Thursday, 8 December 2011

Replacing the bridge at Tongue Gill

With our upland path repair work finished for this year, our work has now shifted focus onto estate work around the Central and Eastern Lakes property. Our first job was replacing the bridge over Tongue Gill, just outside Grasmere. Although the bridge had been condemned a while ago, we had a few problems in getting hold of all the materials. Since the bridge isn't on the official right-of-way and there's another route avoiding the bridge, the delay in materials wasn't such a problem, but it was still nice to finally get started.

The Old Bridge at Tongue Gill in need of replacing

Once the materials arrived they were transported up to the site by the Area Ranger Neil using his Land Rover. Our job was to take down the old bridge and construct the new one. Although it may look like a giant jigsaw puzzle, there's a lot of meticulous measuring, and remeasuring, as all of the bridge parts still had to be drilled and if you don't get it spot on you can end up with a very strange looking bridge!

The materials at the site

Once the beams and uprights had been drilled, the next job was to remove the old uprights and hand rails from the original bridge. We decided to leave the old beams and treads where they were, so they could be used to help us get the (very heavy) replacement beams into the right place. We did this by making a number of rollers out of cut-down fence posts and used the traditional technique of levering and rolling until the beams were in position.

The new beams spanning the gill

The next job was to remove the rest of the old bridge and dig the new beams into position in exactly the right place. Once we were happy with the placement, the two new beams were fastened the correct distance apart by using lengths of threaded bar and three large wooden "spacers". With the beams now joined to each other it was time to start attaching the uprights and the treads. For this stage, we were assisted by Bill, one of the Estate Rangers based in Ullswater, as a couple of the Fell Rangers were unavailable to help.

Bill on the new bridge, with the uprights and treads in position

The final stage to complete the bridge was the addition of the hand rails. Once the bridge was finished, we erected a few sections of post and rail fencing to either side of the bridge. This was added to act as a funnel and help the local farmer herd his sheep across.

The Finished Bridge

Friday, 18 November 2011

Finishing off at Stickle Ghyll & working on Gowbarrow

During the end of October and early November we finally finished off our path repair project at Stickle Ghyll. Our main piece of work was a short section of pitching with an incorporated drain just before the stepping stones.

Area before the stepping stones in need of repair

We managed to squeeze all four Rangers onto the section that needed to be worked on so we rattled through the work in just a few days.

Section just prior to completion

Once we'd finished the pitching and drain we put down the last of our grass seed, and had a general tidying up of the area. This involved removing any excess rock that had been dug out, taking down our signs, collecting all the helicopter bags together and dismantling the shed.

With our work at Stickle Ghyll now completed for the year we moved on to work on a section of path at Gowbarrow in Ullswater.

Unloading the bags at Gowbarrow

As you can see in the photograph above, the section we were working on was particularly wet and boggy. This had caused people to try and avoid the area which in turn had produced several additional paths, so our work was to remove all the extra paths and get everyone back on to one line again.

Pete working on the drain

The work involved constructing around ten metres of pitched path and a large stone drain that would remove much of the water from the path. The work was made more difficult by the boggy conditions but the path quickly started to take shape.

Section of path before the drain

Once the pitching was all in place we were left with large quantities of peat that had been dug out from the path. This was moved either by shovelling, or using plastic trugs, to fill in the additional paths and other eroded areas around the footpath and recreate a more natural looking landscape.

Section of path above the drain

With this work completed and winter looming that's the end of our upland footpath repair work for this year. So over the next few months we'll be turning our hands to a wider range of estate work around the property. Of course, we'll keep you updated.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Resuming our work at Stickle Ghyll

With our work all finished at Mickleden our attentions have now turned back to Stickle Ghyll. We started our work here back in the spring before heading over to Mickleden for the summer months, and we've only around two weeks of work left until this project is also complete.

It's really apparent that the seasons have changed since we were last working at Stickle, it is now feeling much more autumnal which is providing us with some classic Lake District views. It certainly makes the walk to work that little bit easier after prising yourself out of bed in the pitch black at the start of the day.

A misty morning in Langdale

The section of path that we've been working on has proved quite challenging as there is a lot of bedrock right where the path needs to be built, meaning the path has to fit around the bedrock, or alternatively it has to be chipped out with crowbars and sledgehammers.

