Team news for August 2011

  • National Trust Working Holiday at Mickleden

    09:24 22 August 2011
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    Over the last week we've had a group of volunteers on a National Trust Working Holiday helping us out with some path repair at Mickleden. We had a group of ten, who were all stopping over in accommodation at the National Trust High Wray Basecamp, four miles outside of Ambleside.

    On the first day we had to carry all the tools up to the work site, so we shared out mattocks, shovels and crowbars between everybody and headed up towards Rossett Ghyll where we would be working for the rest of the week.

    Volunteers starting work on the first day

    The group was split into pairs, and each pair given a section to work on, and with four staff at hand it meant we could give everybody plenty of help and guidance. The first day is always the hardest, as it takes a lot more digging to get the first course of pitching in the ground, and the stones you start with are always deep ones. By the end of the day everyone had made a good start and had their first few stones in place.
    As the week went on everyone started to get the hang of things and began to get more of an eye for how the stones should fit together.

    The path starting to take shape

    Unfortunately, as is becoming usual for August in the Lake District, the weather didn't remain dry throughout the week and there were lots of heavy showers about. Even on Tuesday when the weather was particularly bad, everyone remained in good spirits and kept up the good work.

    Working hard through rain, and shine

    By the end of Thursday everybody was making good progress and several of the sections only needed another course, or two, to join up.

    Not much further now...

    On the final day we managed to get each of the sections joined and most of the landscaping completed too. Everybody had a really good time, although a few people had said it was much harder work than they'd imagined it would be. As with previous years the standard of work was fantastic.

    A job well done!

  • The Many Moods of Morecambe Bay

    21:21 18 August 2011
    By Tom Burditt

    Being a Ranger attached to the Trust’s Morecambe Bay properties is something of a misnomer if you think about it. There are a few locations where we own out as far as Mean High Water (Heysham, Jack Scout and Silverdale Cove, Plumpton) but you don’t manage Morecambe Bay (or “range” it I suppose), or own it, or do anything with it. It isn’t property in any normal sense of the word. It is another place altogether: a true wilderness ultimately beyond the management control of man, and long may that continue.

    And vast, it is vast. When the tide goes out it disappears beyond the horizon exposing an extra 100 square miles of not-quite land.

    Working and living in sight of Morecambe Bay you see it many different moods.

    The most dramatic and extraordinary was surely at Christmas, when a sea of tortured, mangled pack ice came down from the Lake District fells and littered the sands. Our stately Victorian promenades became for a while the decks of a cruise ship looking out over Antarctic wastes.

    But in its way last week was just as dramatic too. For a single Wednesday the force of the westerly gales drove the sea towards the land and was strong enough, it seemed, to prevent the tide from going out. The white horses of the waves rolled in and crashed against our rocky coasts. It felt like proper sea, the Atlantic. Usually we only get that feeling of proper sea on the spring high tides when the saltmarsh strips submerge and the sea-sick smell of mouldy salt and vinegar crisps fills your nose, and your daydreams.

    The more usual view is of something hovering between land, sea and sky - a flatness of mud and creek that seems too treacherous and insubstantial to either walk on or sail on - emptiness with just the occasional small gaggle of wading birds or black-headed gulls.

    But step out on to it (preferably on a Cross Bay Walk if you want to stay safe!) and like a test of faith it doesn’t collapse beneath you but is surprisingly firm and land-like. (On Morecambe Bay you are more likely to see a fisherman’s tractor than a boat). Step out on to it bare-foot and you are rewarded with a range of textures. Out there are hard flat sands (and not just at Sandside, where they bake into a golden beach when the high tides are low and the sun is hot); grey sandy rivulets that press painfully into your arches and where you can leave footprints; powdery silts and sloppy brown muds that ooze between your toes but supports you, ankle deep; soft mud-flats pock-marked with warm, calf-deep basins; rivers hundreds of metres across but only thigh-high where those with the know-how tread for flooks (flounders), pull them out by the gills and strap them to their belts like rabbit pelts. And the infamous quicksands too. Many are air-pockets trapped by collapsing creek banks, wet bubbles beneath dry crusts, ready to trap the unwary. But if you stand in one place for too long and work the mud beneath your feet you can slowly feel the ground loosening, stickily.

    And if you do stay in one place for too long, beware! In many places - like Jack Scout where I was today - the sands are so flat that you can watch the tide creeping in at walking pace; turn round and by the time you have it may have already surrounded you.

    I love the rushing of the incoming tides. On one of my first weeks living and working here I was lucky to drive along the Sandside road just as the Kent ‘bore’ wave was racing and smacking against the salt-marsh where the estuary turns north towards Sizergh and narrows abruptly: a river flowing the wrong way. But a normal in-tide is even more fascinating. Rivers like the Kent, Keer and Leven flow seawards with their big ripples but either side the wider streams of the muddy tide flow in; rivers of water flowing in different directions. On a windy day or a stronger tide the two opposing currents collide and swirl into great eddies, the silts suspended like dirty paint twirling in a water-jar after a paint-brush has been cleaned in it.

    Walk in august along the edges of Morecambe Bay and all you’ll see are the scruffy mauve of the sea asters (the last forgotten flowers left in the florist) but back in June for a glorious fortnight we look out on our own equivalent of a desert bloom, a surprising explosion of sea pink (or thrift), all a-buzz with the excitement of insect life and the coming of summer.

    My favourite time of all though is the last few minutes of twilight, before the colours go for another day. On a still evening the mackerel skies overhead are nothing compared to the patterns out on the bay. Dark purple bands of dry sand streak with wet silver; the crests of the dark purple wavelets in the creeks capture pockets of silver and gold. The water pools trapped in the muddy riffles as the tide retreats also reflect the last of the daylight; they are light-pools trapped amongst the darkening sands as the day, too, ebbs away.

    Then these eyes in the sand seem to slowly shut, their light fades away, and we are left with the last goodnight peeping of the oystercatchers and the bats swooping out of the trees taking insects off the tide-line.

  • Replacing old pitching at Mickleden

    11:56 05 August 2011
    By Ade Mills, Pete Entwistle, Leo Walmsley

    A couple of weeks ago we made the decision to have a break from our work on Stickle Ghyll and move our attentions onto the Mickleden project.

    The section we are working on is an area that had been previously pitched in the 1980s, when the path was very badly eroded. As the path was originally repaired before the use of helicopters for moving stone to site, all the rock would have been gathered by hand from the fellside. Due to this limitation, the stone used wasn't always ideal, meaning the resulting path was steep, straight and with numerous large steps, making it uncomfortable to walk down. This has led to people stepping off the path and walking alongside it, which has once again started to cause problems with erosion. As it is a common complaint, especially with some of the older paths, that the steps are too high, we decided to address the issue.

    Pete levering a stone into position

    Although the path had massively improved the damage being caused to the fell, we decided that we could now fly in a few extra bags of stone and make it more user-friendly. There are often constraints that mean steps need to be a little higher than would be desired, such as the gradient of the path and any underlying bedrock or boulders. So to take some of the gradient out we have decided to re-align the path and put in some bends, meaning the steps don't have to be quite so high.

     New pitching in place, with old path to the right

    Where possible we are reusing sections of the original path and mixing it in with the new rock. We have saved all the turf that has been dug off and this will be used to landscape the old path, meaning it should blend in with it's surroundings much more quickly than if it was just seeded.