Monday, 7 April 2014

Path and stream crossing at Aira Force

We've recently been working again at Aira Force, where amongst a lot of exciting new developments a new bridge has been put in near High Force to create a circular route and easier access onto Gowbarrow Fell.

The new bridge

With the new bridge in place we needed to build a section of path that would link the bridge to the original path network.

Before starting work

The section immediately after the bridge was just a muddy track so we moved some boulders into position to narrow the path, and create an edge, then dug out a tray for some gravel. The gravel all had to be shovelled by hand and transported to site using power barrows.

First section of path almost completed

As part of the path repairs we also had a stream crossing to deal with. Originally the path went over a rocky section where the river was spanned by a narrow slate (just higher up the stream in the photo below). We wanted our crossing to be large enough to get power barrows or quads across so we can more easily gain access to other sections of the path.

Area for new stream crossing 

The first job was to repair the stone edging next to the river, we then put in place a large plastic pipe for the river to flow through, this was a tight fit so also helped improve the structure to the crossing.

Starting work on the stream crossing

With the pipe now in place we covered over the gap with some large slates to create a slate bridge.

Stream with slates in position

The next job was to level the ground around the slate bridge. We used stone from an old, redundant, drystone wall to fill in sections of the path around the bridge to give us a good surface to gravel on.

Ground levelled at stream crossing

We then built up the edges with some large boulders so we could gravel over the bridge. These were cemented in place so that there would be be no chance of them moving.

Side stones in position

To finish off the bridge we covered it in gravel. By using gravel the slates underneath have a bit more protection from the machinery that we'll take over.

Gravelling the stream crossing

Finally we set to work on improving a short section of path that led from our new crossing.

Rough section of path

We pulled out the largest of the stones from the path and again built an edge that would help retain the gravel.

Putting in the side stones

With the new section gravelled we used a wacker plate to compress the gravel and form a solid surface.

Looking down the new path

As a finishing touch we used some topsoil and turfs left over from a previous job to help landscape around the new path and crossing point.

The finished path

Friday, 7 March 2014

Path repairs at Dora's Field

Since our last update we've been busily working away in Dora's Field, at Rydal, just outside Ambleside. Our work was replacing some old slate steps with something that would be easier to walk on, would be in keeping with the garden and would also last indefinitely.

 The original path

We decided we'd use the same technique as we had in High Close gardens at the end of last year. We set to work digging in the large slates to form the front of the step, and filling in the back with smaller pieces of slate.

 After just over a weeks work

The idea was to get our work completed before the main show of Daffodils started to appear. This would cause the minimum amount of damage to them and give plenty of time for things to settle down before the National Gardens Scheme open day at the end of March (Details of which can be found here... Link).

 New section of path

While working there we actually spotted the first Daffodil coming into flower, along with a few Crocuses and lots of Snowdrops. There were still plenty more only just breaking through the soil though, so there should still be plenty in flower if you're planning a visit in the coming few weeks.

 Getting the levels right

The work was quite slow going as each stone had to be individually shaped by hand and the levels needed to be regularly checked to make a good surface to walk on.

Filling in the gaps

Once all the stonework was completed we filled in the gaps with a dry-mix of sand and cement to add extra strength to the whole path. This was later covered over with some soil to help everything blend in a little better.
 
 The new path before landscaping

Once this was all done, it was just a matter of tidying things up, we removed all the surplus stone and levelled off all the soil that had been dug out. Then finally we removed the tracks we'd created where we'd accessed the site with the power barrow. The whole project took us a little under five weeks to complete.

We're planning to return to Dora's Field next year and carry out some similar work on the other side of the path to complete the short circular route. This will make the site more accessible to a wider range of people to come and enjoy Wordsworth's Daffodils each spring.

Tidying up and landscaping

Much of the material costs for replacing the steps were paid for by a kind donation so we'd like to give our thanks. If you'd like to donate money towards our work in the Lake District just follow this link...Lake District Appeal. To discuss donating to a specific project such as our work at Dora's Field please contact Liz Guest on 015394 63806 or email liz.guest@nationaltrust.org.uk

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cairns, a help or a hinderance?

Over recent years there's been a definite increase in cairns being vandalised. Much of this is presumably done with good intention, but based on inadequate knowledge.

We've often heard people suggest that "there are too many cairns" or "stones are better on the footpath than on a cairn". In some ways this is correct, but cairns still have a vital part to play on the fells. Cairns were originally built to help people find their way along a poorly defined path, and many have historical significance.

Large cairn on the right-hand-side of Stickle Ghyll

You can see a cairn in the photograph above that has become excessively large and no longer really serves it's intended purpose. The path is well defined and even when the cloud is down you'd struggle to get lost on a pitched path like this. The cairn has also reached a height where it is starting to fall back onto the path, which narrows the path and may make it difficult to walk on.

