Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Herringbone pitching at Aira Force

After finishing our fencing job at Stickle Ghyll we've spent much of our time repairing a section of footpath over at Aira Force. We'd already moved all the materials, by helicopter, earlier on in the year, so it was just a matter of getting ourselves and our tools to site.

Before starting work
Before starting work

As you can see in the photo above, the original path has become quite badly eroded. It's also right next to a steep drop, so it was decided that we should create a new path further to the right and landscape the old path to blend in with it's surroundings.

The first job was to move the slate from the helicopter drop site to where it was required. We used our mechanical power barrow to make things a bit easier and it wasn't long until we had enough stone to work with.

The rock now moved to site
The rock now moved to site

As we wanted to be able to secure rock for any future work (and there's a lack of quality pitching stone in the area) we decided to use slate rather than stone gathered from the fell. Aira Force is also a more formal environment than our usual places of work so we thought that we'd use a slightly different technique, known as herringbone pitching, that would be more in keeping.

The path starts taking shape
Starting the new path

Basically, the path is created by a series of courses (similar to that of a drystone wall), with the slate sunk depth-wise into the ground. The first course ends with the the last stone a little higher out of the ground than all the others (this will be the start of the next step). The next course ends with two stones higher, the third course has three stones higher and so on. After a while you're left with a series of triangular steps as you can see in the photograph below.

Herringbone pitching at Aira Force
Herringbone style pitching

It's almost as difficult to build as it is difficult to explain, but eventually once we all started to get our heads around it, the path really started to take shape.

Completed section of path

The first section completed

Once all the stone work was done it was time to start on a section of gravelled path.

Line of the gravelled path
The line of the new gravel path

Firstly a tray to contain the gravel was dug out. All the soil removed was placed on the old footpath and the turf kept to one side to be used later on in landscaping the process.

Digging out the trench
Digging off the turf

Once the digging was finished it was time to start gravelling. The plan was to move the gravel in our "trusty" power barrow but after prising it off the frozen ground with crowbars it decided it didn't want to start so we moved all the gravel (about 6 tonnes) by hand. This was done by a combination of carrying it in rubber trugs and dragging it onto the path in the helicopter bags that were used to fly it to site.

Gravelling the trench
Starting gravelling

Eventually all the gravel was moved and and the gravel path was joined up to the stone footpath.

Finishing gravelling
Finishing off the gravelled path

All that was left to do was to landscape the old path with rubble, soil, boulders and turf so that walkers would now instinctively take the new route. 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Replacing the fence at Stickle Ghyll

Since finishing our work on Helm Crag we've spent much of our time replacing the stock fencing around one of the plantations at Stickle Ghyll.

The original fence was put in around 1984 with the help of the Manpower Services (a Government scheme set-up to help people into employment) to help stabilise the scree around the footpath. After we replaced the pitching next to the plantation in 2009 we planted up a few more trees, with the help of the Fix the Fells volunteers, but as time went by it's become easier for sheep to get in and graze on the trees. We therefore decided that the fence should be replaced and all the materials were flown to site earlier on in the year. Long-term it's hoped that once everything is properly established the fence can eventually be removed.

The first job was to work out exactly where the fence line should go. With the ground being extremely undulating with lots of large boulders and trees to work around it took a bit of time to decide on the best line.

Finding the best line

With this done it was time to start digging the hole for the straining post. A hole is dug to a depth the height of a shovel, the post is placed into the hole and rock is compacted tightly around it. This makes sure they are solidly in the ground as the wire fencing is strained off these posts so there's a lot of force on them, and you don't want them moving.

Finishing the hole for the straining post

With the post in the ground, a single wire is tightened between two "strainers" to give a straight line between the posts. A strut is then added to give the post even more strength, this strut runs parallel to the wire. A section of wood is then chiseled out of the straining post that the strut neatly fits into. The other end is dug into the ground and again tightened using rock.

Putting in the strut

With the post properly secured the next job is to knock in the fence posts at equal intervals along the length of the wire. Once this is done the Rylock stock fencing is stapled to one of the strainers and then strained from the other.

Attaching the fence

Once we were happy with the tension in the fence it is stapled to the other straining post and all the fence posts in between and "hey presto" you've got yourself a nice new section of fencing.

