The Inside Trek
How the minimum criteria of the responsible travel standard was met...
We concentrate squarely on the country we know and love, Northern Ireland, so it is only natural we want to maximise the benefits tourism can bring to the Northern Irish. We research, design and operate each itinerary ourselves and do not source our itineraries from other agents. That allows us to make the biggest economic difference we can, by putting support for ‘local’ at the heart of everything we do and each experience we offer:
• Local People: all of our members of staff, tour leaders and assistants and other partners live in (and are often from) Northern Ireland, carry out all their tasks within the country, and contribute full time to their local economies. That’s important to us both because locals know where the best food, souvenirs, local crafts and entertainment can be found, but also because we’re hugely proud of the ingenuity, creativity, friendliness and warmth of our compatriots. We want the world to better know us for those traits.
• Local Communities: by not focusing on one specific mountain range or area in Northern Ireland, we help to support communities that might not otherwise benefit as much from the tourism industry. Yes, we do visit popular areas such as the Mournes, where hiking tourism is most concentrated in Northern Ireland. But in all our itineraries, we seek to encourage visits to areas that are not necessarily considered ‘highlights’ in the guidebooks (such as Trostan, the highest point in County Antrim), so we spread the love and benefits to those areas.
• Local Things: As demonstrated by “The Irish Project” where we sought to furnish the Copper Barn only with items that had been crafted and made on the island of Ireland as far as possible, we seek to source items, produce and ingredients that are made or grown in either Northern Ireland or Ireland as much as reasonably possible (and failing that the rest of the UK). Both because those local items and brands are superb quality, but also to ensure that the air miles behind everything we eat and use are at a minimum.
• Local Businesses: As far as we can, we also seek to buy all the items and services we need from local, independent suppliers (wherever those things are made). This includes in particular our amazing local ‘no packaging’ refill store, The Larder, as well as our local outdoors store, Outdoor Adventures NI, both of which are only 5 miles from our base. We think it is vitally important to put money and support back into our local communities, to strengthen local businesses, families, and individuals across all spectrums of Northern Irish life. And if we can’t find something ultra-locally, we widen the search out only as far as we need to – first the whole of Northern Ireland, then Ireland, then the UK, then Europe.
• Local Experiences: Each of the areas where we lead hikes offer our guests (and us!) lots of opportunities to visit and interact with local artisans, craftspeople and attractions in Northern Ireland, so our guests get an even deeper understanding of the Northern Irish people. Depending on our guests’ interests, we encourage them to include visits local, independent breweries and distilleries, food producers, textile manufacturers, potters & ceramicists, artists, historic or cultural attractions, and sporting events such as GAA, within their bespoke itineraries, wherever we hike. That way, our guests can have a great holiday while also fostering a genuinely deep connection with our wee homeland and making a positive difference to local communities.
• Local Support: We further support and give back to our local community by providing free group treks to organisations and charities working with local youth groups and disadvantaged local communities, such as Start360’s Ballymena-based Youth Engagement Service.
In these ways, we help to maintain jobs in a relatively remote part of the United Kingdom and ensure that tourism spend filters through into the local economies across Northern Ireland.
We all need this planet to be healthy and thriving – it’s the only one we’ve got, after all! And as an outdoors business, we of course are particularly aware of the need for us to take environmental responsibility. There are many, many aspects to doing that. But as a responsible hiking provider, the key elements for us are waste, emissions and impact on the land we walk on. In those areas, we look to take action both for our impacts & the impacts of guests.
At The Inside Trek, we hate waste – in particular single use plastic, which we think it has to be one of the daftest inventions ever. So we are continually looking to:
• reduce the amount of waste we produce; then
• ensure the waste we do have is the least harmful it can be, by refilling, reusing and recycling wherever we can; and
• dispose of what remains appropriately, where that’s not possible.
