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!


  1. Hey guys,
    Thanks for a great week and all the fun we had soil robbing and turf nailing.

    @Nic: Unfortunately the CD you sent was empty... Can you send us a fresh one with the fotos?

    All the best to the Lakes from Hamburg!
    Holger & Ingke

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for getting in touch and glad you had a good time!

    Sorry about the CD we'll get a new one sent off as soon as possible.

    Best wishes.

  3. I really liked it, very nice :)))))))

  4. I really liked it, very nice :))