affordable place for families to make clay creatures.

photo 2 (4)

Other than boogly googly eyes all of the materials we use are natural and could be found for free with a bit of foraging. Acorn tops and pebbles make great eyes too though, so some are 100% natural. After making their crafty creatures we challenge children to complete missions with them in local parks. Challenges include going outside into green spaces to fly, climb, make a nest, find a worm, hide from pigeons and many more.

Crafty Explorers (5)

The pop-up shop that we opened to trial our ideas in Nunhead (Southwark, south London) was a massive success. Parents reported that we were having a positive influence on the physical and mental health of their children, as well as helping them to connect with nature and learn new skills. Many families came back several times over the six weeks that we were open and a few visited us daily for periods. This is high street, popular and engaging “learning outside the classroom” and “fieldwork” that we have linked to local schools, but is independent of them.

photo 1 (2)

The building was provided by Southwark Council who are doing some great work to lift Nunhead’s village high street. With many central shopping areas in the middle of identity crises, we can see a role for Crafty Explorers not just in helping to improve the health of children, but in being an alternative centre for communities.

photo 2 (3)

Helen, Carolina, Lesley, Tom, Alan, Pete and Mark are just a few of the excellent people from Explorer HQ, The Geography Collective and City Farmers who have come together to work on Crafty Explorers. A blend of great design, simple ideas, deep thinking and positive energy made the shop the success that it was.

Crafty Explorers (1)

The pilot shop is now closed, but the project lives on. This week we present our research, ideas and plans to the Knee High Project panels. With a blend of skill, hard work and luck we may just get through to the next stage of the design challenge. This will give us some added support to help bring Crafty Explorers to the next level.

Nunhead Cemetery (1)

 


We have just completed the last of our 125 adventures across the UK

A short time ago Seb and I completed Route 125 and the our last of 125 adventures across the UK by going free running through the capital. From the Lizard in Cornwall to Unst in the Shetland islands every adventure has been different. We have been wild swimming in waterfalls, gliding over Yorkshire, tracking lots of animals and sleeping in all kinds of strange places. The purpose of the project was to celebrate National Geographic’s 125th anniversary and hopefully inspire a few people to try some of what we have done. It would not have been possible without our Toyota RAV4 that not only powered our massive journey, but protected us from rain, snow, hale, midges, sun and cold.

Slide 1

I will be writing a number of blog posts over coming weeks that include tales and lessons from our time travelling around the United Kingdom together, but on the day that we completed our ‘family expedition’ I wanted to share two videos.

Slide 2

The first is of Seb and I going cliff climbing in Pembrokeshire. With the guidance of Jon Haylock, an inspirational leader who is Head of Adventure at TYF, Seb needed to abseil off a cliff down to the sea and climb back up again. Then aged 9, Seb was very nervous and had declared that he was very afraid of heights. It took a great deal of courage for him to step backwards off that cliff.

 

Over the following weeks I slowly introduced him to bigger challenges, sometimes getting it wrong but mostly getting it right. A few months after this climb and a couple of weeks after his 10th birthday I took Seb and one of his friends to Zip World in Wales. Perhaps more of a controlled ride than an exploration, this adventure involved zipping down a 1 mile cable at speeds of nearly 100mph some 500ft in the air. This second video includes the sound of Seb shouting with joy as he zoomed down the line. A massive achievement for someone who was afraid of heights earlier that year. I am very proud of him.

Over the last 6 months our relationship has strengthened massively and seeing Seb grow in so many ways has been highly rewarding. Very few people are able to see as much of our country as we have and we both feel very fortunate for having been able to enjoy it together. I am now looking forward to our next adventure…

Visit the Route 125 website to read more about our journey, watch more videos, look at our photos and find an adventure near you. You can follow me on Twitter at @DanRavenEllison.

 


What if… #London was a National Park?

Over the last few months I have visited all fifteen of the UK’s National Parks. Together they include mountains, meadows, moorlands, woods and wetlands, but as someone who lives and works in London I think there is a crucial habitat missing… an urban habitat.

What if London was the world’s first Urban National Park?

Britain’s built-up area physically covers around 7% of land and is home to a diverse range of (wild)life. The London Biodiversity Partnership has identified 15 different habitats in Greater London and more than 1,300 sites have been identified as being of value to wildlife (though I am sure there are many more). Casting a spot-light on amphibians and reptiles alone, nine of the thirteen species (common frogs, common toads, smooth newts, palmate newts, great crested newts, slow-worms, common lizards, grass snakes and adders) can be found within the M25. The Central London RSPB group has a list of 132 species of bird that you can find in London and if you know where to look you can find brown hares, otters and dormice too. Of course there is also an eclectic range of humans who together speak over 300 different languages along with their domestic pets and those less popular creatures including foxes, rats and pigeons.

Green Grid Map

London itself is very much a land of parks. At least 3,000 public parks, woodlands and gardens cover 140sqkm of London, but when you include private gardens and other green areas London’s total green space covers 628 sqkm or 40% of the city. In comparison to current UK National Parks at  1,572 sqkm London would be the 5th largest after the Lake District (2,292 sqkm), Snowdonia Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri (2,142 sqkm), the Yorkshire Dales (1,769 sqkm) and the South Downs (1,641 sqkm). Compared to its 628 sqkm of green space London would still be the 11th biggest.

National Parks in the UK are administered by their own National Park authorities. These are independent bodies that are funded by central government to:

    • conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; and
    • promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of National Parks by the public.

There are a number of pan-London organisations working to improve the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the city and there are also organisations working hard to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of London, but I do not think they achieve what a National Parks status would. By rethinking, reframing and replanning itself as a National Park I can imagine a wide range of possible benefits for London. These could include improvements to biodiversity, architecture, green-ways, outdoor education, accessibility, how the city markets itself to the outside world and crucially, how the city sees itself.

By reframing itself as a National Park there could be a major shift in how London and Londoners think of themselves and how those outside London imagine the city. These include London as being a:

  • large archipelago of green spaces
  • wild destination to be proud of… right on (y)our doorstep
  • space where you have the right to roam, explore, play and learn
  • place where humans are recognised as animals and part of the world’s ecosystem
  • place where buildings and systems are seen as an urban habitat that is shared with other life
  • city that embraces domestic and feral animals as part of a city’s innate and historic ecology
  • city where large number of inhabitants recognise and enjoy their own great outdoors

In the city such an effort could change the way that the next generation thinks of and values their urban park and what can be discovered inside it.  Who knows what seeing (y)our entire city as a National Park could do for its and our development, psyche and outlook.

The River Brent near where I live.

 


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