Here’s what that approach means in practice:
• As many of the products as possible in The Copper Barn and for those meals are sourced & re-stocked from our amazing local ‘zero waste’ refill store The Larder. And we are always looking for further ways in which we can avoid buying anything that comes in plastic (however convenient that thing may be), for example by cooking it fresh ourselves
• We never use single use plastic bags for our shopping (we are proud that Ireland led the way with a plastic bag tax in 2002!), instead using cloth, paper bags or glass containers to transport our supplies
• We provide our guests with a ‘The Inside Trek’ metal refillable water bottle, for them to fill with tap water (there’s a reservoir in the hills just up behind us)! We then fully clean that bottle after every trip, so its ready to use again. As a result, we do not use any plastic water bottles
• We prepare and provide virtually all the meals for our trips ourselves, so we aren’t using an ever-increasing stock of polystyrene take away boxes in plastic bags
• We only use biodegradable or reusable containers for packed lunches on all tours
• We never serve any food on single-use plastic plates, and there are no single-use plastic cups or plates or cutlery or film in the Copper Barn
• We have soap and shampoo dispensers rather than individually wrapped toiletries in our Copper Barn accommodation, and we have never used small individually packaged jams nor butter
• When out on a hike, we operate a strict “leave no trace” policy, carrying all litter with us until we can dispose of it in a responsible manner. Our trek leaders are fastidious in ensuring that this is followed by all participants on any hike
• We look to protect our hiking gear & equipment, regularly cleaning and re-proofing it, and always trying to repair any damage rather than having to buy new replacement gear, if at all possible. In fact, we deliberately chose the outdoor brands that we use because they share our enthusiasm for repairing, rather than replacing, equipment wherever possible
• Unsurprisingly given our Founder’s previous online career, we seek to do all of our business online rather than in print. For example, details of our treks and tours are made available to our guests in paper-free form online or as PDF versions, while we use electronic communications wherever possible. We only print where specifically requested by another party, and we deliberately decided not to have a stock of printed letterhead to help that. In the limited occasions where we do have to get materials printed, we use print on recycled or FSC-certified materials which are themselves widely recyclable and recycled wherever possible, and we only use unbleached paper. We also recycle our printer cartridges.
As well as dealing with our own waste, we also take responsibility for waste created by others. We promote and practice “Plastic Patrol” on all of our hiking trips and holidays, where we ask each of our guests on each of our treks to bring back at least one piece of plastic litter left by others on our hills, so we can dispose of it responsibly (and they are of course free to collect as much as they want!).
Our waste, whether generated or collected, is then disposed of responsibly, being recycled where possible via the sophisticated, separate recycling systems for glass, plastics, cardboard & paper, and food waste operated by our local authority, so that as little as possible goes to landfill.
Emissions are much harder to see, but they’re arguably even more damaging to the planet. We fully accept the current IPCC advice stating the need to cut global carbon emissions to 55% below 2017 levels by 2030 to keep the planet within 1.5 degrees of warming. And here’s what we’re doing on our emissions as a result:
• We travel on foot for the majority of the time on our trips, which is obviously an emission-free way of getting around! But, save for visits to Belfast where public transport can be used from our nearest town, we do need to use a car for the majority of our internal transport, as Northern Ireland’s public transport network is not particularly comprehensive or frequent. However, where we do use a vehicle, we look to ensure it is not excessive for the size of the group - no using a 16 seater minivan if we only have 7 people travelling.
• We look to further reduce our vehicle-related emissions whenever we can, by upgrading the efficiency of our current vehicle, via a new second hand car, as soon as we are in the financially position to sustainably do so (we believe new cars require too many virgin resources to be justified). Our last change of vehicle in December 2019 resulted in a 44.3% increase in fuel efficiency and a reduction of 22.4% in CO2 emissions. Our ultimate goal here is to move to a suitable electrically powered vehicle.
• Our central location also helps us minimise the amount of travelling by car that we need to do. We are ideally located within 25 minutes of both the Antrim Hills and the Larne Ferry Terminal from Scotland, 45 minutes from both of Northern Ireland’s airports as well as the Belfast Ferry Terminal, one hour from the North Antrim Coast, and one hour thirty minutes from the Mournes.
