French Gripple Workers on the Moors

The view from Millstone Edge — Photo ©David Bocking

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 the local moorlands.

The company asked volunteer walk leader Chris Morgan at the local Longshaw National Trust estate for help organising a short trek for over 30 slightly tired salespeople after their three day conference at Saville Street, before flying back to their offices near Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Strasbourg.

“Whenever I come over on the train from Manchester I see this beautiful 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.“

Veteran ranger Chris Millner told the visitors how he and his colleagues were delighted when Gripple’s Hugh Facey came up with an alternative to “knitting wires together,” as he described fencing in the past. (The invention of a simple metal fastener to join and tension wire at the same time has seen the Gripple company grow to supply fencers, farmers, wine growers and construction companies across the world).

“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.”

Chris Millner showing an old fence to Lionel Patinet — Photo ©David Bocking

Financial knitting in the future was also a conversation topic as Chris and the volunteers led the walk along the gritty landscape of Millstone Edge and Owler Tor.

Much of the funding used to help reduce levels of grazing, and protect moors, meadows and the local Peak District countryside comes from EU grants that will end in 2020, Chris told the walkers, as he showed a series of photos of the results and beneficiaries of those grants: bee-rich hay meadows full of wildflowers not seen under intensive farming, purple heather moorland (which some French sceptics believed had been photoshopped), and birds like the courlis (curlew) and the ‘Cock of the Heather’ as the French more romantically called the humble Peak District 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 Fiedler.

“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. I don’t think we will.”

Chris Millner waits for a translation about the work to save the curlew — Photo © David Bocking

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 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. “It’s amazing to have such a big city right next to a National Park,” he said.

“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. The city is ebullient.”