Nicely strained fence

Monday, 15 October 2012

FREE guided walks from Sticklebarn over half term

Come along for a guided walk with National Trust ranger James and Mountain Guide (and Fix the Fells voluntary lengthsman), Malcolm. There will be chat about Langdale’s history, geology and archaeology along the way and ranger James might even point out a few hidden gems for you to explore if you’re lucky.

All Walks start & finish from the Sticklebarn in Langdale LA22 9JU (Grid Ref: NY295 065).To make a booking ring James on 015394 63808

On the day, meet from 9am for a 10am start. Coffees & teas are available (and pack Lunches available for purchase).

Stickle Tarn
Stickle Tarn

A wet weather walk option that takes us around the valley will be available if the weather is not suitable for the high level routes on Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday.

Monday 29th October: Stickle Tarn and Tarn Crag via Stickle Ghyll

Distance 3.3km, total ascent 399m, total descent 399m, total walking time 2 hours. Grade: Medium. Walking mainly on footpaths.

Join us for a great little walk that packs a big punch.

We will walk up alongside Stickle Ghyll to picturesque Stickle Tarn where we can view the valley far below, and the lofty pikes of Pavey Ark and Harrison Stickle above. From here we will cross Stickle Ghyll and walk around the tarn until we start our route back via Tarn Crag down to Sticklebarn for well earned refreshments.

Tuesday 30th October: Langdale Pikes

Distance 6.8km, total ascent 723m, total descent 725m, total walking time 3.5 hours. Grade: Hard. Steep walking in places but no exposure.

Join us as we conquer the iconic Langdale Pikes.

Following a route up to Stickle Tarn we will skirt the eastern edge of the tarn before climbing the east side of Pavey Ark. We will then visit Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle before crossing Loft Crag and ticking off our 4th Wainwright of the day. We descend via Pike Howe past a couple of peat houses on the way back to Sticklebarn.

Wednesday 31st October: Pike O’ Blisco

Distance 7.2km, total ascent 619, total descent 623m , total walking time 4 hours. Grade Hard steep walking in places but no exposure.

Join us as we venture to the summit of the lonely Langdale Pike.

Set apart from its neighbours Pike O’ Blisco offers arguably the best views of all the Pikes.

This walk will take us up the valley of Oxendale and up to Red Tarn via the Browney Ghyll path. From here we will make for the wonderfully rocky summit of Pike O’ Blisco before descending down the path via Red Acre Gill.

Thursday 1st of November: Langdale Pikes (as Tuesday).

Friday 2nd November: Stickle Tarn and Tarn Crag via Stickle Ghyll (as Monday).

Wet Weather Option

Cumbria way to Elterwater.

Distance 8km, 3hours walking time (approx) mainly level walking on Public Rights of Way (but can be wet and rough). Taking in Farming, Quarries and Woodlands.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Dry stone walling on Helm Crag

Since our last update we've spent a fair amount of our time sorting out the drainage on the new Helm Crag path.

As you can see in the photograph below, the path takes a lot of water and if left to it's own devices heavy downpours can cause serious damage to a stone footpath. This photo was taken before we built an additional two drains higher up the path so the next time we have torrential rain the majority of the water will be removed before this point.

Rain water on the top section of path

The problem we've had with fixing the drainage is that there's a dry stone wall located right at the end of the drain stopping the flow of water. In the next photograph you can just make out the drain (halfway between the shovel and sledgehammer) coming to an abrupt end when it reaches the wall.

Drain leading into the wall

So to allow the water to run away from the path we've had to take the wall down and incorporate a gap in the wall at the end of the drain. The following photo shows the wall after we've started to rebuild it. Putting in these drainage gaps has turned out to be a bigger job than expected. As the wall was in a poor state of repair, once we started taking it down it had a tendency to fall down on it's own. This created a much larger gap than we really wanted!

A hole for the water to flow through

After a couple of days work the wall was rebuilt up to it's original height again. So next time there's a massive downpour (which probably won't be too far in the future) we're now fully prepared for it!

The finished wall

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

National Trust Working Holiday on Helm Crag

We recently took a break from working on the stone pitched path at Helm Crag as we were joined by a National Trust working holiday group. They were here for a week, coming to help us out with our footpath repairs.

As part of our repair work on Helm Crag we identified a section, leading up towards the summit, that we'd been keeping a close eye on for many years that had steadily been deteriorating. The path would have been difficult to repair with stone as it's not particularly steep, meaning there would be plenty of opportunity for people to step off the path and walk beside it.  There is also very little in the way of features, rough terrain or large rock about so it would have been difficult to landscape. This could have eventually ended up with an erosion scar (as you can see in the photo below) alongside the stone path, not ideal.