• We also encourage our guests to avoid air travel where possible by applying a ‘green discount’ for those arriving by ferry from the mainland United Kingdom, while, for guests arriving into Dublin Airport arrivals, we both reduce the price accordingly – and apply a further ‘green discount’ – if they take the AirCoach service to Belfast.
• We also use local produce, items and ingredients as much as possible throughout our experiences, both because they’re great quality, but also to ensure that the air miles behind everything we eat and use are at a minimum.
• While Northern Ireland may not be renowned for the sun, we use solar energy to heat the water in the Copper Barn, while the barn was specifically conceived and designed to be highly eco-efficient and so is excellent at harnessing & retaining whatever heat there is in the day.
• When the barn does require some additional heating (usually the later autumn and winter months), we have both a log burner which is fuelled from replenished resources, as well as Wi-Fi-controlled electric radiators in barn, which we recently upgraded the efficiency of in February 2020.
• For the provision of the mains electricity that we do still end up needing, we are on the greenest tariff available in Northern Ireland, while the Northern Irish grid is also increasingly harnessing wind power, including from three large networked wind farms that sit in the hills just up behind the Barn.
We are proud of all of those. But we’re not satisfied with them. So we are also part of www.tourismdeclares.com, a collective of almost 100 travel companies, organisations and professionals who have declared a climate emergency and are coming together to find solutions. We will not rest on this one – it’s too important.
We consider ourselves lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world and so we are deeply appreciative of the land we get to walk on. But every ecosystem has it’s vulnerabilities and we are aware that repeated walking can cause damage and distress. So we look to also minimise our impacts on the land as follows:
• We strictly limit capacity across all of our itineraries, by only operating one group at a time
• Our hiking holidays and trips are typically set to a maximum group size of 6, as we believe this is the perfect size for a hike while respecting the capabilities of the destinations we visit. This also means our experiences are more personal & authentic for our guests, as our inside knowledge does not get over-diluted. So when we say small group travel, we mean it!
• We always encourage our guests to hike in lots of different locations across Northern Ireland, so we are not overly impacting one geographical area
• We always apply both the fundamental “Respect – Protect – Enjoy” tenets and the specific recommendations of The Countryside Code when out on our hikes
• We also protect & foster Northern Ireland’s hiking routes. Our Founder Andrew is a volunteer ranger for Outdoor Recreation NI, checking and auditing the key pathways in his area, such as the Antrim Hills Way. We are also always on the look out for opportunities to open up new walking routes across private land in Northern Ireland
• While getting out and walking, talking & exploring among the natural beauty, stunning scenery, warm welcomes & interesting history of Northern Ireland does the best possible job of giving our guests the deepest appreciation for the environment and ecosystems they are in, there are also a number of opportunities for our guests to visit and interact with local environmental projects, dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of our homeland ( as you would expect from somewhere as green as Northern Ireland!). These include the ECOS environmental centre, and the Broughshane Wildfowl Park only a couple miles from our base
Through those measures, we aim for our groups to be a helpful, and not overwhelming, presence on the local environment, helping us preserve and protect, while reducing the risk of an area changing environmentally due to repeated exposure to tourism.
But we also seek to have an even deeper commitment to our planet and an even wider environmental influence going forward. We donate one percent of the price of every trip to the environmental non-profits and charities we support through our membership of www.onepercentfortheplanet.org, so our travellers know they are having a positive impact on the ground they walk on. Currently, the charities we support are the ‘VOice of Irish Concern for the Environment’, ‘Green Sod Ireland’ and ‘Keep Britain Tidy’, all of which operate in either Ireland or the UK and work on environmental causes that we are passionate about as a responsible hiking business.
