Wednesday 26 October 2016

Don't let our landscape be ruined by a nanny state

A recent court ruling threatens access to the countryside, writes our fitness expert. As a nation, we need to appreciate our landscape more - and take responsibility for our actions.

Karl Henry

Published 27/04/2016 | 02:30

Out and about: Trainer Karl Henry regularly exercises on the Wicklow Way.
Out and about: Trainer Karl Henry regularly exercises on the Wicklow Way.

What a wonderful country we live in, surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans and parks that entice us to exercise in the open air. Actually it's something I think so many of us take for granted; Ireland is an outdoor paradise for so many sports.

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But that may be about to change. You may have read of a recent case in which a hillwalker was compensated €40,000 after a fall while out walking on the mountains along the Wicklow Way. This case may become the biggest barrier to Ireland's health that we have ever seen.

The decision is being appealed to the High Court, and I for one hope it is thrown out.

Personally, I am horrified by this case. In 12 years of writing columns, this is the first opportunity I have taken to criticise a decision, one I feel strongly about it.

We need to realise that there are always going to be accidents, but not through any fault of those who build these trails all around Ireland, managing the trails as best they can, helping us all to be active.

I run in the mountains, cycle on my mountain bike up there and hillwalk too. Many times I have come down off the mountains with scrapes, scars and strains. Just last week I was decending Djouce Mountain on the Wicklow Way, when I slipped on the path and did some damage to my leg. Is that the fault of Coillte or the men and women who look after the trails, because the path had a rock on it? No. It is my fault for not watching my footfall; my fault because I hadn't eaten enough food; my fault because it's a tough run and I decided to do it.

I could blame the weather because it was misty; I could blame the weatherman because they didn't warn me; I could blame the runner company I was wearing for not having sufficient grip, but in reality I was at fault and that's that.

The best part of my run was the wilderness of the scenery, the isolation that I experienced, the view and everything that goes with it. That recent court case suggests that any trail not totally ideal, not pavement-like in surface, is liable for any injuries caused. What a load of total nonsense. If we turn our country into a nanny state, not only will we see an increase in court cases, we will reduce our activity levels even more.

I suppose really there are two options going forward irrelevant of the outcome of the High Court appeal. In the first, we can become part of the problem, blame everyone else for something that is simply an accident and look for compensation. If that's your approach, so be it. But you will be ruining our country for everyone else.

The second is to realise that accidents happen. You can always find someone to blame, but in reality there is something that you could have done to make sure the accident didn't happen to you.

What I hope though, is that this case doesn't stop people from getting active and getting out there. Or that it doesn't stop Coillte from developing more trails and areas for exercise, which is something they have done so well in the past.

I will continue to help as many people get active as I possibly can, encouraging everyone I meet on the mountains to keep going, to keep doing more, to bring more people out to experience the beauty of this country, and to get healthy at the same time.

Irish Independent

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