The section before starting work

So we decided the best option to repair the path would be to create a sub-soil path. This technique, also known as soil inversion, is an ancient technique that dates back as far as Roman times.

Starting work on the path

Firstly we had to select the best route to take with the new path. The path will zig-zag up the hill crossing the original (eroded) path line. We have to snake the path like this to reduce the gradient which will mean once we've created the new surface the chance of it becoming mobile is greatly reduced. It will also make the path easier to walk on.

Removing the turfs

With the route decided, the first job was to remove the turfs from the line of the path and place them to one side so that we could use them later.

Digging off the topsoil

With this done, the next job was to dig off the topsoil, again this was placed to one side as it would also be needed later. This dark layer, rich in humus (organic matter), varied in depth, but beneath it was a layer of compacted red sub-soil. The idea is to remove this compacted soil, put the topsoil back on the path and then put the sub-soil on top of it. This new surface is much more hard wearing and compacts down well, creating a more sustainable surface.

Digging the drain

Next a side drain was created on the top side of the path. This would catch any water that runs down the hill, and shed it away from the new path. Much of the drain went through areas of bedrock, so this all had to be chipped out with crowbars to make sure the drain would sit well below the surface of the path.

Freshly turfed drain and completed path

Once the drain was dug out, it was lined with turfs using the grass that had been originally dug off. This turf lining will provide a protective layer and prevent the soil in the drain from being washed out.

A wet finish to the week

There was plenty of showers throughout the week and the last day proved to be a particularly wet one. But the volunteers did a wonderful job, and the rain was at least useful to check that our new drains were working. This type of work is so labour intensive and so it's great to get more people involved, it really is a fantastic example of "many hands make light work". Thanks!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Advancing up the Helm Crag path

Since our last blog post we've been steadily advancing higher up the path at Helm Crag. Most of us have started work on fresh sections of path as we've joined up with the person working above. The photo below shows Pete just after starting on a new bit of pitching.

Shortly after starting a new section

After just over a week he's moved further up the path and Nic (who was working below) has joined up to where Pete started. The original path went through the soil on the right hand side. By taking this different route some of the gradient has been removed, meaning that the steps don't need to be as narrow or high. This makes the path much easier to walk down.

Joined up sections of path

In the following photograph Pete has almost joined up to the section above and is starting to put in a stone drain. The section above starts roughly next to the rucksack on the wall.

Approaching the next section

The next photograph shows some of the old path running alongside the wall, you can see how the path is angled which makes it difficult to walk down. When the path is wet or if gravel gets on to the path it can make a descent even more awkward.

The old path

The photograph below is the same section of path as that in the previous photo and nicely demonstrates the contrasting styles between the old and new footpaths.

The newly built path

The same section of path can be seen below after just over a weeks work. Again, the new path has more bends in it than the original path. As well as making it easier to walk on, it also makes the path much more pleasing to look at as it winds up the fell side. Once the surplus rock is removed and the area has been re-seeded there will be a dramatic difference in how the path looks.

Adding some more bends

Monday, 23 July 2012

Continuing our path repairs at Helm Crag

Since our last update the rain has continued to fall but with the mild temperatures and occasional glimpse of sunshine it's been great weather for our grass seed to grow.

The recently landscaped area has already turned a lush green colour and combined with the low level of grazing in the area it's also reached a good length. Sheep love it when we put down grass seed but when they graze freshly sown seed they tend to pull it out of the ground as the root system is not strong enough to hold it in place. So hopefully it will continue to grow, and strengthen, before the sheep notice we've put it down.

The grass seed beginning to grow

Over the last couple of weeks as we've completed a few more sections of footpath we've been landscaping the path along the way.

Landscaping is an essential part of the job as it helps the path to blend in with it's surroundings and also helps stop people wandering off the path and causing further erosion damage.

When we repair a path we often generate large amounts of rubble and soil and this is used to create banks, fill in eroded areas near to the path and also fill gaps between the pitching. Nothing goes to waste.

During landscaping work

You can see in the photograph above a bank of soil to the right of the path. This soil has been used to cover over rubble (which takes a long time to weather and blend in) and also to create a bank and drain to the left of the path. The soil has been shaped to create a natural looking mound and rock is dug into it at strategic points where people may wander off the path. Digging in weathered stone also helps create a more natural looking bank.

