29 January 2016

Winter Work

This week's countryside blog comes from the Upland Ranger team based in the South Lakes area. 

When the team are working in the Fells a question we often get asked is:
"Do you work up here all year round?"
The answer to this is that we don't and this blog is about what we might be doing when we are not tackling erosion in the Fells of the Lake District.

We do spend much of the year in the Mountains and during the months between the clocks going forward an hour and until they go back again we expect to spend nearly all of our working time up in the Fells. This period is sometimes referred to as our "Fell Season".
Upland Rangers in their natural habitat during the "Fell Season"
(Taking a break before starting working on Striding Edge)

Outside of this "Fell Season", due to the shorter days and weather conditions, it isn't practical or safe for the team to stay in the Fells and we move onto work in the lower level Countryside. We call this our "Winter Work" programme (although it does include parts of Autumn and Spring too).

In general the team will help with anything that our Ranger colleagues in the South Lakes ask. There is never a shortage of lower level countryside work and we can find ourselves in high demand (it is not unheard of for our Area Rangers to "fight" for our time).

The examples below, from this years "Winter Work" programme, give an idea of some of the types of work.

We often work with rock and some dry stone walling is a common activity. There are always plenty of wall gaps to repair and we sometimes do some slightly more formal work too.  

Building a Dry Stone Retaining wall for a raised bed at Wray Castle
Another recent task, also using stone, has been some Slate-edged pathway.
A section of Slate-edged path at Wray Castle in progress

A common task in recent years for our Woodland Ranger is building tree cages to protect young trees.  This year has been no exception. 
Tree Cage under construction
(A nice winter day & a Wetherlam backdrop)

We might repair or construct countryside furniture such as gates, stiles and benches.  
Installing a new Bench at Wray Castle
(Donated by a family with connections to Wray Castle)

The finished Bench
We might also work in other areas of the National Trust where help is needed. For example the recent floods didn't affect our South Lakes area as much other parts of Cumbria and we have provided some support in other areas.
Helping clear a flood damaged fence with volunteers near Ambleside
Each year we usually help the Steam Yacht Gondola team winch Gondola out of Coniston Water and set up the frame to cover her for Winter repairs.    
Steam Yacht Gondola winched out of the water
The work we get involved in can be very varied and the examples above are a small selection based on recent months. Our team could be called on to help with any work needed in order to look after the countryside.

At this time of year we don't completely neglect our upland work and weather permitting we try to fit in some maintenance days. We also have an upland work party with the Fix the Fells Volunteer "Lengthsmen" at least once a month.
A Work Party on Browney Gill with the Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen
(A fairly grim day, we've had a few of these recently)
We also need to think about preparations for the forthcoming Fell Season and usually need to consider rock for our projects. There is seldom sufficient rock close enough to the paths we are going to work on and we may need to fill "heli-bags" so rock can be lifted to site by helicopter. This needs to be done in the early months of the year so it is ready for when we return to the fells. Carrying the heli-bags up to rock collection sites is often quite a good warm up for the main event of actually filling them.
On route to fill "heli-bags" with Rocks
(Image from 2013, we haven't started rock collection this year yet)
A bonus at this time of year, due to the shorter days, is that the light can be quite striking especially early morning or late afternoon as the sun rises or sets. A couple of recent examples are:
Sunrise along Windermere as the team started work at Wray Castle
Late afteroon light looking along Coniston Water at the end of a working day
If you would like to know more about the daily work of the South Lakes Upland Ranger team they can be found on Twitter @NTLakesFells or for more about Fix the Fells follow this link: Fix the Fells 

Posted by: Nick, Upland Ranger

16 January 2016

If you go down to the woods today...

You'll be in for a 'tree-mendous' surprise. Well, you will be very soon (hopefully)...

You may remember in a previous blog [dens and treehouses], we were asking visitors to Wray Castle for their dream treehouse ideas as part of the next phase of development of the play trail. Throughout the summer, there have been some fantastic designs submitted in the castle. Both the young and the old have been sharpening their colouring pencils, putting pen to paper and coming up with some weird and wonderful designs. Here is just a selection of the hundreds of designs we got:

Slides were very popular!
Building a treehouse inside the tree trunk!
Some of the designs submitted were by 'big' kids!
Perhaps this could be phase 2 of developments?

So we got our thinking caps on to work out the best way to combine all these super ideas, but that suited the tree we were thinking of building the treehouse around. 

The victim!

The time has finally come, many of the materials have been gathered… and work has commenced!

There was a lot of head scratching to get to this stage..!
Intricate joinery!

Can you guess what it is yet? We almost have a flat platform to work from! Ready for the addition of the treehouse on top...
We hope to build more than just a treehouse…it is going to be castle themed, have two floors, arrow slits, a fireman’s pole and a slide.. giving a unique view of Wray Castle and in winter, down to the lake!

