Monday, 15 September 2014

Adding the final touches to the Esk Hause path

Since the last update we've been spending much of our time working, and walking, up Esk Hause. We've calculated that for this year, in total, to repair the Esk Hause path we've walked a distance of 185 miles just to get to and from the work site and spent over 90 hours doing it. We've also climbed, and descended, over 102,500 feet, that's like walking from sea level to the top of Mount Everest three and a half times!

Turfing a section of path

In between all the walking we've also been building a path which has generated a lot of soil and rubble. This is all used to landscape around the path to help the area look more natural after the path repairs have taken place.

Starting landscaping around a drain

To help the path blend in and stop rubble falling on to it we also turf along the edge. Turf that is generated while building the path is reused and if any extra is required it is cut from areas away from the path, and out of sight.

Freshly landscaped drain

As you can see in the following photo often very large quantities of soil and rubble are generated. To reduce the amount of surplus rock smaller pieces are buried and any larger, and more weathered, rock is half dug in to create a natural looking bank.

Rubble and soil generated while building the path

Once the landscaping work is finished the area changes from something resembling a building site to something much more natural. After the area has been seeded (often once a year, over several years) the landscaping work will be indistinguishable from it's surroundings.

Path after landscaping

Monday, 7 July 2014

Fix the Fells Volunteering Day

A few weeks ago as part of our Fix the Fells work we held a volunteering day giving members of the public the chance to come along and help with some path repairs and maintenance work around Langdale.

About 35 volunteers and staff turned out on the day and the work was divided into two sessions, drain runs and path repairs. There were two different drain run routes, both starting out at NT Sticklebarn and heading up into the Langdale Pikes. Drain runs, where gravel is cleared from the footpath and stone drains, are an essential part of our maintenance work.

The repair work took place on a section of the Stickle Ghyll path just beyond the car park, and involved resurfacing and drainage work. In preparation for this work we had previously spent a few days collecting some suitable rock from the nearby area and clearing back a few trees from next to the path.

 Preparing the work site

The large boulders that we'd gathered were used to edge the path to encourage people not to cut the corners and cause any further damage to the area. Once the path was edged it was time to start gravelling.

 Newly gravelled section of path

We'd arranged for a delivery of gravel from the local quarry to be tipped in the car park so it was just a matter of moving it about 200 metres from the car park to the work site. Armed with shovels and wheelbarrows the volunteers set about moving the gravel up the path.

 Bringing in some more gravel

With the addition of this fresh gravel the old rough path was quickly transformed. To help improve the drainage on the path some of the original drains had to be repaired and lengthened to help prevent water running down, and damaging, the new gravel path.

 Repairing a stone drain

As part of our preparation work we had also dug a large hole ready for a new stone drain to be built. After some heavy rain it became obvious that the new drain would definitely take some water.

 Hole dug ready for a drain

A large trench was dug to drain the hole of water and a group of the Fix the Fells volunteers started building a new stone drain to protect the path from any future downpours.

 Building a stone drain

We'd like to say a big thanks to all the volunteers who came along on the day to help us out, you did some fantastic work!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Resuming our upland work

Since our last blog post we've started our Fix the Fells work repairing a few of the upland paths in Grasmere, Langdale and Ullswater.

Our first job was to prepare for our work up on Gowbarrow that we'd started last year. Once again we needed to fly some materials to the work site, so we set about filling some bags with gravel with a little help from the Langdale & Grasmere ranger team.

 Loading the bags with gravel

The day of the lift went pretty smoothly and we thankfully got all the materials flown to site.

 Flying the materials on to Gowbarrow

Another job that we're working on this year is at Helm Crag.

Starting work

You can see in the photograph below that the path had previously been worked on, but some of this had started to fall out as the ground around it had eroded. The bits that had not been worked on have also deteriorated.

 Bottom section before starting work

Rock had been flown to the site previously but we're also supplementing it with rock that had been used for previous repairs.

 After a few days work

You can see in the following photograph how bad the path has become. There's a lot of loose rubble on the path and the bank to the left is badly eroded.

 Mid-section before starting work

After just a few days work the path has already started to take shape.

Mid-section after being worked on

We're also working up at Esk Hause again this year, continuing to widen the path and improve the drainage.

 Old path before repairs

It takes about two and a half hours to walk to and from the work site, plus there's also a time consuming drive on top of that, so this really eats into the time left for working. Because of this, we're being helped out by the North Lakes team this year, to help speed things along.

The North Lakes team lend a hand

Monday, 7 April 2014

Path and stream crossing at Aira Force

We've recently been working again at Aira Force, where amongst a lot of exciting new developments a new bridge has been put in near High Force to create a circular route and easier access onto Gowbarrow Fell.

