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