World Trail Conference Report and photos by Paddy Dillon
Oh Chang-Lim takes outdoor writing to a higher plane. I met him as he worked beneath a pine tree on the slopes of Wolla-bong, on the Korean island of Jeju. Dipping his brush into a bowl of black ink, he filled a wallpaper-like sheet of paper with curious characters. A crowd of onlookers snapped endlessly with their cameras, while it was explained to me that he was an internationally renowned calligrapher.
Kim Young Gap died in 2005, but I visited his simple gallery on Jeju, where people moved silently from one landscape photograph to another. An outdoor photographer like no other, he was often found rooted to the spot for days on end, and in all weathers, so that worried local farmers used to call the police! I was handed some notes in English, where I learned ‘if a rain drop landed on the lens of his camera he would leave it and allow it to become part of the picture’ and ‘any money that Kim was able to acquire he spent on film’. I wondered where many of the pictures were taken from, then I read that he ‘refused to degrade the images of his photographs with titles’.
Jeju was renowned as a honeymoon island, but its fortunes waned as Koreans began to travel more widely. Visitors can’t fail to notice tangerine groves everywhere, and rather surprisingly, this is a fairly recent agricultural venture. The wild and rugged coastline is often
Oh Chang-Lim, internationally acclaimed calligrapher, at work outdoors
dominated by pines, palms and pampas grass, while Korea’s highest mountain, Hallasan, towers almost 2000m above sea level - the centrepiece of its own national park. For decades, the summit was the main draw for outdoor enthusiasts, but this has clearly changed only in the past few years.
I had been invited to attend and report on the World Trail Conference at the end of 2011, and I knew absolutely nothing of Jeju. All I knew of Korea was that it was divided into north and south, and I discovered that the island of Jeju was well south of south. My briefing
Walkers on the Jeju Olle Trail, which encircles the island of Jeju
notes explained that I would be attending only part of the conference, with an emphasis on exploring parts of the Jeju Olle Trail and joining the Jeju Olle Walking Festival. I wondered why I hadn’t heard of these things before, but quickly realised that they had only just been created, and nothing prepared me for the cast of thousands who would be walking with me!
Only as recently as 2006, the Korean journalist Suh Myung Sook walked the celebrated Camino de Santiago. Returning to Jeju, she wrote passionately about the route, to the extent that Spanish pilgrims now comment on the number of Koreans on the trail. Fired with enthusiasm, Suh set about creating the Jeju Olle Trail, which is basically a coastal trek around the island of Jeju, and the trail is already estimated to attract a couple of hundred thousand walkers annually. As for the four-day Jeju Olle Walking Festival, that was only in its second year of operation, and some five thousand walkers took part. The World Trail Conference was also in its second year, attracting delegates from ten countries, all eager to learn from each other.
It is quite obvious that cash is in short supply, and government funding for trails is at an all-time low. I spoke to Tim Lidstone-Scott, of the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, who attended the conference. ‘Particularly prevalent among western trails was the reduced funding, and how to attract private sector investment,’ he said. ‘The Appalachian Trail and Bruce Trail are both run by not-for-profit membership organisations with little direct exchequer funding. Would this model work in the UK?’ The
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