Kate Ashbrook: sticks out like a sore thumb

Kate Ashbrook: 'sticks out like a sore thumb'

The woman once described as the ‘high priestess of the countryside’ is again listed among strange bedfellows in the latest rollcall of leading figures in Britain’s countryside.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and a trustee of the Ramblers, makes the Country Life list of the most powerful people in the countryside. Also on the list are eccentric Everest summiteer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and would-be Highland wolfman Paul Lister.

As the summer silly season draws to a close with the darkening evenings and gathering autumn clouds, the bible of the green-welly brigade has pitched in with its contribution to listeria with an eclectic stab at gauging who are the movers and shakers in the great outdoors.

Ms Ashbrook, given the high priestess sobriquet last year by the Independent on Sunday, is described by Country Life as a walker’s heroine. “As head of the Ramblers’ Association, she sticks out like a sore thumb at gatherings of landowners and other countrymen but, undeterred, heads a large and vociferous organisation that campaigns tirelessly for access for walkers and is a driving force behind the coastal path.” Except that, she’s no longer the Ramblers’ (note, no Association) chairman – a post filled by Rodney Whittaker. Still, it’s the thought that counts. Ms Ashbrook is, according to the magazine, the 42nd most powerful countryside figure.

Adored from Coast to Coast: Julia Bradbury

Adored from Coast to Coast: Julia Bradbury

More of a force are, understandably the chief executive of Natural England Dr Helen Phillips, second only to Elizabeth Windsor, who heads the list, and Julia Bradbury, queen of the hills and walkers’ pin-up, who occupies the 17 position.

More questionable are ex-Cheeky Boy Lembit Opik, England cricket captain Andrew Strauss and Eric Clapton, once hailed as ‘God’ by numerous guitar freaks, but now more noted for his less than right-on views and a man who performs gigs in aid of the Countryside Alliance. The former Cream guitarist’s rock-and-roll credentials include ownership of country gents’ outfitters Cordings of Piccadilly.

And then there’s the Ferry family – Otis ‘a genuinely passionate hound man’ and his dad Bryan, former Roxy Music frontman who stood by his lad when he had an enforced stay at the expense of Her Majesty, 50 places above the ‘musicians of stage and field’.

There are a few names which are probably known only to field sport fanatics and Country Life’s 39,000 regulars, for example, ‘shooting guru’ Dylan Williams, modernist garden designer Christopher Bradley-Hole who is, apparently, the 83rd most influential figure in Britain’s countryside. Mr Lister, who wants to put wild boar, bears and wolves into a fenced-off swathe of northern Scotland, is four places lower.

Griff Rhys Jones: from Mountain to the rivers, making his presence felt

Griff Rhys Jones: from Mountain to the rivers, making his presence felt

Griff Rhys Jones’s campaign to get reasonable access to England and Wales’s water for paddlers gets a grudging mention, and Sustrans chief Malcolm Shepherd is held up for his mission to get us all on to two wheels. Bear Grylls, appointed Chief Scout this year, is in the top 30, pipping the outspoken Kate Hoey, an unlikely hunting champion, representing her constituents in inner-city Vauxhall while donning her pinks. She is, says Country Life, an ‘MP of principle’.

Bill Bryson, the razor-sharp observer of British foibles, and latterly scourge of litter-droppers, is hot on the tails of Ms Hoey at number 34.

Bear Grylls: heads the biggest youth movement in the country, the Scouts

Bear Grylls: heads the biggest youth movement in the country, the Scouts

If nothing else, Ptolemy Dean has taught us how to spell the name of the ancient astronomer who put the Earth at the centre of things (by the way, Country Life still can’t), but can he really justify his 50th place?

Possibly more so than the woman who brings up the tail of the list, but is more famous for her front: Katie Price, a ‘model turned equestrienne’ whose fluffy pink gilets belie her business acumen.

Still, it fills a few column inches in the dog days of summer. grough, of course, doesn’t do column inches, being more digitally flexible, but we’re not averse to a bit of fluff and nonsense, so come on: tell who you think are the real powers that be in the great outdoors.

Use the comment box below to put forward your outdoor heroes and heroines, pink gilets or not.

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