The new bridge

With the new bridge in place we needed to build a section of path that would link the bridge to the original path network.

Before starting work

The section immediately after the bridge was just a muddy track so we moved some boulders into position to narrow the path, and create an edge, then dug out a tray for some gravel. The gravel all had to be shovelled by hand and transported to site using power barrows.

First section of path almost completed

As part of the path repairs we also had a stream crossing to deal with. Originally the path went over a rocky section where the river was spanned by a narrow slate (just higher up the stream in the photo below). We wanted our crossing to be large enough to get power barrows or quads across so we can more easily gain access to other sections of the path.

Area for new stream crossing 

The first job was to repair the stone edging next to the river, we then put in place a large plastic pipe for the river to flow through, this was a tight fit so also helped improve the structure to the crossing.

Starting work on the stream crossing

With the pipe now in place we covered over the gap with some large slates to create a slate bridge.

Stream with slates in position

The next job was to level the ground around the slate bridge. We used stone from an old, redundant, drystone wall to fill in sections of the path around the bridge to give us a good surface to gravel on.

Ground levelled at stream crossing

We then built up the edges with some large boulders so we could gravel over the bridge. These were cemented in place so that there would be be no chance of them moving.

Side stones in position

To finish off the bridge we covered it in gravel. By using gravel the slates underneath have a bit more protection from the machinery that we'll take over.

Gravelling the stream crossing

Finally we set to work on improving a short section of path that led from our new crossing.

Rough section of path

We pulled out the largest of the stones from the path and again built an edge that would help retain the gravel.

Putting in the side stones

With the new section gravelled we used a wacker plate to compress the gravel and form a solid surface.

Looking down the new path

As a finishing touch we used some topsoil and turfs left over from a previous job to help landscape around the new path and crossing point.

The finished path

Friday, 7 March 2014

Path repairs at Dora's Field

Since our last update we've been busily working away in Dora's Field, at Rydal, just outside Ambleside. Our work was replacing some old slate steps with something that would be easier to walk on, would be in keeping with the garden and would also last indefinitely.

 The original path

We decided we'd use the same technique as we had in High Close gardens at the end of last year. We set to work digging in the large slates to form the front of the step, and filling in the back with smaller pieces of slate.

 After just over a weeks work

The idea was to get our work completed before the main show of Daffodils started to appear. This would cause the minimum amount of damage to them and give plenty of time for things to settle down before the National Gardens Scheme open day at the end of March (Details of which can be found here... Link).

 New section of path

While working there we actually spotted the first Daffodil coming into flower, along with a few Crocuses and lots of Snowdrops. There were still plenty more only just breaking through the soil though, so there should still be plenty in flower if you're planning a visit in the coming few weeks.

 Getting the levels right

The work was quite slow going as each stone had to be individually shaped by hand and the levels needed to be regularly checked to make a good surface to walk on.

Filling in the gaps

Once all the stonework was completed we filled in the gaps with a dry-mix of sand and cement to add extra strength to the whole path. This was later covered over with some soil to help everything blend in a little better.
 The new path before landscaping

Once this was all done, it was just a matter of tidying things up, we removed all the surplus stone and levelled off all the soil that had been dug out. Then finally we removed the tracks we'd created where we'd accessed the site with the power barrow. The whole project took us a little under five weeks to complete.

We're planning to return to Dora's Field next year and carry out some similar work on the other side of the path to complete the short circular route. This will make the site more accessible to a wider range of people to come and enjoy Wordsworth's Daffodils each spring.

Tidying up and landscaping

Much of the material costs for replacing the steps were paid for by a kind donation so we'd like to give our thanks. If you'd like to donate money towards our work in the Lake District just follow this link...Lake District Appeal. To discuss donating to a specific project such as our work at Dora's Field please contact Liz Guest on 015394 63806 or email

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Cairns, a help or a hinderance?

Over recent years there's been a definite increase in cairns being vandalised. Much of this is presumably done with good intention, but based on inadequate knowledge.

We've often heard people suggest that "there are too many cairns" or "stones are better on the footpath than on a cairn". In some ways this is correct, but cairns still have a vital part to play on the fells. Cairns were originally built to help people find their way along a poorly defined path, and many have historical significance.

Large cairn on the right-hand-side of Stickle Ghyll

You can see a cairn in the photograph above that has become excessively large and no longer really serves it's intended purpose. The path is well defined and even when the cloud is down you'd struggle to get lost on a pitched path like this. The cairn has also reached a height where it is starting to fall back onto the path, which narrows the path and may make it difficult to walk on.