Filling in the gaps with soil

The photo above shows another bank of soil. Much of this was dragged to site using old heli-bags from a section being worked on where there was a surplus of soil. The soil here has been used to cover over, and stabilise, a patch of rubble that was dug out while repairing the path. It's also being used to fill in gaps between the pitching prior to seeding. 

Once these newly landscaped areas are covered with grass seed it hopefully won't take too long until they too green up and blend in nicely with their surroundings.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A wet start to summer on the Helm Crag path

Over the past few weeks we've been steadily getting further up the path at Helm Crag. It's been fairly wet over this time and we've had some really torential downpours, but at least they give us a break from the midges!

Pitching in the rain...again

With our type of work we carry on regardless of what the weather's chucking at us. Unless it reaches a point where it really is starting to get unsafe we'll just keep plodding on with our work.

One such instance of the weather being too unsafe to work in was when we were caught out in a recent thunderstorm while out on a drain run near Harrison Stickle. The storm suddenly appeared from nowhere right over head and we noticed lightning strike the ground just a few hundred metres away. We quickly downed tools and crouched down next to a nearby crag so that if the lighning was to strike it would (in theory) hit the higher ground rather than us.

The storm stayed for a good fifteen minutes with the lighning hitting the ground all around us. When it appeared that there was a bit of a break we quickly headed off down the hill via Stickle Ghyll.

Finishing off the first section of path

Back to Helm Crag...since the last blog update we've all almost finished the sections that we started. Once we finish a section we join up to the person working infront and then leapfrog to the top of the path. We carry on like this until the path is finished. Working like this means you're not usually too far from another Fell Ranger so if you need a hand at any point there's somebody close by.

Putting down some grass seed

With the first section of path completed the area to the sides of the path was landscaped and grass seed was put down. Hopefully with all the warm and wet weather we've been having it shouldn't take too long to start growing.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Starting the Helm Crag path repair work

This years footpath work is now in full flow as we have started to replace the path over at Helm Crag.

Due to the nature of the terrain the helicopter was unable to drop the bags of stone at regular intervals along the path. This meant our first job was to unload the heli-bags and roll the stone down the footpath to exactly where it would be needed.

Rolling the rock

Usually each bag holds enough stone to build approximately one metre of path but as we're replacing an existing path we reckoned that we'd be able to reuse roughly half of the rock from the original path. So with the path split roughly into 12 metre sections per person that meant emptying and moving six bags of rock for each Fell Ranger to use.

Starting to replace the old path

With the rock now in position it was time to start digging. We estimate that we can build about 1.5 metres of path per person per day. This is dependent on a variety of factors such as how hard the digging is, the width of the path, how busy the path is, and the quality of stone etc.

After about one week's work

The digging, as usual, has been pretty rubbly, and there's been a fair amount of stopping and starting to let walkers past (always a welcome break though) but we've still made good progress.

One thing that we hadn't anticipated is the amount of midges! The area where we're working is fantastic midge habitat, it's relatively sheltered, there are plenty of trees about and it's been warm and damp. We've tried numerous different types of insect repellant but nothing seems to really work, the repellants all seem to stop some of the biting but it's the crawling all over your face and into your ears and nose that really drives you mad!

Middle section (before)

As you can see from the photos the midges haven't slowed us down too much and we keep convincing ourselves that they'll all be gone in a couple of weeks. So we'll just keep twitching and scratching away until they do!

Middle section (after)

Monday, 28 May 2012

Moving materials to site

After all our exertions filling bags with rock over the last few weeks, we were ready for the arrival of the helicopter to move them. Usually as soon as the helicopter is booked you can guarantee that it'll rain, the cloud will drop or the wind will really pick up or even a combination of these things. This time we were lucky, we were forecast a whole week of settled weather and there was hardly a cloud in the sky all week.

Our first helicopter lift involved moving fencing materials over to Stickle Ghyll. As we are due to replace the fencing around the plantation on the left hand side of the ghyll, and since the helicopter was available we thought we'd take advantage. All the materials were carefully bundled together and flown up and we also had a few 20kg bags of grass seed flown up for re-seeding bare areas around the path.

Preparing the fencing materials

The next lift took place in Easedale, flying the bags of rock that we had previously filled over to the path at Helm Crag. The drop site was a tricky one as it is fringed by trees which means an extra long sling had to be used so that the helicopter had plenty of clearance while placing the bags in position.  Using a longer sling makes it more difficult for the pilot to drop the bags as accurately, and also increases the likelihood of getting tangled up in the trees.