The opportunity to immerse yourself into a different culture is one of the best reasons for travelling, in our view. And so we look to do as much as we can to help our guests get to know everything about Northern Ireland, so they foster an ever-lasting connection to “our wee country”. Here’s some of the ways in which we help that:
• Before our guests arrive with us, we send them both a playlist of songs from some of our favourite Northern Irish artists and bands, as well as a list of some books and poetry by Northern Irish literary greats. Our wee part of the world has produced some cracking musicians and writers can build our guests’ excitement and anticipation for their holiday, while also giving them an initial engaging insight into life in Northern Ireland
• Given its turbulent past, we also provide each guest with own introduction to Northern Ireland, its history and culture, including advice on the political and social situation in Northern Ireland and on how to navigate discussion on such topics sensitively. This is both in relation to the past – i.e. “The Troubles” – as well as future topics such as Brexit and the upcoming 100th anniversary of the formation of Northern Ireland
• Then to deepen that initial insight once our guests are here with us, in the Copper Barn we have a small library of non-fiction books about all aspects of Northern Ireland and Ireland’s history, along with a further selection of fiction by local authors and poets. Playlists of local music of all shapes and sizes are also pre-programmed into the music player in the Barn
• There are also a number of opportunities for our guests to visit and interact with local social projects with direct or indirect benefits to the host community. Given the rural location of both the Barn and our hikes, a lot of the nearest locations are more about keeping old traditional industries and ways of life going. Examples of these include a local manufacturer of the hurling sticks & sliotar balls used in the Gaelic sport of hurling, and a traditional hand-loom weaver producing beautiful fabrics, rugs, scarves and cushions. But, we are only 45 minutes from Belfast, where there are many opportunities for guests to immerse themselves in projects and installations relating to Northern Ireland’s political and industrial past, including the outstanding Titanic Belfast museum which is all about Belfast’s surprisingly vast industrial heritage, and walking or taxi tours of key spots from the time of “The Troubles”. There is also an excellent little museum in our local award-winning village, detailing the history of the area and its community. We always encourage our guests to add these into their itineraries, alongside their hikes. And we always accompany our guests on any of these experiences, to help answer any questions they may have and to ensure their visit is informative, fun and hassle free
While we’re pleased with all of the above, we are absolutely not settling there. We are always looking for how we can apply these principles even more deeply and effectively. We do these things, not to impress others, but because we believe they’re essential. Not just important – essential. And, for as long as our planet or our neighbours need, we’ll keep at this.
But we need all hands on deck for topics of this size and importance. And so we seek to amplify our efforts further by asking our guests to help us with each of these things through our Traveller Code of Conduct, in which we:
• Introduce them to Northern Ireland – it’s history, culture, politics and social position – so that they are not just aware of, but informed about, sensitive issues before they arrive
• Inform them about Northern Ireland’s economic and industrial positioning, and in particular the lingering impact of the Troubles and the potential future impact of Brexit, to explain why we focus on buying local products from local brands, and as encouragement for them to follow our lead throughout their time in Northern Ireland
• Ensure they understand what equipment we can provide them with – for example, a water bottle – so they don’t need to buy or bring their own on their travels
• Educate them about the fragility of the ecosystems that we visit to ensure that they stick to the marked trails at all time, helping to minimise erosion in this delicate environment
• Help them minimise their waste and emissions, including cigarette butts
• Ask each of them to collect at least one piece of discarded plastic on each hike, as mentioned above
• Encourage them to value the water they carry and drink – Ireland is usually not short of H2O but it all still needs to be processed and dealt with and so needs to be respected all the same
• Encourage them to broaden their experience in Northern Ireland by adding visits to social and environment destinations alongside their hikes
From all of that, we are confident our guests will go back home not just refreshed, but more knowledgeable and appreciative of the outdoors, and with a genuinely deep connection to Northern Ireland. And we will all have done our part to help look after the land and communities we will walk within and enjoy
How we use this policy
This policy – and the principles and approach with it – are so important to us that we distribute it to all staff members and long-term suppliers, we provide it to all our guests, and it is available on our website www.theinsidetrek.com (alongside our more detailed business Code of Responsibility).
We also believe in accountability and so we actively want to know if anyone ever thinks that we are not staying true to it. After each trip, we therefore specifically ask our guests about the extent to which they feel we have stayed true to these crucial topics. We also let them know that they can raise any issues – about this policy or indeed any other issue – directly with our non-executive director, if they do not feel comfortable or able raising them with their tour leader or our founder, Andrew. And we undertake that Michael will respond to them in person on each of the issues they may raise.
At The Inside Trek, we are proud to be committed to “better”