News from John Atkinson for June 2012

  • Piano in the caves!

    07:15 28 June 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson

    As an Upland Ranger our jobs can be quite varied, one day we’ll be on the top of a mountain on a drain run, the next removing a piano from a disused quarry, yes you did read that right! As you may expect this wasn’t a normal everyday request, indeed I doubt it will be a request again in the near future, but as jobs go it was definitely an interesting and challenging one.
    
    Nick testing the piano out
      
    Althouth it is a rare request I can understand why the piano would be there in the first place.  Slate quarries are renowned for their acoustic qualities, world famous saxophonist Snake Davis can be quoted as saying that Honister Slate mine in Borrowdale has “the best acoustics for solo sax” he has “ever come across".  So it would fit that the acoustics in out quarry are just as good, above you can see Nick having a little play.  This was all procrastination however for the task in hand and somehow the piano had to come out.  Thankfully Richard had some wise word for us before we left Boon Crag, “think like an Egyptian”…

    So think like an Egyptian we did as we carried some old fence posts into the Quarry.  Then it was a case of lift and pull the piano over the rollers, bringing rollers from the front to the back, moving quite rapidly once we got into a rhythm.  In fact before we knew it we were at the light at the end of the tunnel and the trailer was in sight. 

    Thinking like an Egyptian!

    Nearly out

    With some delicate manoeuvring around the fencing at the entrance to the cavern we were ready to load it onto the trailer and take away to hopefully its new home at Wray Castle.  First though they need to check it hasn’t got wood worm or any other bugs that shouldn’t be taken into the house and potentially cause some damage.  If it gets the all clear, then Wray Castle may be filled with some beautiful music!

    Final push onto the trailer

    On the way to Wray castle


    Post & photos by Sarah, Upland Ranger in footpath team.
  • Farming Landscapes

    09:00 15 June 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson

    Over the next few months many National Trust tenants and other farmers will be hosting farm walks to encourage people to be more informed about what they as farmers are doing and farming's relationship with the landscape and conservation. This weekend will see many farms all over the country open their gates for "Open Farm Sunday" on the 17th June and the Friends of the Lake District are organising a series of events right across Cumbria over the summer called "Farming Landscapes".

    Lake District Fells
    Working for the National Trust in the Lake District we can get a bit blase' about the landscape we work in but when talking to visitor, encountering a magnificent view as the cloud lifts or witnessing a fantastic sunset you realise what an amazing place it is to live and work in. But this magnificent  landscape didn't happen by accident, but is a combination of geology, natural habitats and human intervention to form what we see today.

    The biggest impact in forming this rich mosaic of forms and colours has been the way farming over the last few thousand years has developed and adapted the landscape to produce what we see today. Other influences have also contributed over the centuries from mining and quarrying which led to many of the much used tracks and paths to the coppicing industries which used the woodland to produce the raw materials for the industrial revolution. Later the Victorians developed their large estates and brought in exotic trees and designed landscapes to further develop what nature and agriculture had produced before them.

    Farm Walk
    Last weekend myself and Richard hosted one of the "Farming Landscapes" walks on the land I rent from the Trust at Park-a-Moor. We looked at how I manage the farm land and how this works closely with how the Trust manages its woodland and the flora and fauna within it. We also looked at some of the industrial archaeology left by the charcoal burners and the monks who farmed the land and how their legacy is left in what we see today. We also looked at how current farming methods and the impacts of national and international events have such an effect on how farming is undertaken and the different choices currently available to farmers in the area.


    If you wish to join a farm walk this Sunday and/or to find out more about farming in the area check out the following useful links:



  • News from the fells

    09:00 08 June 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson

    It's the time of year when the footpath team spend very little time in the lowlands (or in the office) and, unless you're a keen hill-walker, we are mostly seen as specks in the distance on the side of a hill.  At the beginning of May we led a Working Holiday teaching a group of very keen volunteers some upland footpath techniques at Glenamara Park, near Patterdale in Ullswater.  The path is a popular route up to St. Sunday Crag and had stone pitching put in by volunteers about eight years ago.  In most places the path is holding up well, but there were some places where it had become eroded, so we replaced stones and landscaped out the eroded places with the hope that people will continue to want to follow the path.  The weather was a touch mixed, but as you can see from the photo, that just added a few rainbows to our already beautiful view.  You can also see the pitching (step-like stone path) in the foreground.
    Rainbow seen from Glenamara Park
    We have had a couple of scorchingly hot work days with the Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen.  The first was on a popular route route up Coniston Old Man near the ruins of a former slate quarry.  We were using a technique that was used to create a hard-wearing but smooth path surface for dragging massive pieces of slate down from the quarries on sledges!  Slates are laid so that their narrowest edge forms the path surface.  As you can imagine this is a long term project as you don't get many metres of path laid in a day. 

    Creating a slate path on the Old Man

    The second lengthsmen work party was high on Helvellyn near Red Tarn.  A subsoil path had been created using a digger about 12 years ago and some stone drains put in at the same time had collapsed and were no longer effectively shedding water from the path.  Water erosion soon creates gullies and makes the surface unattractive for people to walk on, so our task was to fix the drains.  The drains run across the path and have two parallel stone sides and should have a flat stone base.  Many of the drains near Red Tarn had no bases at all and that's likely to be the reason why they collapsed as the base helps to hold the sides apart.  We scavenged stone from the hillside to put new bases in.  We had a great view of Striding Edge and the summit of Helvellyn and were grateful that there was some water around to help us keep cool!

