by Margaret, April 2008

On Saturday morning, our large party of 25 (including some members of the Northumbrian NTV group) assembled at NT headquarters, just off the Borrowdale Road. Roy, the warden, explained that we would be doing various tasks at High Snab Farm in the Derwent Fells. Stuart's panoramic photo below shows the great view from the farm, which was between tenants and needed quite a bit of TLC. The last farmer had suffered from ill health and had had to retire. Our many and varied tasks were to make the farm presentable for the next tenant. The weather was less than kind with heavy rain showers (but as you will see, compared with the indoor job, working outside in the rain was actually a good thing to do - Ed).


A party of four set off to repair a collapsed wall high above the farm. They were not seen again for quite some time but I have it on good report that the task was most satisfactory.

Four of our intrepid volunteers were given maps and asked to walk round the farm boundaries making notes of the state of walls and fences. Words like sound, wobbly and fallen down were mentioned.

Rubbish clearance was a major task. Old pieces of wood, plastic and barbed wire were removed to their designated piles. The wood formed a basis for one of our now famous bonfires. Started below the farm buildings, this was no mean feat in view of the weather (very wet!). Our star bonfire lighter, Sarah, had no problems though. After a debate with our Northumberland colleagues on the merits of building a wigwam-shaped structure of twigs or laying them on horizontally, the fire was soon raging and any wood on the farm that wasn't actually growing was gathered in and consigned to it.

cow and sheep shit shovelling
Margaret busy shovelling

The other major task, and the one I was involved in, was cow and sheep shit shovelling! Roy did mention that, in the National Trust, we are encouraged to say 'poo' or 'excrement' but, looking at the amount we shovelled, I felt shit was a much more accurate description! All the byres had deep, compacted layers of the stuff and it was our job to remove it using mattocks and spades. One of the byres that Stuart was working in was so dark he was operating by feel and smell alone. Judging by the barrow loads coming out of there he was doing a very good job. Colin fell foul of this compacted muck. A piece flew into his eye and Pete took him to the Cottage Hospital to have it washed out. I'm happy to report that all is well now.

At about 3.30pm we were all finished on the farm and ready to set off to our respective accommodations for a well earned shower when we noticed that our boundary walkers had not returned. They were spotted clambering up a field edge on the opposite hillside to the farm. Car horns were honked, shouts given and arms waved (like semaphore only without the flags) but to no avail. We reluctantly had to leave without them but it was very reassuring to see them in the pub that night looking no worse for their mammoth undertaking.

At the end of the task, the farm looked so much better and Roy was obviously pleased with all our efforts.

Having wined and dined very well on the Saturday night, we met up again on Sunday morning eager for our next task, accompanied by just one very welcome member of the Northumbrian group.

The weather was much better and everything had dried out, including us! We were going to be on wall repairing detail in the heart of Borrowdale near the Bowder Stone. The wall skirted the edge of Cummacatta Woods. Roy explained that otters had been sighted near these woods and the Trust was trying to discourage walkers and their dogs from this small area of woodland. The aim was to create a quiet place where the otters would hopefully set up home and breed.

We parked up at the Bowder Stone car park and were all issued with high visibility jackets as we would be working near the road. Not really a fashion statement but I did feel rather important! We walked along the footpath to visit the Bowder Stone before starting work. We passed one of our previous work sites at the quarry, now used for abseiling (happy memories of Roy letting those of us who wished to try it, have a go one Sunday a few years ago) and on to the Stone.

The Bowder Stone is the biggest freestanding piece of rock in the Lake District. More impressive than its enormous bulk is the way it seems to balance on one corner, appearing from the southern end like a diamond resting on one point. Debates on its origin suggest it is either a glacial erratic or it fell from the crags above. The latter is the most likely as the rock of the Stone and the material in the Hells Wall section of Bowder Crag are identical.

Dry stone wall repair
Margaret repairing a roadside wall, with other
WYNTV members highly visible in the distance

We left the Stone and walked back to the area of wall that needed repairing. A lot of the wall consisted of slate and it became a case of finding the fallen pieces in the undergrowth. The aim was to achieve as natural looking a repair as possible therefore any stone with moss growing on it was eagerly seized upon. The job must have been done well because at one point Geoff wandered away from his patch of wall looking for just one more elusive thin piece of slate and, on coming back, couldn't find where he had been working!

Roy explaining the art of natural looking walling repairs to Peter and Jenny Margaret Holmes and Colin repairing a roadside wall.
Roy explaining the art of natural looking walling repairs to Peter and Jenny;
and Geoff, Margaret and Colin repairing a roadside wall. Photos: Margaret T.

All scheduled repairs were completed by about 12.30pm. Roy then expressed his appreciation of all our efforts and said he looked forward to seeing us all again next year. Our thanks also go to Roy for supplying us with such varied and interesting tasks. I left for home whilst others contemplated the delights on offer in the cafe in nearby Grange, or Keswick.

Thanks from us all must go to Jane for all her hard work in organising this weekend. As in previous years it has all been brilliant and I can't wait for next year!


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