by Peter, April 2007

As usual, our weekend started on Friday by meeting up at the Dog & Gun, just off the Market Square in Keswick. Colin, Sue and Rebecca had travelled up via the Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in England) and regaled us with tales of lambs and chickens in the baa-r (as pets you understand - not interlopers). A Tyne Tees TV crew were filming and they bought Sue and Rebecca an extra half pint (Black Sheep of course - Ed) to show customers enjoying their drink (I guess Colin must still have had some left - and he was the driver).

Saturday morning dawned chilly, but with the lovely clear blue sky that promises a hot day. 11 of us had stayed over, in B&Bs or camping. 6 more people drove over from Yorkshire in the morning, so 17 volunteers met up at Bowe Barn, the Borrowdale estate office, where we met Roy, the warden, and Andy, another member of the Wardening team. We drove to the work site at Catbells Terrace, on the west side of Derwentwater. Roy showed us the various places on the path that we would be repairing, using slate gravel (it's really quarry waste - except you cannot call it waste because then a whole new legal disposal regime comes into place and it would not be available for footpath work).

Roy and Andy pointed out a fenced-off area, where there are some large holes. Andy explained that there had been a lot of mining in the Lake District and that many shafts were dug below the surface. Since the mines have not been worked for many years, the pit props have not been renewed or maintained and are collapsing, leading to surface collapses. Roy also pointed out a field below us with 4 trees in a little group. The field is part of the Brandlehow Estate, which was the Trust's first acquisition in the Lake District. The 4 trees were planted by the National Trust Founders (Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley; Octavia Hill; Sir Robert Hunter) and Princess Louise, president of the National Trust and a daughter of Queen Victoria.

Path maintenanceRoy explained that the task was to use the gravel to fill in channels that had been made in the path by water running down it and to create some 'humps' on the path to encourage the water to flow off the path. Evening the surface would also allow wheelchairs better access. Roy did the risk assessment and then we all started work. We split into several groups: Geoff & Margaret T took some loppers to trim back the gorse that encroached on the path; Mark & Margaret H worked with Andy on a stretch of the path quite a way from the pile of gravel. We loaded gravel for them into the back of Andy's ATV (all terrain vehicle - like a quad bike, but with 6 wheels, not 4 and a small pickup bed at the back.) The rest of us took it in turns to fill wheelbarrows or push them up the hill and dump the gravel at the various places where Rebecca, assisted by various other volunteers, raked it evenly along the path or into the humps. Finally, Roy used his 'whacker plate' to flatten the gravel, to make a smooth hard surface.

A bionic person!
A bionic person!

While we were walking the work site, the path did not look too steep; however it did get quite a lot steeper as the day wore on. Roy provided us with ropes and showed us how one person could tie the rope to the front of the barrow and pull while another person pushed. Some bionic people could push the barrow alone! Later in the morning we met Dylan, another member of the warden team, who added his enthusiasm and brawn to our efforts. After lunch we finished the main part of the path by about 2:30 and Roy set us to work repairing another part of the path. Fortunately this path was not very steep and we didn't have to barrow far. It was great to look back, at the end of the day, at what we had done and the improvement we had made to the paths, but we were tired by the time we finished.

We ate dinner at the Pack Horse pub. This is the first time that we have eaten our Saturday meal there and the food was lovely and filling, and very welcome after our exertions earlier in the day. After the meal, we went to the Keswick Mountain Rescue HQ where Roy (who is a member of the team) gave us an impromptu talk about the Mountain Rescue team and its work. Riever, Roy's golden retriever put in an appearance and was fussed over mightily - to everyone's enjoyment.

Old fence removalOn Sunday we took down a broken fence on the slopes of the Coledale Valley. The fence used to protect the water supply to a small reservoir tank that served the nearby village of Braithwaite. Braithwaite is now on mains water and the reservoir tank has been removed. This makes the task seem tame - but it was not. The fence was about 50 meters (at least!!) above the level of the track, up a slope that was at least 45 degrees. It was hard enough just getting ourselves up there. We also took up the tools and a heavy old mountain rescue sledge that we used to bring down the old wire. The task itself was quite simple, removing the wire from the fence posts, taking up the old fence posts and hiding them from view so that they can rot down naturally, and folding up the wire before loading it onto the sledge. Just a little tricky on a 45 degree slope!

Lowering the sledgeWe took half of the wire down the slope on the sledge (too much wire to take it all). The technique for taking the sledge down the hill was to let gravity do most of the work. 6 or 7 of us sat down on the grass, holding the trailing rope from the sledge. Roy (brave bloke) walked down the slope backwards, just in front of the sledge, holding a steering rope. We let the trailing rope out hand over hand to control the descent of the sledge. When we had let out all the rope Roy stopped the sledge and we moved down to it, sat down, picked up the trailing rope and repeated the 'lowering' process. It took 5 or 6 repetitions of this technique to get the sledge to the bottom. We got the hang of it by then.

Afterwards, we had a look round Force Crags mill buildings, at the end of the Coledale Valley. Finally, most of the group headed to the Whinlatter Pass Forestry Commission visitors' centre for lunch and cake - and then home. Two great tasks, wonderful weather, convivial company - another excellent weekend at Borrowdale.

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