The lift went on well into the evening but we managed to move everything to site and given the awkwardness of the drop site the pilot was spot on with where he put the bags.

Moving rock at Helm Crag

Our final lift was at Aira Force, where we flew in bags of slate for a section of stone footpath that we'll be working on later in the year and also several bags of gravel for resurfacing works.

Once again although there's a lot of tree coverage in the area the lift went extremely well and the materials were all moved to site in just a few hours.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Preparing for the Helicopter lifts

Over the last couple of weeks we've been getting ready for the upcoming helicopter lifts. Our main footpath repair project this year is on Helm Crag where we'll replace a few sections of old pitching and also repair some areas of path that have started to erode away. We'll be reusing any rock that we can but to complete the job we worked out that we would need an additional 88 bags of stone to be flown to site by helicopter.

First we had to carry the empty heli-bags to our rock collection site. Although the bags may not appear like much in the photo below they're certainly not light. So it's a bit of a slog walking up to the collection site with plenty of "calf burn" on the steep sections.

Carrying the bags to the rock collection site

With (arguably) the easy bit done it was time to collect up some rock. Each rock is carefully selected and depending what we need it for (pitching, drains or landscaping) we'll gather different types of rock. All the rock is rolled downhill until there's enough rock gathered together to fill up a bag.

Collected rock ready to be bagged

With the rock all gathered together the next job is to fill the bag. The larger stones are rolled into the bottom of the bag and the smaller ones then rolled on top of them. We try and keep lifting to a minimum as the majority of rock that we use is too heavy to safely lift. Each bag when filled weighs just over 800 kg.

Filling the bags

Although 88 bags may sound like a lot, in previous years we have filled well in excess of 100 bags and have had much further walks to get to the rock collection sites. So this years bagging was relatively painless...except for one trapped finger!

With all the bags filled all we had left to do was put out our warning signs and set up a diversion. We put all the signs out a few days before the lifts to give people prior warning about potential delays and any diversions. If we can reduce the number of people in the area of the pick-up and drop sites it makes things much safer which in turn makes our job much easier. 

We're now all set for next weeks helicopter lifts. Our lifts are planned to take place Monday 21st May to Wednesday 23rd at Helm Crag, Aira Force and Stickle Ghyll.

Putting out the signs

Friday, 4 May 2012

Fix the Fells volunteer training on Loughrigg

A couple of weeks ago an induction day was held for potential new Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen at the Stickle Barn Tavern in Langdale. Presentations were given explaining all about the project and this was followed up with a walk up Stickle Ghyll to give the potential new volunteers a brief insight into our work.

Last weekend we continued training up the new Fix the Fells lengthsmen. Nine volunteers arrived at our office and were given a brief presentation all about the lengthsman role and exactly what is required when you go out on a "drain run". Once they all knew what would be expected of them it was time to head to Loughrigg and put it all into practice.

A brief introduction before setting to work

The main job of the lengthsmen is to help us maintain the upland path network. They do this by going out in pairs, or larger groups, on regular "drain runs". The drain run consists of clearing the paths of any rubble, excessive vegetation growth and also monitoring the state of the path. A path monitoring sheet is filled in which states how much of the path has been cleared, if the path appears to be deteriorating at all and whether any repairs may be required.

Sweeping out a drain

The only tools required for a "drain run" are a shovel and a brush. It is essential that all rubble is removed from the path because it can quickly clog up the drains. This means that during heavy downpours water may overflow down the path, which can result in serious erosion damage.

Shovelling loose stone from the footpath

Rubble on stone pitched footpaths is also awkward to walk on, which means people have a tendency of stepping off the path and walking along side it, again causing further damage.

Continuing towards the summit

When you're out clearing drains you also have to be very aware of people around you. Even a small stone shovelled off the path can start rolling and pick up speed, this has the potential to seriously injure somebody walking on the path below.

We timed our walk up Loughrigg so we could stop for a bite to eat at the summit and although there was a cold wind blowing we managed to find some shelter and take in the fantastic views towards Elterwater.

Descending from the summit

Once we'd had our lunch (and also some excellent homemade flapjack made by one of the volunteers) we headed off down the other side shovelling and sweeping as we went.

For more information on volunteering with Fix the Fells click here....Fix the Fells