Another thing that has made building the path a bit more complicated than usual is the amount of large boulders that are in the way. These large rocks have either been used for landscaping or, if they're suitably shaped, we've also been using them to pitch with.

Nic pitching with large boulders

Pitching with large stone like this really helps tie the path in with the landscape, but if they don't go in correctly the first time around it can really slow down progress. It can easily result in two, or sometimes even three of us levering the boulder with our bars to get it into the correct position, and it's not always a particularly quick process!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Finishing our repair work at Mickleden

Over the last couple of weeks we've been busily working on the Mickleden project, so we can move back onto Stickle Ghyll for a few weeks, and hopefully finish our work there before the weather deteriorates too much.

Much of this work has again been upgrading the old path to make it more user friendly. You can see in the photograph below a set of risers (a line of stones dug into the ground to slow down the rate of erosion). Originally these risers would have been dug in at ground-level or, at least, with very little stone showing above the ground. Over time, the soil has eroded out in front of the risers leaving behind large steps that are more difficult to walk on.

Path before repair work

As this section of path is next to a beck which has been known to overflow during heavy rain we decided to build a pitched path incorporating the old risers. This has helped reduce the height of the steps and will also help the path stand up to the rigours of flooding.

Completed section of path

Another important part of this project has been the landscaping. You can see by comparing the two photographs above how the side-stones that run in a straight line (top picture) have also been removed and replaced with larger stones, in a more natural looking way. Subtle changes like this are unlikely to be noticed by most people but it's all part of our work trying to make the paths blend in more sympathetically with the surrounding landscape.

Once the path and landscaping was done we finished off this section by selecting a suitably large, and flat, stone and moved it into position as a stepping stone. The beck, which flows out of Rossett Ghyll can be really difficult to cross after heavy rain, so with the new stone in position people will be able to get to the other side much more safely.

New Stepping Stone in place

With our work at Mickleden finished (at least for this year), it was finally time to take down the shed, so there's no chance of it getting blown down in the winter. It'll stay here until it's ready to be moved to a new site next year.

Flat-packed shed, ready to go

Friday, 30 September 2011

Finishing off the top Section of path at Mickleden

Over the last couple of weeks we've been finishing off replacing the old and steep section of path at Mickleden, and landscaping the newly built path to help it blend in with it's surroundings.

With all the pitching now completed and the drains in place, we got on with roughing up the edges of the path with left over stone to make things look a bit more natural and also to encourage people not to wander off the path and create another erosion problem.

Moving a stone into position to help reduce corner cutting

Flat sections off the path were also made less attractive to walk on by digging holes and putting in smaller stones, that had been dug out while replacing the path. These stones were covered over with the soil that had been removed from the hole and the turf placed back on top, to create bumpy areas. This also helps to tidy up the area, rather than leaving a lot of left-over waste material around the worksite.

Once this was done we put down some grass seed and fertilizer. Though it's a little late in the season there's still a good chance that much of the seed will lay dormant over winter and sprout next spring. We'll come back and check it's progress in 2012 and if required put more seed down over the next couple of years.

The completed path, with freshly seeded areas

With the main section of path now finished we've moved on to some work lower down the path. We're mostly replacing sections where the steps are a bit too high, either because of the way the path was built, or because the ground has now eroded away since they were put in. Once we've finished these last few sections it should make for a far more pleasant walk down.

Replacing one of the short sections of path

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Continuing the work at Mickleden

Since working with the National Trust volunteers on the Working Holiday, we've continued to replace the old section of pitching at Mickleden, making it more user-friendly by re-aligning the path, adding some bends and reducing the height of the steps. We've now almost fully completed this section and it's really starting to take shape.

A section of the almost finished path

You can see in the image below, with only a few metres left until the path is finished, how it now winds it's route through the landscape. The bank of soil that can be seen in the distance, between Pete and Leo, shows the original line of the path. By adding a series of bends, rather than taking a more direct route, the gradient is greatly reduced making it much easier to walk down.

