Special Report with pictures: Moorlands go continental with influx of Gallic flair

Ou sont les gripples? “In your vineyards?” asked one optimistic French visitor last week when staff from the famous Sheffield company’s Gallic arm took a trip over Sheffield’s moorlands.

Gripple’s Lesley Wainwright asked Longshaw’s National Trust volunteer walk leader Chris Morgan for help organising a short trek for over 30 slightly tired salespeople after their three-day conference at Savile Street, before flying back to their offices near Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Strasbourg.

French Gripple staff on a walk with National Trust volunteers in the Peak District: Chris Morgan (left) leading the walkers up Lawrence Field

French Gripple staff on a walk with National Trust volunteers in the Peak District: Chris Morgan (left) leading the walkers up Lawrence Field

“Whenever I come over on the train from Manchester I see this landscape and I thought it would be a shame to bring so many people over from France and not see it a bit closer,” said conference organiser Florence Fiedler.

“Our habit wherever we go is to look at the ceiling, because we work in construction. We don’t usually look at fences, so it’s good to see so many gripples here in the countryside as well.“

Ranger Chris Millner told the visitors how he and his colleagues were delighted when Hugh Facey came up with an alternative to ‘knitting wires together,’ as he described fencing in the past.

“You’d be there on a cold wet winter’s day trying to bend wires with your gloves on, and it could take forever, but with the gripple it’s now a two-minute job.”

The challenge of future financial knitting was also a conversation topic as Chris, Chris Morgan and volunteer interpreter (and former au pair) Kay Allinson led the walk along Millstone Edge and Owler Tor.

Much of the funding to reduce grazing and improve our moors, meadows and local countryside comes from EU grants that will end in 2020, Chris told the walkers over photos of beneficiaries like hay meadows, purple moorland (which some sceptics believed had been photoshopped), the courlis (curlew) and the ‘Cock of the Heather’, as the French more romantically called our humble grouse.

“Like a lot of people who know about the grants, people from France ask: ’Why have they voted to leave when they’re getting all that money from the EU?’” said Chris.

“We are curious that people here don’t see the advantage of belonging to the Union, unlike the Scots and the Irish, for example, ” said Florence. “It seems that people have been misled by what has been said to them, but we know that British people are still intelligent, and some are very disappointed by what is happening. But we also think they don’t want to be in the Euro, they do think they’re different. Really it’s a shame we’ve got to this point, and we hope France will not follow.”

The visitors remarked on landscape as well as cultural differences.

“It’s my first time in the Peak District, and I love it,” said Florence Beaudic, from Paris. “Near where I live we have arranged things with green spaces, not a landscape like this, where you have stone and grass and heather. This is a wild place. If I lived close to a place like this I think I would come often with my children.”

The walkers were excited by the passing livestock, and stopped to photograph every curious sheep. “I was amazed how fascinated they were by the sheep,” said ranger Lucy Holmes, who’d helped lead a second walk around the lower moorland. “I think in France they may not have stock near people.”

Lionel Patinet said his colleagues will have a different vision of their company’s home city after Friday’s walk. “They’ll think Sheffield is not only a big city, it is the Peak District too. It’s amazing to have such a big city right next to a National Park.”

“You do think of Sheffield as an industrial place, but it’s also lively,” said Florence Fiedler. “When I visit some old industrial towns, they look like they have been rich at one stage, but now they are losing that richness. There is not the same feeling when I go to Sheffield, where the universities and industries are so creative.”

So would Sheffield be a destination for vacationers from Bordeaux and Paris?

“I’m not sure,” said Lionel. “Not yet, anyway.”