1) How do you get to the work site?
We get there the same way as everybody else, we walk. Occasionally, depending on where we're working we'll drive our 4x4 along low level tracks to get a bit closer to the work site.
Walking to work
2) How long does it take you to get up here?
We can walk for anything up to one and a half hours to get to the work site, and we go at a good pace too. If it takes a long time to get to where we're working (which is usually the case) we'll work four-day weeks, so all our hours are compressed into four days. So, for example, if it takes two and a half hours to get to the work site and back, working a four-day week means we only spend ten hours walking each week rather than twelve and a half on a five-day week. That's an extra two and a half hours of work time rather than walking time.
3) Are you volunteers?
We do get helped out a lot by regular Fix the Fells volunteers, National Trust working holidays, and other volunteer groups, but we're full time members of staff employed by the National Trust. On this team we've got over thirty years experience. Our costs are currently paid for by the Fix the Fells partnership, which has been fantastic in helping us to achieve a massive amount of footpath repair over the last ten years.
Working with the Fix the Fells volunteers
4) Where do you get all the rock from?
All the rock is locally sourced, and is gathered by hand from the fellside. While we're writing up a specification for the path that needs work we'll identify any suitable rock sites in the area. The rock sites are then checked for any archaeology, any rare flora, and also if there are any birds of prey, or ravens, breeding in the area. If we get the all clear we'll carry empty bags to the rock site and fill them over a week or two, depending how much rock we need.
5) How did those bags get here?
The bags are flown to the work site by helicopter, if any birds of prey are known to breed nearby our lifts are timed to avoid the breeding season. Where there's suitable rock close to the path we'll also use that, but generally there's little usable stone available near to the paths we need to work on. A lot of the older paths were in areas were the stone was more accessible and so could be collected, and moved by hand (or winch and trolley) to the path. Some of these older paths had to make-do with less suitable rock, often meaning very small, or very high steps. Now we can get better quality stone from further afield we've started to replace a few of the older paths.
Moving stone in Stickle Ghyll
6) How much rock can each bag hold?
Each bag can hold up to a tonne, which is the maximum working load of the helicopter. We generally manage to get about 750 kilograms in each bag. This equates to between eight and twelve pitching stones. Each Ranger can fill between seven and ten bags per day, depending on how far we have to walk to the bag filling site and how many days previously we've been bag filling!
7) Do you get to go in the helicopter, are you flown up here each day?
We do get a lift in the helicopter a few times each year, but only when we're using the helicopters for moving rock. We tend to get flown to, and from, the rock collection sites each day for as long as the lift lasts, generally a day or two. Unfortunately, we don't get flown to the work site each day, the costs might prove a little hard to justify!
8) What do you do when the weather's bad?
We just keep on working. If we didn't work on all the wet and windy days we have in the Lake District we wouldn't get a great deal done! The only time weather stops us from working is if there's been a lot of heavy rain and the becks are too unsafe to cross, or if there's a lot of deep snow, which makes path building virtually impossible, and very dangerous when moving large rocks about.
Checking the shed's properly secured, before heading back downWe work on the fell from about March/April time until when the clocks change at the end of October (give or take a week). Through the winter months we work lower down on National Trust land, drystone walling, erecting fences, building bridges, hedge-laying and other similar estate work. We also go out and walk the paths clearing them of gravel, clearing the drains and looking for any future work.
9) Do you work up here throughout the year?
Fencing work in Late Autumn10) What's the shed for, do you sleep in there?
The shed's just somewhere where we can go to have our lunch out of the rain, sleet, hail, wind or occasionally sun. We don't sleep in the shed, that might be just a little cramped! As we travel to work each day on a four-day week this does mean getting to the office for 7:20 each morning and not leaving until 5.15 but each night we have the luxury of going home and having a hot meal, shower and sleeping in a proper bed. It also means we get Fridays off to recover.
11) How do you move all those heavy rocks about?
All the rocks are moved by hand, assisted by a winch if they're exceptionally large. We use crowbars to help move larger rocks and when required a few of us will work together to move very big rocks. Where possible we'll always move rocks downhill and let gravity help. Occasionally we'll use a petrol-driven power barrow to help move rock about, but all the rock has to be put in the barrow by hand.
Winching Stepping Stones into position
12) How much path do you build in a day?
When writing the specifications we estimate that we'll complete an average of a metre and a half each day. On a good day you can get around three metres of path pitched, on a really bad day you might only get one stone in the ground. Generally the ease of digging dictates how much path we can build each day. If there's a lot of large boulders that have to be removed before you can start pitching, or bedrock that has to be chipped out, or incredibly compressed ground (you have to see it to believe it), it can really slow things down.
Pitching on Pike o' Blisco