The path, showing the new line and the old route

With the path being on such a steep slope, during heavy rain there is a lot of surface water that if left to it's own devices would run straight down the path and likely cause damage. To help address this problem, we arranged a day with the Fix the Fells volunteers to build a turf drain across the slope. This feeds the rainwater into a stone drain that is built into the path, which then sheds it out of the way.

Volunteers digging out a turf drain

Over the next week, we'll get the last few sections joined up, cover over much of the soil with turfs, and re-seed the whole area around the path and between the pitching. Providing that most of the seed germinates (we'll put some more down next spring/summer if it's required) by this time next year you'll hardly know that that the original route ever existed.

Monday, 22 August 2011

National Trust Working Holiday at Mickleden

Over the last week we've had a group of volunteers on a National Trust Working Holiday helping us out with some path repair at Mickleden. We had a group of ten, who were all stopping over in accommodation at the National Trust High Wray Basecamp, four miles outside of Ambleside.

On the first day we had to carry all the tools up to the work site, so we shared out mattocks, shovels and crowbars between everybody and headed up towards Rossett Ghyll where we would be working for the rest of the week.

Volunteers starting work on the first day

The group was split into pairs, and each pair given a section to work on, and with four staff at hand it meant we could give everybody plenty of help and guidance. The first day is always the hardest, as it takes a lot more digging to get the first course of pitching in the ground, and the stones you start with are always deep ones. By the end of the day everyone had made a good start and had their first few stones in place.
As the week went on everyone started to get the hang of things and began to get more of an eye for how the stones should fit together.

The path starting to take shape

Unfortunately, as is becoming usual for August in the Lake District, the weather didn't remain dry throughout the week and there were lots of heavy showers about. Even on Tuesday when the weather was particularly bad, everyone remained in good spirits and kept up the good work.

Working hard through rain, and shine

By the end of Thursday everybody was making good progress and several of the sections only needed another course, or two, to join up.

Not much further now...

On the final day we managed to get each of the sections joined and most of the landscaping completed too. Everybody had a really good time, although a few people had said it was much harder work than they'd imagined it would be. As with previous years the standard of work was fantastic.

A job well done!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Replacing old pitching at Mickleden

A couple of weeks ago we made the decision to have a break from our work on Stickle Ghyll and move our attentions onto the Mickleden project.

The section we are working on is an area that had been previously pitched in the 1980s, when the path was very badly eroded. As the path was originally repaired before the use of helicopters for moving stone to site, all the rock would have been gathered by hand from the fellside. Due to this limitation, the stone used wasn't always ideal, meaning the resulting path was steep, straight and with numerous large steps, making it uncomfortable to walk down. This has led to people stepping off the path and walking alongside it, which has once again started to cause problems with erosion. As it is a common complaint, especially with some of the older paths, that the steps are too high, we decided to address the issue.

Pete levering a stone into position

Although the path had massively improved the damage being caused to the fell, we decided that we could now fly in a few extra bags of stone and make it more user-friendly. There are often constraints that mean steps need to be a little higher than would be desired, such as the gradient of the path and any underlying bedrock or boulders. So to take some of the gradient out we have decided to re-align the path and put in some bends, meaning the steps don't have to be quite so high.

 New pitching in place, with old path to the right

Where possible we are reusing sections of the original path and mixing it in with the new rock. We have saved all the turf that has been dug off and this will be used to landscape the old path, meaning it should blend in with it's surroundings much more quickly than if it was just seeded.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Herdwick Sheep

Perhaps the main influence on the Lake District landscape is that which is exerted by upland hill farming. It's hard to imagine that without any human intervention by grazing with sheep or tree felling, many Lakeland valleys would be densely wooded up to the higher fells.

Cumbria has two native sheep breeds; the Rough Fell, which tends to be more common around the Shap fells to the east of the County and the Herdwick which is distributed over much of the central and western Fells.

Herdwick ram

Both native breeds are considered threatened by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) as over 75% of their population are found within a radius of less than 20 kilometres. This makes them extremely vulnerable to disease epidemics such as Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue. The most at risk of the two breeds is the Rough Fell which is listed as Category 2, Endangered.

