Today, the Daily Mail is reporting that Derbyshire Country Council has improved some stepping stones across the River Dove by laying down some flat limestone blocks.
Is this really “news”, you might ask? Is it really something that deserves a whole article, featured relatively prominently on the homepage of a major national newspaper’s web-site?
In any other normal, respectable newspaper, this wouldn’t be news at all. It only appears in the Mail by virtue of the story’s ability to satisfy a particular narrative: “‘elf ‘n’ safety”.
The Mail kicks things off straight away with a measured and neutral tone:
Quite how having dry feet is a health and safety concern is anyone’s guess.
The article says:
An iconic set of stepping stones that appeared in Hollywood movie Robin Hood have been paved over by the council amid health and safety fears.
For centuries ramblers have crossed the River Dove in the Derbyshire Dales using the stepping stones, which have featured on postcards and calendars as an enduring image of an area visited by over a million people each year.
But the famous spot has now become an ugly eyesore after the uniformly flat limestone blocks were placed on top of the stones to stop people slipping.
The Mail also provide helpful before and after images to show us the devastating effect these paving stones have had on the “iconic” stepping stones.
Here’s the path before:
And here it is afterwards:
Now do you understand what all the fuss is about? No, nor do I.
The Mail added:
The move has enraged local people and a Facebook group has been set up to have the stones restored to their former glory.
I tried to look for this Facebook group but could not find it. If anyone has any luck, please let me know.
The Mail has included some quotes from the necessary authorities (naturally, appearing at the very bottom of the article, after the Mail has told you how disgusting and outrageous this decision is):
A Derbyshire County Council spokesman said: ‘The stepping stones at Dovedale are a public right of way and get a high volume of visitors every day.
‘Over the years the high usage has worn the stones and together with the changing river bed level this meant there was a large discrepancy in the crossing’s level from bank to bank.
‘Some stones were above the water level and others would be flooded, particularly in winter.
‘The National Trust asked us to look at the stepping stones. We have levelled the stones and brought them up to a consistent height so they are now all at the same level as the highest existing stone.
‘We are sorry to hear some people do not like them. We have had positive comments from the public and the National Trust.’
Michael Innerdale, general manager for the Peak District National Trust, said: ‘We feel the work carried out by the county council has improved the condition of the stepping stones, making them more accessible for our visitors.
‘Derbyshire limestone has been used to repair the stones and in time the stones will weather in appearance.’
In other words, the council and the National Trust recognised that the stepping stones were a popular feature and wanted to ensure that more people were able to take advantage of them. After all, they are there to help people cross the river.
At no point do the council or the National Trust say that the work was done for health and safety reasons.
I can’t help imagining what the Mail would have said, had it been around at the time the original stepping stones were laid…
Council jobsworths ruin river… by laying STEPPING STONES across it!
As you can see from the quotes above, the National Trust was at pains to explain that, over time, the new stones would be weathered and would appear just as “natural” as the rest of the stones.
The Mail has form when it comes to making a fuss out of a slight improvement made to a walk-way, as Tabloid Watch pointed out last month.
As always, the old Littlejohnian adage applies: You couldn’t make it up! …But you could certainly embellish it a little until it fits your agenda.
Thanks to Nathan for finding the Facebook group mentioned by the Mail. At present, the group has just over 450 members which is hardly a staggering number of people. Most of the comments are amusing to read. Predictably, most people are convinced the stones were improved because of “health and safety”. Rather more unpredictably, one person seems to imply that political correctness had a hand in it with another even positing that the decision might be totalitarianism…
You couldn’t make it up…