Sheffield vs Lochaber in 'Outdoor Capital' Bust-Up

Feathers have apparently been ruffled in Fort William with news that Sheffield is looking to promote itself as the UK's 'Outdoor Capital City'. The Lochaber region, which has been marketed under the brand 'Outdoor Capital of the UK' (OCUK) for more than a decade, is said to be taking a dim view of its South Yorkshire rival. But who really deserves the title?

Into the heart of Bleaklow, 182 kb
Would you rather walk here...Photo Nicholas Livesey
Self-portrait on the Aonach Eagach with Inversion, 206 kb
...Or here? Photo Wee Jamie

A study, carried out by the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, has found that outdoor recreation in Sheffield generates more than £53m in economic output a year. The city, which is home to more than 10,000 climbers, 1200 members of the Ramblers and 26 running clubs, has the highest household spend on outdoor equipment in the country. It also boasts many thriving outdoor businesses [including Rockfax and UKC/UKH, Ed.].

"The Peak District is an area of beauty and interest, but it is not Lochaber"

An online survey carried out as part of the research found that the best thing about living in Sheffield is that it is the “best of both worlds” – a combination of urban living and access to the outdoors. An impressive 66 per cent of Sheffielders take part in outdoor recreation overall, more than six per cent above the national average.

Tim powering up Flying Buttress Direct (E1 5b), Stanage, 239 kb
Chalk... Photo Jamie Moss

Councillor Leigh Bramall, Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for business, skills and development, said:

'This is the start of something really exciting for our city. As a Sheffielder, I know that the city and surrounding region is home to some of the most spectacular hills, valleys and rivers in the country, which play host to tremendous opportunities for outdoor pursuits.'

'But to have this excellence confirmed by an independent study... is fantastic, and proves that now is the time to start building upon our reputation internationally.'

'It is crucial that we capitalise upon this research and work with stakeholders across all sectors to together position Sheffield as the outdoor capital of the UK, which will bring – and is already bringing – huge financial benefits.'

[Missing photo!]

But the people behind Lochaber's self-proclaimed OCUK status aren't welcoming the trespass on something they see as very much their turf.

Frazer Coupland, destination manager at the Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, told the Press and Journal newspaper that the chamber took any attempts by other areas to “pass themselves off” as the “Outdoor Capital” very seriously.

'OCUK has been our registered trading company for more than 12 years' he said, 'and the fact that Sheffield’s population is spending a vast amount of money on outdoor clothing hardly warrants the title of Outdoor Capital of the UK.'

'We have been challenged a few times over the past 12 years about our right to use the title and nobody has even come close.'

'The Peak District is an area of beauty and interest, but it is not Lochaber.'

One key distinction, and it's nearly subtle enough to be overlooked by anyone making mountains out of mole hills for the purposes of an easy headline, is that Sheffield is actually looking to promote itself as the UK's 'Outdoor Capital City'. Which is rather a different thing - and perhaps a title it might actually deserve?

So when it comes to outdoor attractions, just how do the two rivals match up?


The mighty Stanage would hardly be a flea bite on the elephant flanks of The Ben, but you could probably notch up as many metres of quality climbing in a day at either. Stanage wins out for the walk-in, but it's maybe not such a good place to wave axes around. It's clearly a draw then.


One boasts dozens of Munros, classic ridge scrambles and empty expanses about as close to wilderness as you can get in Britain. The other has the boggy waste of Bleaklow on the doorstep. Shudder. Oh, and some other wee heathery bits and bobs.


You could have mighty cataracts, hidden gorges, snaking sea lochs, pristine white sand beaches and the amphibious delights of Rannoch Moor ...or you could just settle for a stroll by Ladybower Reservoir and a quick nip up to see if Kinder Downfall is in nick. Tough call. 


Between them Glen Coe and the Nevis Range have some of Scotland's best and most extensive downhill skiing; and that's before you venture off piste onto the miles and miles of untracked slush and gravel that make Scotland such an unmissably unique snow sports mecca. Sheffield's dry slope at Ski Village might have been a contender, if it hadn't burned down last year.


"You could tackle some of the famous hills of the Peak like the Winnats Pass or Mam Nick, creating countless beautiful circuits" suggests our resident cycle nut Alan James, "or you could struggle up the majestic Glen Coe - probably rolling back down it again afterwards since there aren't so many options for actual circuits.‏ Unless you are a Wiggins or a Froome."

"I gather there's some off-road stuff as well, I reckon the two are about par on that."


The conclusion then? Outdoor capital-ness is very much in the eye of the beholder. Or a marketing gimmick.


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