Having said that, there's very little surface stone around now so it's unlikely to get much bigger and cause much of a problem. It's also been around a long time, and it actually serves a purpose of keeping people on the path, which helps prevent erosion. So in this instance it'd be useful for those few stones on the path to be added to the top, but otherwise it can be left alone.

 Cairn at Rossett Ghyll, destroyed and thrown on the path

The photo above shows a cairn that has been knocked down for no apparent reason. We actually built this cairn as part of our footpath repair work to help guide people down the path. It's at a point where the path originally split, one route headed straight down the ghyll and the other followed the path we'd worked on. Before working on the path, the erosion in the ghyll was clearly visible from the valley below, but we've spent a lot of time revegetating it and it's now started to blend back in with it's surroundings. So by building the cairn, anyone who's a little unsure which way to go will hopefully follow the path, rather than causing more erosion in the ghyll.

 Rebuilding the cairn at the top of Rossett Ghyll

It seems strange that somebody would want to destroy this cairn, since it's not particularly visually intrusive and by looking at it you can tell there's been some effort made to build it and it's therefore likely to have a function. Also, why throw the stones onto the path, making it more difficult for people to walk on? This could possibly come from the idea that "stones are better on the footpath than on a cairn". The thought behind this statement comes from the fact of stones that are in the path are better left where they are, as they help it all bind together. Don't prise them out of the path to add them to a cairn.

Repairing the cairn at Stickle Ghyll

The above photograph shows another cairn needlessly scattered on to the path. This cairn was also built to help people find the path. In good weather it can be difficult to find this path, but in bad weather if you've never walked it before it's more or less impossible. This can, of course, have safety implications and there have been instances of cairns being removed, which has led walkers to become lost. This has led to Mountain Rescue Teams unnecessarily being called out.

We'd only ever really recommend removing a cairn if it is obviously very new, eg. two or three stones, and looks like it has been built by one person for no apparent reason. In this case it may be worth throwing the stones off the path to discourage others from adding to it. In this day-and-age unless it's for safety reasons, or to guide people onto a path, there's no real reason to be building new cairns, or indeed add to them.

So if you ever see a cairn and think you should add or remove stones from it, next time ask yourself a few questions.
  • Is the cairn performing a purpose? 
  • What would the surrounding terrain look like in bad weather, would the cairn then have a purpose?
  • Does the cairn really need any stones adding or removing from it?
  • What might the consequences be if I dismantled or built a cairn here?
  • Is the cairn old, and possibly have historical significance?
If you're ever in doubt it's probably safest to just leave it alone, as generally if left alone it won't cause too much of a problem. Problems only really arise if a cairn becomes so large that the path splits either side of it which may lead to a wide erosion scar. But in this instance it's not a one man job to fix, and if we perceive it as a problem we'll arrange a volunteer work party to properly dispose of all, or part, of the cairn.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Replacing steps at High Close

After completing our work at Allan Bank we recently moved on to some path repair work at High Close gardens, just outside Grasmere. The house and gardens at High Close date back to the mid-1800's when they were purchased by Edward Balme Wheatley-Balme, a Yorkshire merchant and philanthropist, and planted up with many rare trees and shrubs from all around the globe.

The estate was left to the National Trust in 1951 and the house was leased to the Youth Hostel Association shortly afterwards. Much of the garden has been in disrepair for many years but recently a National Trust volunteer group has taken ownership of the garden and cleared back areas of rhododendron and unearthed much of the original path network.

Steps in need of repair.

You can see in the photograph above some old steps in urgent need of repair. Much of this original work has at some point been dismantled and the stone removed, presumably to be used elsewhere on the estate. This is not uncommon, as slate is an expensive resource, so as the garden evolved, pathways would have changed and it would have been decided that the stone could be put to better use.

New steps after a few days work.

We decided that the work should be in keeping with the rest of the garden, so it was on obvious choice to use slate from the nearby quarry.

Steep incline where new steps need to be added.

The slate was all hand picked at the quarry and loaded into our trailer. From there we drove it the short distance up to High Close where it was then moved by power barrow to each of the areas that needed to be worked on.

New section of steps

To build the steps, we used two or three large rectangular stones as the front of each step. These were filled in behind with smaller stones built in courses, much in the same way as a drystone wall. All of the slate had to be hand finished with hammers to make it all fit together tidily.

Starting work on another section

It's been slow work, with each step taking roughly a day to construct, but the effect looks really good and in a few years time it should blend in seamlessly with the rest of the stonework in the garden.