Having said that, there's very little surface stone around now so it's unlikely to get much bigger and cause much of a problem. It's also been around a long time, and it actually serves a purpose of keeping people on the path, which helps prevent erosion. So in this instance it'd be useful for those few stones on the path to be added to the top, but otherwise it can be left alone.

 Cairn at Rossett Ghyll, destroyed and thrown on the path

The photo above shows a cairn that has been knocked down for no apparent reason. We actually built this cairn as part of our footpath repair work to help guide people down the path. It's at a point where the path originally split, one route headed straight down the ghyll and the other followed the path we'd worked on. Before working on the path, the erosion in the ghyll was clearly visible from the valley below, but we've spent a lot of time revegetating it and it's now started to blend back in with it's surroundings. So by building the cairn, anyone who's a little unsure which way to go will hopefully follow the path, rather than causing more erosion in the ghyll.

 Rebuilding the cairn at the top of Rossett Ghyll

It seems strange that somebody would want to destroy this cairn, since it's not particularly visually intrusive and by looking at it you can tell there's been some effort made to build it and it's therefore likely to have a function. Also, why throw the stones onto the path, making it more difficult for people to walk on? This could possibly come from the idea that "stones are better on the footpath than on a cairn". The thought behind this statement comes from the fact of stones that are in the path are better left where they are, as they help it all bind together. Don't prise them out of the path to add them to a cairn.

Repairing the cairn at Stickle Ghyll

The above photograph shows another cairn needlessly scattered on to the path. This cairn was also built to help people find the path. In good weather it can be difficult to find this path, but in bad weather if you've never walked it before it's more or less impossible. This can, of course, have safety implications and there have been instances of cairns being removed, which has led walkers to become lost. This has led to Mountain Rescue Teams unnecessarily being called out.

We'd only ever really recommend removing a cairn if it is obviously very new, eg. two or three stones, and looks like it has been built by one person for no apparent reason. In this case it may be worth throwing the stones off the path to discourage others from adding to it. In this day-and-age unless it's for safety reasons, or to guide people onto a path, there's no real reason to be building new cairns, or indeed add to them.

So if you ever see a cairn and think you should add or remove stones from it, next time ask yourself a few questions.
  • Is the cairn performing a purpose? 
  • What would the surrounding terrain look like in bad weather, would the cairn then have a purpose?
  • Does the cairn really need any stones adding or removing from it?
  • What might the consequences be if I dismantled or built a cairn here?
  • Is the cairn old, and possibly have historical significance?
If you're ever in doubt it's probably safest to just leave it alone, as generally if left alone it won't cause too much of a problem. Problems only really arise if a cairn becomes so large that the path splits either side of it which may lead to a wide erosion scar. But in this instance it's not a one man job to fix, and if we perceive it as a problem we'll arrange a volunteer work party to properly dispose of all, or part, of the cairn.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Replacing steps at High Close

After completing our work at Allan Bank we recently moved on to some path repair work at High Close gardens, just outside Grasmere. The house and gardens at High Close date back to the mid-1800's when they were purchased by Edward Balme Wheatley-Balme, a Yorkshire merchant and philanthropist, and planted up with many rare trees and shrubs from all around the globe.

The estate was left to the National Trust in 1951 and the house was leased to the Youth Hostel Association shortly afterwards. Much of the garden has been in disrepair for many years but recently a National Trust volunteer group has taken ownership of the garden and cleared back areas of rhododendron and unearthed much of the original path network.

Steps in need of repair.

You can see in the photograph above some old steps in urgent need of repair. Much of this original work has at some point been dismantled and the stone removed, presumably to be used elsewhere on the estate. This is not uncommon, as slate is an expensive resource, so as the garden evolved, pathways would have changed and it would have been decided that the stone could be put to better use.

New steps after a few days work.

We decided that the work should be in keeping with the rest of the garden, so it was on obvious choice to use slate from the nearby quarry.

Steep incline where new steps need to be added.

The slate was all hand picked at the quarry and loaded into our trailer. From there we drove it the short distance up to High Close where it was then moved by power barrow to each of the areas that needed to be worked on.

New section of steps

To build the steps, we used two or three large rectangular stones as the front of each step. These were filled in behind with smaller stones built in courses, much in the same way as a drystone wall. All of the slate had to be hand finished with hammers to make it all fit together tidily.

Starting work on another section

It's been slow work, with each step taking roughly a day to construct, but the effect looks really good and in a few years time it should blend in seamlessly with the rest of the stonework in the garden.

Shaping a stone

There's still plenty of work to be done in the gardens, and we're likely to be spending more time here in future years. To see some of the fantastic work that the volunteers have been doing to help restore High Close gardens click on the following link...Album of High Close garden restoration work