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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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This is one of several items about walking and walks from home during the coronavirus lockdown of January - March 2021.

117.  Empirical Studies into Gender Differences in Hilly and Horizontal Pedestrianism

The two women powering along the Roeburndale Road on my previous Sauntering set me thinking. On my local walks I see others taking their daily constitutional, and I’d say that there are as many women as men, probably more. It is different with walking on the hills, as far as I remember. Hill-walking is an egalitarian activity. It doesn’t matter, and it is impossible to tell, whether a walker is a bricklayer, a judge, or a nurse. However, it is usually possible to tell, without being too inquisitive, whether a walker is male or female – and most of them, I would say, are male. Is it possible to give these informal observations a more scientific footing?
lune valley

Looking up the Lune valley from the old railway line

I set out first to investigate thoroughly the gender of local walkers. I walked along the old railway line, which is the most popular walk for local walkers, since it is flat, sheltered and requires no map-reading skills. It was a bright but cold Monday morning with wisps of snow in the air, so I didn’t expect a great number of walkers – but I duly recorded them all as I strolled along. I intended to walk as far as the Lancaster Canal and back but I found that the path was still closed at the motorway bridge because of seemingly never-ending flood defence work. Undeterred, I continued on the road because I wanted to see if the canal, at least, was back in action. The last time I looked it was drained for repair work but now it was full of water, with a layer of ice. From the aqueduct I could look wistfully up the valley to a freshly snow-capped Ingleborough.

ldwa As regards an analysis of hill-walkers, the Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) helpfully maintains a register of all those walkers who tell them that they have achieved various challenges. In particular, it has a list of those who have registered as ‘Wainwright completers’, that is, people who have walked to the top of all the 214 Lake District hills described in Wainwright’s books. It boldly labels them as ‘M’ or ‘F’. I can report that of the 856 names (at the time of writing) 76% are male and 24% are female.

What is the explanation for this difference?  This is risky ground but we can speculate. It could be because:
     •  Men just walk more than women – perhaps they have more time or energy to spare.
     •  Men like walking on the hills more than women – perhaps they don’t mind the mud or the rain so much.
     •  Men are more likely than women to take on ridiculous challenges, such as walking to the top of all the hills on somebody’s list – perhaps they are more generally keen on ‘collecting’ things.
     •  Men are more likely to complete such a challenge – perhaps they are more determined or stubborn.
     •  Men are more likely to report to LDWA that they have completed the challenge – perhaps they take more pride in seeing their name on the webpage list.

The LDWA list provides further details that we may analyse (well, it helps to pass the lockdown days). For each completer, the list specifies the date of completion and the hill on which completion was achieved. From this we may define three types of completer:
     •  A ‘single’ completer, who completes on a date and hill different to all other completers. (This doesn’t mean that a single walked alone on this or other occasions – just that if there were co-walkers then they didn’t complete at the same time and place.)
     •  A ‘paired’ completer, who completes on a date and hill the same as exactly one other completer, the other completer being of the opposite sex. (This does not, of course, mean that the two paired completers are a couple in any everyday sense or that they reached the top of all previous 213 hills together.)
     •  A ‘grouped’ completer, any other completer who completes on a date and hill the same as one or more other completers. (Again, this doesn’t mean that the previous 213 hills were walked as a group.)

The numbers of walkers of different types are as follows:
                Single   Paired   Grouped
      Male       461      101       87
      Female      83      101       23 
Isn’t that fascinating?  Most (71%) of the male completers are single. Most (60%) of the female completers are not single. In fact, nearly half (49%) of the females are paired. Of all singles, 85% are male. Of all completers, not quite 10% are single women. I appreciate that Wainwright completers are a rather special breed of walker and I daren’t speculate much. But does it suggest that men are more likely to walk on the hills alone?  And that women are more likely to walk paired?  If so, we two are stereotypical: I often walk alone on the hills and Ruth very rarely walks on the hills without me.

The River Lune approaching the M6 bridge

I returned from the canal the way I came, somewhat jaded and uninspired but determined to continue my assiduous analysis of the local horizontal walkers. Before presenting the results in the above format, I must point out that the LDWA register, helpful though it is, is remiss in one respect. It doesn’t mention dogs. Clearly, some hill-walkers walk with dogs – and some dogs must have completed the Wainwrights. They are not allowed to register the fact, which seems unfair. I, however, can record the dogs, which is no more than they deserve since there are plenty of them on our footpaths.

In the table below, I record the numbers of walkers of different types observed on my walk, where 'single', 'paired' (that is, one male and one female) and 'grouped' now have their more everyday meaning. I have also separated singles into ‘S’ (that is, really walking alone) and ‘S+Dog’ (that is, a single person walking with one or more dogs), and similarly for the paired and grouped types. Here you are then – ta, ra – the figures for my walk of February 8th 2021:
        S S+Dog  P P+Dog  G G+Dog
   M   15   9   15   2    0   4
   F   12  12   15   2    8   9 
Of the 103 walkers that I recorded, 58 (56%) were women, supporting my suspicion that most local walkers are women. Most (53%) of the men were single and most (59%) of the women were not single, as was the case for the hill-walkers. I am pleased to see that our local men are more chivalrous: 38% were paired, compared to 16% for the hill-walkers. Sadly, they also seem to be somewhat friendless (unless you count their pair as a friend): there were 0 all-male groups, compared to 7 all-female groups. Pairs are content with one another for company: only 12% of them had a dog, whereas 44% of the singles did. Of the 103 walkers, 38 (36%) were accompanied by one or more dogs. The total number of dogs seen was 31. As the best academic papers say, these interesting preliminary results need further investigation.

Hold on a minute. Counting dogs?!  Has it come to this?  Have I finally snapped under the stress of months of restrictions?

    Date: February 8th 2021
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: NW across A683 – old railway line – W – Crook o'Lune, Denny Beck bridge, M6 bridge – S, W on road – Lancaster Canal – and back the same way
    Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 20 metres

The two following items:
     119.   Silence, Serenity and Solitude
     118.   Coast-to-Coast in Six Days
The two preceding items:
     116.   Are the Caton Windmills on their Last Legs?
     115.   Risk, Fear and Pain – or Beauty, Joy and Wonder?
Two nearby items:
     192.   Who should we Trust with our Waterways?
       88.   The Lune Millennium Park Artworks
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell