Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The TGO Awards: If it looks like a duck…





If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Quoting Wikipedia: The duck test is a humorous term for a form of inductive reasoning. The test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject's habitual characteristics. It is sometimes used to counter abstruse, or even valid, arguments that something is not what it appears to be.

In the previous two posts about this year’s TGO Outdoor Blogger of the Year award there is general consensus amongst those who have posted comments that the average reader of TGO would not see the winning blog as representative of outdoor blogging. Social media – twitter and Facebook – was buzzing. Most were astonished that this blog, so different in style and content to all the other blogs that were nominated for the award, had won. Something wasn’t right.

The following (seemingly valid arguments) are all true:

  • The blog is about the outdoors. There are many pictures of the delightful blogger as though in a fashion shoot for a piece in a ‘lifestyle’ section of a Sunday supplement. And yes; Invariably, the images are taken outdoors.
  • The blogger is to be found in the hills: There was a delightful piece about a wildcamp beneath Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park, complete with a warming tarn-side fire, guitar music and wild swimming. Strangely, that post seems to have been removed today.
  • The blogger is also seen carrying out rigorous gear tests. The choice of rucksack might not have been to the taste of many TGO readers; it might have been shown to best advantage somewhere in Camden or Soho, but beggars can’t be choosers.
  • There is a fine article on outdoor clothing as well: What to wear in the winter in the country. I’m not sure that wasp-waisted party frocks or ballet pumps are everyone’s idea of typical winter gear, but surely, it ticks the ‘winter country wear’ box.

We’re all agreed then that The Girl Outdoors is an outdoor blog. And yes; The Great Outdoors magazine is an outdoor magazine.


So why all the fuss?

Let’s go back to the duck:

  • It does not come close to what normal TGO readers regard an outdoor blog: It looks like a duck.
  • Every other post seems to be an advertorial piece on gear or services: It swims like a duck.
  • The remaining posts are gear reviews – reviews so cursory that they are in fact advertisements: It quacks like a duck.

So I’m totally satisfied that this is not actually an outdoor blog at all, and nor would any loyal reader of The Great Outdoors magazine either. It is a duck. Hence the plethora of comments on my two preceding posts. It must be particularly galling for the other nominees in the ‘outdoor blog of the year’ category to have lost out to a duck.

It must also be worrying for the winners of the other categories as they are seeing their highly prized awards – for indeed they are – tarnished a little by an unseemly spat in the newest category – a category, as TGO said themselves, that had been brought in by popular demand this year.


So what went wrong?

I’m writing this next section as if walking over eggshells. 

After the nominations had closed it was pointed out to TGO on twitter that there was not a single woman on the ‘Personality of the Year’ category shortlist: see Mirella’s comment 2nd up from the bottom.



Women Climb’ then stepped in asking for the gender balance of the nominations for the awards: (2nd comment from the top in the next screenshot)

DW Screenshot_2014-11-23-21-44-44


There was obviously genuine concern amongst the largely female contributors to this thread that women were not represented in anything approaching a realistic proportion of the gender balance in the outdoor world. This is patently true. A good example of this is the fact that there were just two blogs out of the ten nominated in the outdoor blogger category that were written by women. But what could TGO have done about this? Nothing, of course, as they were the blogs nominated by the public.

The odd thing is that after this conversation took place on twitter (there were other conversations dealing with this topic as well) one of these blogs (the duck) came top in the voting and the other, ‘Two Blondes Walking’, apparently came second. And, the duck won by a considerable margin.

Now we have already seen that hardly any TGO readers (apart it seems from Martin Banfield – read his comment here) were aware of Sian’s blog. So they didn’t vote for it. Yet the two blogs written by women came top of the poll. What are the odds of that happening? Any statisticians out there?

Explain. Draw graphs. Give reasons. Show your ‘workings out’ in the margin.


TGO Towers

When this year’s awards scheme was started, the magazine had its Editor slaving away over a hot keyboard. Sometime later Emily went off on maternity leave, which is a joyous thing. But it did leave Daniel, the Digital Editor, with quite a bit more work to do. Of course he has help but TGO is a small ship and there is still a magazine deadline every month and an increasing digital presence to manage on top of this.

It’s been said elsewhere on the last two blog-posts that it was possible to vote and vote often on this particular poll. Apparently this has been the case for the last three years, and in the past there have been numerous cases of multiple voting, but nothing that materially affected the result of each category.

I’ve been told that this year it was unlikely that voters’ IP Addresses were checked. So: Given all that you have seen here, what do you think has happened?


What next?

This is really up to The Great Outdoors magazine. Already we have seen TGO readers cancel their subscriptions. We have seen a great deal of anger and disbelief at the outcome of this particular poll.

I think it’s right that it should be up to the great unwashed to nominate their choice for the public to vote on. It makes sense to keep the numbers to a manageable size so that people are wiling to trawl through the choices available before picking their own winner. However, I do believe that TGO should have the final say on those going forward to the voting stages. Who knows what might be the outcome if a well organised, ambitious blogger (say) manages to garner a fair few folk to get their blog nominated into the top ten? Perhaps that same blogger could go on and muster an active set of the community to support their effort, in order to balance out some perceived imbalance?

Using this system, TGO might be able to avoid the ducks in future.

What do you think? Have your say below. I know you’ll be civil. This place isn’t like twitter.

Thank you.


EDITED TO ADD: if you want a wise and wonderful take on blog awards, take a peek HERE

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The TGO Awards and an ambitious journalist.

Sian Anna Lewis

Sian Anna Lewis (pinched from her LinkedIn profile)


There’s been a lively debate on social media over the last three days about the winner of The Great Outdoors ‘Outdoor Blogger of the Year’ Award. You can read some of the debate in the comments section of my last post HERE.

I wrote in that post “Imagine my surprise when I learned last night that The Girl Outdoors had won this category.” Well, a lot of people were surprised by this result. The blogger, Sian Anna Lewis, wasted no time at all in getting the award onto her blog and her LinkedIn profile. Scroll through her profile; She has a short but impressive work history. Her current occupation is Online Editor for BBC Countryfile Magazine, working for Immediate Media.

Awards are important to young journalists; it helps them stand apart from the rest of the new journalists. Winning awards suggests achievement and promise. They look great on a CV.

Perhaps it was that urge to to have an award that drove this ambitious young lady to go for it. But how do we think that she did it? She’s not on any blogroll that I have seen. So, who nominated her blog and, who voted for her?

I’ll now show some screen grabs taken in the last couple of days.

The first is from twitter and shows that Daniel, of TGO, followed Sian (and her friend Lucy) between 15th and 18th June of this year.

Lucy, Sian & Daniel


The next screen grab takes in the period 3rd –8th October:

Sian & Daniel

It appears that TGO knew full well who Sian was and so presumably the content of her blog, well before nominations were due to close, which was 25th September. Voting for the award closed on 10th November.

The next consideration is the filtering of the nominations prior to publish the list to vote for. You’ll have noticed there was a choice of ten in each category in the awards. This means that some filtering must have been made; It is not credible that just ten candidates came forward in each category. TGO knew exactly who and what the Girl Outdoors blog was all about and all about the writer (she calls herself “editor of the blog, but let’s not quibble) as it looks as if she (and others) were being offered space for an article in TGO magazine itself.

I doubt very much if readers of TGO voted for her, as their profile is going to be totally dissimilar to her blog’s readership profile. This means that others must have voted for her. But how did they find out about the awards?

There is nothing on the Girl Outdoors blog about the awards leading up to, or during the voting period.

It has also been pointed out to me that there was no limit to the times you could vote. There was no IP Address block that you would normally find with online votes that prevents multiple voting.

It’s all mystery, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sian or Daniel can help us here?

Friday, 21 November 2014

TGO Awards & outdoor magazines’ circulation woes

In March of last year I wrote a piece on the circulation pressures on outdoor magazines. I illustrated the piece with a chart showing the relative decline of the three most popular UK outdoor titles: Country Walking, Trail and TGO. TGO has subsequently reverted back to its original title of The Great Outdoors.

Since I wrote that last piece TGO has revamped its online presence The Great Outdoors and I like it. It’s a much more readable online site these days. I often find myself reading and commenting on some fine articles. Recently they have had pieces on fracking and wind farms – subjects I’ve not seen covered in any other outdoor media. Daniel Nielson seems to have grabbed this by the scruff of its neck and is doing a fine job.

I’ve taken a look at the combined site for Country Walking and Trail – Live for the Outdoors – and I have to say that it’s unimpressive. See what you think yourself for both sites.


Here’s an updated circulation chart; it shows a further decline in print sales for all three magazines. The figures are for second half 2013. (New figures will be out in a couple of months) I don't know how to find out the popularity of the magazines’ online sites, but from the content and reader interaction I would imagine that TGO is doing better then LFTO.  

Magazine Circulation Pressure Figures 2013

You’ll see that Trail and TGO have both lost about 10% of their magazine readers in the last year and Country Walking about 12%


Over the last three years TGO has been very busy with a clever marketing ruse; the TGO Awards. I was nominated for an award in each of the years. I wrote about this HERE and again HERE. In the second of those pieces I was mildly critical of the emphasis put upon product. I wrote

  • My complaint, if you can call it that, is that the majority of the awards are going to businesses that make money out of our obsession with kit. Stuff. Just how important, in the overall scheme of things, is kit, when we are marvelling at the view of rolling hills and dramatic cloudscapes, with the wind battering us and taking our breath away?
  • So, eight out of the thirteen categories are all about KIT.
  • I am afraid that when I look at the long list of kit choices my soul slumps, just a little.


This year there was a new category: Outdoor Blogger, and I was included in that category but wasn’t asked or told that my name had gone forward for voting. If I had been asked I would have politely refused, as I found the voting in the previous two years to be totally bizarre. I didn’t mention it this year on the blog, instead favouring to support a blogger that I felt was a far worthier recipient – James Boulter of Backpackingbongos. I took to twitter and Facebook to support him there, hoping that he would break through the previous years’ bizarre choices. James has written and illustrated his blog wonderfully this year. He made a fabulous trip to Sweden’s Sarek National Park and countless adventures in the UK, in the wild places of England Wales and Scotland. Click on his name to have a look at his fabulous blog.

Here was the list of Outdoor Bloggers to choose from:


I would have been more than happy to see any of seven of those bloggers (the first seven) win this award. Some are friends of mine, but of the seven James has been head and shoulders the best this year. Tony Hobbs isn’t really an outdoor blogger, He’s more an outdoor film-maker. Two Blondes Walking are based in Dartmoor and are entertaining. I had never come across “The Girl Outdoors,” and I read a lot of outdoor blogs, as you will have noticed from my “blogroll” over on the right.

So Imagine my surprise when I learned last night that The Girl Outdoors had won this category.

Click on the link and take a look. I am absolutely stunned by this result. I have no idea how TGO could possibly think that this blog fits with the profile of their readership. The lady who writes the blog (which is really an advertorial business) is a professional journalist - the online editor of BBC Countryfile.

Another highly respected outdoor blogger put it far better than I ever could in his summing up of her blog: Here are two of his tweets on twitter:

‘I've only just looked at it - beyond belief! Trite and superficial rubbish.’ This was closely followed by:

‘@TGOMagazine: Have been increasingly unhappy about weak content and this outdoor blog nonsense is the last straw. Subscription cancelled.’


In these days of dwindling magazine readership, is it really sensible for a magazine to shoot itself in the foot like this? This result has a nasty knock on effect. It demeans all the other worthy winners of the awards. You can find out who won each category by clicking HERE. My congratulations go to all the other winners and TGO for hosting the event. But there needs to be a serious re-think on who goes forward to be nominated for voting next year.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Stronelairg Grid Connection to be sited at Melgarve

This is an unexpected post about Stronelairg wind farm. It’s a post to show why it so important to back the John Muir Trust in its legal fight with the Scottish Government over Stronelairg. Please, read on.

The John Muir Trust sent out an email today asking everyone to comment on Scottish & Southern Energy Power Distribution’s – SSEPD – proposal for a giant grid connection for the Stronelairg wind farm right next to Melgarve Bothy on the Corrieyairack Pass. How a wind farm is allowed planning permission without stating how it going to be connected to the National Grid is quite frankly, baffling. But anyway…

Let me jog your memory and show you where this is going to be, with a map:



The purple line from the top left to the bottom right of the map is the new Beauly-Denny transmission line. SSEPD had highlighted Foyers, Ft Augustus and Melgarve as possible locations for connecting Stronelairg to the grid, but they ruled out Foyers as being too far from Stronelairg and because there are  “No opportunities to extend substation site due to physical constraints.”

Remember that phrase for a while will you? It’s going to be important later. Thank you.

Fort Augustus was ruled out because it was also too far away from Stronelairg, the existing substation being at capacity and “significant technical and environmental challenges with grid connection route… and proximity to settlement.”

That left Melgarve, which as Goldilocks said – “It was not too far and not too small. In fact it was just right.” So, SSEPD have plumped for two possible sites at Melgarve.

Let’s now have a look at a map of Melgarve – the new Shangri-la for SSEPD:



SSEPD have identified two possible locations here

  • One immediately adjacent to Melgarve Bothy – Location A on the map.
  • One  next to Garva Bridge, a couple of miles down the Spey, Location B on the map.

Blow up the above map to a larger size; it will open in a new window for you. Just take a look at how they are cramming this grid connection in. It’s just to the north of the SNH Wild Land Area and just to the west of the Cairngorm National Park.

If you recall Wild Land Areas mean sod-all to the Scottish Government as they simply removed Stronelairg from the Wild Map so it could be built. And this grid connection is a good mile north of this wild land area. So, that’s not going to stop this grid connection.

Well then. What route will the 132kVA pylon run take from Stronelairg to Melgarve: Here are the options:



You’ll see that SSEPD are very helpful here; they virtually rule out three of the routes with the pink areas, which are “Localised areas of steep topography,” ie “Bloody hard to build a pylon route here, Boys!” So that effectively rules out possible Location A, then. So it looks like they’ll choose either a variant of Route 1 or Route 3&3A, both leading to Location B, near Garva Bridge.


So, what does a grid connection look like? You would be forgiven if you thought it was just a simple connection between the 132kVA pylon run from the wind farm intersecting with the massive Beauly -Denny pylon run. I’m afraid not, Dear Heart!

It will actually look like this:



Pretty big, hey? Wont that look great? But of course, it is going to be far worse than that. You will of course have remembered those magic words “No opportunities to extend substation site due to physical constraints” that you noted earlier.

Let’s now look at what’s coming after Stronelairg and why this phrase is important. Let’s look at the map of approved and in-planning wind farms for the area:

Highland Council Windfarm Map June 2014


You’ll certainly need to click on this map to read it; it opens up larger in a new window.

You’ll see that the Dell and Culachy wind farms are also likely – okay, pretty definitely – going to connect to the Beauly-Denny power line as well, for exactly the same reasons Goldilocks chose Melgarve in the first place. Culachy and Dell combined are roughly the same size as Stronelairg. However, each will need its own grid connection, so the eventual size of these grid connections is going to be two to three times the size of that shown in the illustration of the grid connection above. (You’ll note that the road turn-outs are already drawn in for the next grid connection, in the illustration of the grid connector.)

This means there will be a MASSIVE set of industrial grid connections running alongside the Wade Road through the Corrieyairack Pass. They are likely to be getting on for half a mile long by 250m deep.

That is a brutal industrial scar on the Upper Spey – one of the finest, most picturesque glens in Scotland.

The Scottish Government: “You can trust us…”



You can find out what the JMT think about this by clicking HERE and you can find the source information for this blog post by clicking HERE and downloading the pdf on the right hand side of the page. You can also download the pdf which you can print out, and then fill in with your thoughts and send it to SSEPD.

Thank you.