Rough Fell ram

Although the Herwick is commonly seen around the central Lake District fells, it is listed as a Category 3 breed, which is classed as Vulnerable. The Herdwick is believed to have become established from a flock of 40 sheep that were washed ashore from a Norwegian ship that was wrecked off the Cumbrian coast in the tenth century, but nobody really knows for sure.

The Herdwick is an extremely hardy breed and can survive up on the high fells throughout the winter. Sheep owned by different farms remaining mostly separate due to their ability to become heafed (or hefted). Heafing is when individual sheep return to the area of fell where they were weaned as lambs. So if a lamb is brought up on a particular area of fell it will, by and large, remain in that area without the need for any fences.

When first born the lambs are very dark brown (almost black) in colour and as they mature firstly their faces start to become paler.

Herdwick lamb

The main body of the sheep also becomes lighter over time and at the age of around one year you have what is referred to as a hogget, or hog. 

Herdwick hogget

Eventually the hoggets lighten even more in colour to the characteristic grey fleece of the sheep that is most commonly encountered. The fleece these days is worth very little, though it is extremely hard-wearing so is excellent for making rugs and carpets and can also be blended with softer wool to make it more suitable for knitting.

Freshly sheared Herdwick ewes

Herdwick meat and woollen products are now much more widely available from farm shops and specialist retail outlets around Cumbria, so next time you see some why not give them a try?
All photos credited to K. Burrows

Monday, 11 July 2011

Work Continues at Stickle Ghyll

Over the last few weeks we have been steadily working our way higher up Stickle Ghyll. The section that we are working on has proved to be extremely challenging, as much of the path has become so badly eroded all the soil has now gone and it's right down to the bedrock in many areas. Where the bedrock isn't actually showing it is often just below the ground, right where you want to build the new path! This makes it extra difficult to repair the path as it usually means that the bedrock has to be chipped out with either a crowbar, or sledge hammer, and the path has to be adapted to fit around any underlying rock.

Typical section of bedrock

The photograph above shows one such section. You can see the bedrock to the right of the photograph and if you look more closely you can see that it stretches right across the path too. What you can't see is that it is also about 30cm (or less) below the current level of the path.
Because of this underlying rock the left hand side of the path had to be built up with large boulders, so that the path could be properly tightened between them, and the bedrock that can be seen on the opposite side of the path. Without these large stones, the path would have just been sticking out of the ground, perched on the rock below, and would have quickly fallen out. In addition to this, even more care than usual was put into the selection of each pitching stone. As not only had the path to be suitable to walk on, it also had to fit around the bedrock underneath the path.

Section of completed path

Now this section of path is finished you'd never know the full extent of the bedrock. If the path had been left unrepaired it is likely to have eroded right down to the underlying rock and people would have tried to find an alternative route around it. This would have made the erosion damage much worse, and also made any future repair work even more difficult.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Looking out for Mountain Ringlets

This time of the year is a wonderful time to see a wealth of different insect species while you're out enjoying your walk. A wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies inhabit the becks and tarns including the impressive Golden-ringed Dragonfly, the Large Red Damselfly and the Common Darter.

 Large Red Damselfly

On a good sunny day, if you wander into any taller vegetation a bit further off the beaten track, there's also a good chance of disturbing moths such as Yellow Shell and Green Carpet or possibly Map-winged Swift, whose larvae are closely associated with bracken roots.

 Map-winged Swift

While walking the fells it's also possible to see a good array of butterflies, including more common species such as the Red Admiral and Painted Lady at lower altitudes and as you gain a bit more height, less well known butterflies like the Small Heath (probably the most common butterfly on the higher fell) and the Mountain Ringlet.

 Small Heath butterfly

The Mountain Ringlet butterfly is a rare and incredibly under recorded species. It is found on mountainous slopes dominated by Mat-grass, at an altitude of between 500 and 750 metres, with the Lake District being to the far south of it's British distribution. The Mountain Ringlet tends to fly close to the ground and will often disappear out of sight as soon as the wind picks up, or the sun clouds over. The best period to see this butterfly is from mid-June until late-July.