    Lengthsmen repairing drains on Helvellyn
    The sheep fleeces that you heard about the Basecamp team bagging up in an earlier post have now reached their destination high above Langdale via helicopter!  We were involved on the ground on the day they flew, moving the bags to the field where the helicopter was going to land.  We were very lucky to have perfect flying weather (helicopters are a bit fragile and the Lake District doesn't always oblige with sun).  Sadly I didn't manage to capture the comedy moment when the wind created by the helicopter rotor blades blew the bags and sheep fleeces all over the landing site!  However, as you can see below we got all the bags flown successfully to Mart Crag Moor where the Basecamp team are going to be using them to build a path this summer with a working holiday.

    Helicopter flying sheep fleeces to Mart Crag moor
    In the past the footpath team have spent most of their time in the summer working on a single large project.  This year our focus has been mainly on doing maintenance on the paths that have already been built.  We walk set routes and clear drains of any gravel and mud that has accumulated in them and clear stone pitching of gravel so that it's easy to walk on.  We've been lucky enough to go all over the Lake District while collaborating with other teams, so I'll leave you with this panorama of Buttermere and Crummock water from our 'office' for the day on Red Pike.

    Panorama from Red Pike (Buttermere)

  • Volunteers Week 2012

    09:00 01 June 2012
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Rob Clarke, Sarah Anderson


    Did you know that next week is Volunteers Week?
    Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) is an annual event which celebrates the fantastic contribution that millions of volunteers make across the UK. Here on our South Lakes patch we are particularly lucky to have a very diverse and enthusiastic team of volunteers helping us and we thought in celebration of Volunteers Week we'd  join forces with our historic houses blog and mention some of the work done in both the countryside and the  houses. During Volunteers Week it will be business as usual for our volunteers but there's no better time for us to say a big 'thank you' to all of them. Here's a quick look at just some of what goes on.

    Our volunteers play a vital part in helping visitors get the most out of their visits
    As the week begins our volunteers at Hill Top, Beatrix Potter Gallery and Wray Castle, are preparing themselves for our season turning pretty hectic: Hill Top switches to longer summer opening times, the schools go on Half-Term holiday, it’s the main Japanese holiday season, and to top it all the UK is having a  ‘Double Bank holiday'. Regardless, our volunteers will continue to help us give exceptional visits to all our visitors.

    The recent weather has been good for plants (and weeds!), so the community growers are busy tending their plots at Monk Coniston's walled garden, whilst our garden volunteers have been helping Pete (the Gardener) make Hill Top such a welcoming traditional cottage garden.

    Monk Coniston Community Growers exercising their' green fingers'
    Brian & Jenny hard at work in Hill Top veg garden
    In the wider property our Volunteer Path Rangers have been constructing drains near Guards Wood to prevent the damage caused by water; hard work but very rewarding, especially as their own initial surveys identified all the work required; 100s of miles of paths walked and surveyed in all weathers. Some of these hardy souls enjoyed it so much they’ve moved onto our woodland boundaries, and let me tell you there’s a lot of boundaries to survey!

    The South Lakes Conservation group has been busy as usual, working hard on some dry stone walls near Windermere, back-breaking but rewarding.

    Volunteer lengsthmen on a previous walling job
    Unusually the High Wray Volunteer Centre has been quiet, with no groups in this week, but that doesn’t mean the team have been quiet. Instead they’ve been preparing for one of their tougher tasks – 5 days, 12 volunteers, a bog, a load of sheep wool (see Ranger blog 'Loads of Fleeces...') and because of the remote upland setting they’re all going to camp.  This is one of our successful NT working holidays, let's hope the weather is kind to us (though even when it’s not, the scenery can be spectacular as you can see below!)

    You take the one on the right, I'll take the left - one's bound to have gold at the end!
    This has been a snapshot of just some of what goes on in an average week with our volunteers, they are always busy with these and lots of other tasks, bringing enthusiasm, ideas, freshness and a sense of fun to our team here in the South Lakes.

    If you're interested in learning more on aspects of our volunteering here's some useful links:
    post by Paul K responsible for Vol Development here
    photo credits : various including National Trust, Rob Clarke, Paul Kear, Photography by Ward, Volunteering England

News from John Atkinson

Photo of John Atkinson

Lead Ranger.
I have lived and worked in the Lakes for most of my life both as a farmer and for the last 20+ years as a National Trust employee. Over the years I have worked right across the Lakes firstly as a practitioner repairing walls and footpaths and working on conservation projects. Then more recently managing upland access projects and advising on access and erosion issues, before gaining my current position managing the Ranger team in the South Lakes. I am also a very passionate supporter of rural skills and upland farming and sit on the national committee of the DSWA and also the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners. When not at work I run a 200ha upland farm with my family where we keep traditional breeds of cattle and sheep and assist in conservation grazing schemes.

Blog:
http://www.countryside-catchup.blogspot.co.uk/