Come on down and have a play for yourself when we finish… Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the weather here in Cumbria, so providing we don’t get blizzards and more flooding we hope to have the treehouse up and running in the February half term! This treehouse has been part funded by the proceeds from the Cadbury's Easter Egg trail, so thanks to everyone for taking part and enabling us to build this!

An unusual view of the castle...

25 December 2015

Memorable photos.

This weeks blog comprises of some favorite and memorable photos of the South Lakes Footpath Team projects throughout the year.

Our main project this year was working on the Coniston Old Man path from Low water to the summit. Thanks to help from the wider ranger team at Boon Crag we filled the helibags in time for the scheduled helicopter flights.

All rangers at the ready! bag filling blitz!

Photo by Paul Kingston
Photo by Paul Kingston

Working on the erosion scars on Striding edge lent itself to some spectacular photos this year. As well as physically combating erosion issues within the Lake District education is also vital, sharing knowledge within the National trust is part of this. Below is a photo of South Lakes 'walk on the wild side' team day discussing the erosion concerns on Striding edge.

Team day on Striding edge.
Amazing refection in Red tarn below Striding edge.

Decent day on Striding edge.

Don't throw the bucket!!

Previous footpath projects often need maintenance, such as extra drainage, repairing stone pitching or path re-surfacing. One of the maintenance tasks this year was on Mart Crag Moor in the Langdales, topping up the low points on the path. This involved mining for glacial till otherwise know as pinnel which acts as a hard wearing surface material. 

Pinnel pies.
Walking to Mart Crag Moor from vehicle (white dot in valley)
Looking up the valley from the vehicle.
Some other memorable photos throughout the year on different work site.

Cloud inversion looking down Tongue gill from Fairfield.

Kipping at lunchtime on Dovedale.
Faint rainbow at Hole rake Christmas work party.

17 December 2015

Black Eye Friday

Black Eye Friday

Around here the Friday before Christmas is traditionally known , by the emergency services, as ‘Black Eye Friday’  it’s the day when the local builders, joiners, plumbers, electricians and people who work the land,  finish work and start their Christmas break . Many local trades people gather  in the local pubs , much drink is taken , tongues are loosened and later in the evening petty rivalries and grievances are aired,  things are said that would be better left unsaid leading to the inevitable ‘wrestling and fisticuffs ‘ and the blackening of eyes !

Lake Windermere just kept on rising

This year however may be a bit different , the recent exceptionally severe flooding and strong winds has meant that houses have been flooded , roads and bridges damaged,  trees felled onto tracks and paths , walls and fences.

Multiple windblown trees across this track on Claife !

Some of our National Trust staff have been affected;  flooded out of  their houses, possessions damaged beyond repair. 

Flooded properties at Strawberry Gardens.

Like our own NT Rangers , many of the local builders are now busier than they have been all year , working hard to repair the damage caused by wind and water, hoping to get people back into their homes before Christmas .

 As I write this we have Rangers and teams of volunteers assessing and prioritising the damage , repairing tracks  and removing windblown trees from paths. Builders  and joiners are delaying their Christmas break ripping out damaged kitchen units and furniture trying to dry out properties quickly so that re-building work can begin. This work will continue well into the new year and some of it will take months !

Cumbrian Spirit

All this paints a bleak picture,  but the reality of life in the Lakes is that we have faced severe weather challenges before; repaired, rebuilt and carried on with our work and our lives and this time will be no different. Most of the businesses are open as usual , the majority of roads and bridges are open , the countryside is accessible , if a little scarred in places .

Moody and magnificent
So come and visit Cumbria and the South Lakes we are open for business and we could do with your support now more than ever. If anything the Lakes is looking even more moody and magnificent , the becks and waterfalls are certainly something to behold,  and Christmas is a great time to be in the Lakes whatever the weather !

Please note : Do check our NT website for opening times  and info as some of our properties close for a Winter break to prepare for the new season.

Happy Christmas

11 December 2015

A fond farewell to South Lakes

Every year when our annual cohort of full time, long term volunteers leaves, we make them (ask them to) write a blog reflecting on their experience. Well, this time it’s my turn to leave after a very happy couple of years working at South Lakes, and it seems only right that I should join in the tradition. It feels far too soon to be going, but when I look back at what we’ve been up to since January 2013, I’m amazed by the amount and variety of stuff we’ve managed to fit in!

I feel incredibly lucky to have worked in some of the most spectacular spots in the country…

…including hidden gems….

…on the most picturesque days.

I’ve built fences to make space for nature…

…and seen the results.

Experienced the madness of a film set…

…and the peculiar madness of Lake District wall gaps.

Not to mention that of spending too much time in the office.

And closest to my heart, I’ve met some great trees…

…and people.

So as the sun sets on my time at South Lakes, it's just left to say big love to the team, I’m gutted to be leaving x