Mountain Ringlet

Whenever we are out and about during June and July if we happen to stumble across one of these rare butterflies we always record it's whereabouts and forward on the information to the Cumbrian Biological Records Centre based at Tullie House in Carlisle, here's a link to their excellent website

This year, to try and gain a bit more knowledge about the Mountain Ringlet's abundance, distribution, and habitat preferences Butterfly Conservation are running a survey, and they could do with as much help as possible. If you fancy taking part in this years Mountain Ringlet Survey, have a look at the website of the Cumbria Branch of Butterfly Conservation or download the information sheets below:

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Grasmere Gallop 2011

As a bit of a change from rolling rocks around up on the fell, last week we came down to slightly lower ground to help out with stewarding the Grasmere Gallop. It's hard to believe that only last year the National Trust stepped in and took over the management of the Gallop, which had been an annual event in the area but had unfortunately been discontinued a couple of years ago.

The new National Trust managed event has been slightly altered by changing the main route into a 10 kilometre race, as well as the main race there's also a 5 kilometre Fun Run and a Teddy Dash for the under 5's. So on the day of the Gallop, we went out, flag in hand, to various strategic points around the course. Our job mostly consisted of; being there in case of any emergency, letting walkers, cyclists and motorists know exactly what was going on, to offer a bit of support to any of the runners who might need it and watch out for any shortcutting (which, of course, there wasn't).

 New flags waiting to be taken out

So while several members of National Trust staff ably assisted by numerous volunteers went and took to their positions around the circuit, things were beginning to hot up over in Grasmere as the event got under way.

Warming up ready for the race

Around 250 competitors turned out for the 10k race, and luckily we had some great weather. Once the runners had been registered they all began to assemble in the "Muster Area" prior to the race. Once all together, they were lead from here to the start of the race, in the centre of Grasmere village, by our very own piper, National Trust Ranger Iain Grey.

National Trust ranger and piper Iain, here with the Fun Run competitors

Once the race was under way it wasn't long until the first competitors came past, we were situated around the midway point of the race and even by this stage the first two runners had already built up a sizeable lead. This lead wasn't to be overturned and the two leading the pack carried on to finish one-two in the race, the race winner was Carl Bell in a fantastic 36 minutes and 16 seconds.

The race winner approaching the finish line

At the same time as the winner was crossing the line, there would have still been about another hundred competitors yet to come past us. Of course it's not all about the winning, it was just great to see everyone seemingly enjoying themselves, those further back in the field taking the time to say "hello" or "thank you" as they ran past.

 Looking back towards Grasmere 

Once the last few competitors had past us we upped-flags and repositioned ourselves ready for the 5k Fun Run which was eventually won by sixteen year old Will Smith in a time of 20 minutes and 58 seconds. Will had already competed the 10k race, and finished second!

Last, but by no means least, came the Teddy Dash that by all accounts was as hotly contested as all the other runs. Our thanks go to everyone who came along on the day, whether as a competitor, spectator, volunteer or whatever other involvement you may have had to make our first Grasmere Gallop such a fun and successful event.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Landscaping at Stickle Ghyll

Over the last couple of weeks our work has focused on landscaping work at Stickle Ghyll. While we were bagging up rock for the helicopter lifts we filled several of the bags with large "landscaping" stone that we use to help define the path. This helps stop people (or sheep) wandering along the edge of the path, forming a channel which water gets into and starts eroding the edge of the path. This if left unattended can cause the path to become undermined and eventually cause the path to fall out. As sections of the path have been in place for nearly twenty years the tell-tale signs of erosion have begun.
So during the helicopter lifts we had the bags of landscaping stone dropped next to the path where there were signs of erosion beginning. In addition to the rock which was flown, any suitable rock was moved by hand from the fellside.

Before Landscaping (Lower Section)

After Landscaping (Lower Section)

As you can see from the photos, once the large rocks have been dug into position the areas of erosion have been greatly reduced producing a footpath that is more defined and natural looking. 

Before Landscaping (Upper Section)

After Landscaping (Upper Section) 

With all the rock now in position, we needed extra soil to assist with seed growth and roughing up the landscaped areas. To generate some soil we dug out areas around the landscaping stones and filled them in with rubble. These pits were topped off with some of the soil we'd dug out, and the rest was used elsewhere.
Finally we re-used any turfs that we had removed and put down some grass seed. Providing we manage to get a good growing season the path should quickly start to blend in much better with its surroundings.