Shaping a stone

There's still plenty of work to be done in the gardens, and we're likely to be spending more time here in future years. To see some of the fantastic work that the volunteers have been doing to help restore High Close gardens click on the following link...Album of High Close garden restoration work

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Working with volunteers on Gowbarrow

Over the course of the year we've spent a fair amount of time repairing the path up on Gowbarrow in Ullswater, and to help us achieve this work we've had fantastic support from numerous volunteer groups.

Although the path had previously been worked on a few years back, those sections that have been left had really started to worsen. You can see here just how bad the path was getting, with bare sections of peat which were steadliy getting wider and wider.






After some consideration on what would be the best method to repair the path we decided we needed additional materials as there was little suitable rock on site. So earlier this year several tonnes of gravel and rock was delivered to a nearby site and we filled the bags.


With the bags all filled, the next job was to get it up to Gowbarrow. A helicopter was used to fly it in, with the bags dropped near to the most eroded areas.




With the bags now in position we arranged our first work party. A group of Fix the Fells volunteers came out with us for a couple of days. Our job was basically to dig a shallow trench through the peat and fill it with the gravel from the bags to create a hard surface for walking on.





The next group to help us was from the Environment Agency's North West team. Once again we struck lucky with the weather and by the end of the day we'd completed another good section of path.


Shortly after this we were joined by a National Trust Working Holiday for a week. The section that we were working on is shown to the left. We decided to move the path from it's original location (in the first picture above) higher up the bank. We did this as the line was less undulating and so the new path will be more sustainable and less likely to erode at a later date.


So we set to work. Although it always seems wrong putting a path through an untouched area, given a bit of time the original path will green over and, in this instance, eventually the heather will return and nobody will be any the wiser.

Due to the close proximity of the crag, the bags had to be dropped a fair distance away from the new path.
To overcome this we filled buckets with gravel and created a chain of people moving it to where it was needed.


After a few days the new path was really starting to take shape.












To help make the path more durable we used a whacker-plate to compress the surface.

Our next group of volunteers were school children aged 10 & 11 and accompanied by the Field Studies Council. They joined us for an afternoon to help them understand the impact that visitors to the Lake District have on the environment.






Though only with us for a few hours they managed to get another decent section of path completed and also seemed to have great fun doing it.


As there was still a bit more work to do on the section, we arranged another Fix the Fells work party to finish off where we'd started with the school group.




Word had obviously spread from the Environment Agency about our work up on Gowbarrow, and later on in the year we were joined by another group, again from the North West.


Even though the weather had noticeably started to deteriorate since earlier in the year, we completed another good section of path.

With the days now shortening we had one more day to finish our work for the year. We were again joined by the Fix the Fells lengthsmen with numbers bolstered by staff from the Lake District National Park Authority, including Richard Leafe, the Chief Executive.
We had some more resurfacing work to do and also a large side drain that needed to be dug out.
It's really been a fantastic team effort to get this work done but there's still plenty more to be done. We'll be back working on Gowbarrow again next year for Phase 2, so maybe we'll see some familiar faces again then.







Over the course of the year we clocked up an amazing 162 volunteer days. Although we said it at the time we'd really like to reiterate how thankful we are for everybody's help. The work on Gowbarrow is incredibly labour intensive and there's no way we could have completed it without all the additional help. Thank you.

A few more photographs from our time on Gowbarrow can also be seen here... Gowbarrow photographs.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Footpath repairs at Allan Bank

Since finishing our upland path work for the year we've recently been working again at Allan Bank in Grasmere. We've done a lot of work there over the previous two winters creating a trail through the woodland, but there's always a few more jobs to do to keep on top of things.

Our first job was to build some stone drains. With a gravel path there's always a risk that during heavy downpours the path could be destroyed, so to stay one step ahead we've built a series of drains to divert the rainwater away from the path.

Drain building

Once we'd finished our drainage work we moved on to some path building. Using the same technique as previous years, we edged the path with logs, leading up to one of the view points.

Edging the path

With all the logs in place it was time to start gravelling. Once all the gravel was put down we finished it off with the whacker-plate which compacts the surface making the path more durable.

Gravelling the path

The photograph below shows a section of path that we were working on in February, we're putting in some drains before starting resurfacing. You can see just how wet and rough the original path was.

Working on the drainage earlier on in the year

The next photo shows what the path looks like now, and the drains certainly seem to have done their job. We're really pleased with the results, but don't just take our word for it, next time you're in Grasmere and you've got a spare hour why not pop into Allan Bank and have a walk around the woods? While working in the woodland we were also having daily sightings of Red Squirrels, so if you've always wanted to see one but not had the fortune, Allan Bank is certainly worth a visit.

The new path just a few months later