News from John Moffat for January 2015

  • An Upland Rangers Sack...

    10:00 30 January 2015
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Glenn Bailey, Sarah Anderson, Sam Stalker, Ian Griffiths, Matthew Allmark, Stuart Graham, Paul Farrington, John Moffat, Craig Hutchinson, Clair Payne, Luke Sherwen

    We Upland folk have to be ready for anything, one day we could be doing habitat creation close to home, the next up on the high fells with an unexpected storm blowing through.  Granted we are pretty wise to where we go, especially in the winter months, but even in the summer the high fells can be a pretty unforgiving place to be as weather can, and does change very quickly!

    Lovely day in the valleys, snowy on top!
    As such our rucksack could be described as somewhat weightier that any of our low land colleagues.  Indeed if anyone else picks up our rucksacks it’s normally followed with a ‘Blimey!  What on earth have you got in there?!’  So when this question was posed quite recently I preceded to answer in great detail by emptying my bag....

    Ta daaaa
    But this got me thinking about all the weird and wonderful things that we do end up carrying up or off the fell. To start with we have the obvious as seen above, waterproofs, food, water, hot flask, first aid kit, spare jacket, map, whistle, compass, gloves.  These are the basics that keep us safe and comfortable when out working; alas to do work we need some tools…

    Tools tools wonderful tools

    The rock carrier (an Icelandic concept!)

    Power Barrow, rock hammer.....
    A rock hammer I hear you say?!  Yep and very useful it was too, I’m just glad it wasn’t me that had to carry it!  The power barrow meanwhile would have been driven up and although a little unwieldy at times does make moving lots of material much easier.  Another useful tool for this is our good friend the winch, but again, with a wire cable, winch body, handle and strops to be brought up it is most definitely a team effort.
    Winching a rather large stone
    Winching is immensely useful, especially on small projects.  But when it comes to larger projects that need a lot of stone, helicopters are, oddly enough, the most environmentally friendly way to move stone onto site.  But for this to happen stone has to be hand selected and placed into large black dumpy type bags ready for the helicopter to whisk away and onto site.  Again, these big black bags don’t walk to site by themselves!  Typically we’ll each carry 8-10 bags up onto site, which will each get filled with around 700-900kg of stone.
    Carrying the Heli Bags....
    ...ready to fill them with stone!
    Some stones however are a bit more controversial and it is often with mixed feelings that we find ourselves carrying them off the fell.  These are memorial stones and can vary from little plaques to chunks of slate.  We carry them off on the basis that if we leave them it could be seen acceptable to place memorials out on the fells.  This could result in fell tops, view points and summit cairns becoming littered with said memorials, not exactly what you’d expect to see when out on the fells.
    Ah cake! Another very important piece of luggage
    This all sounds like hard work doesn’t it, so I guess we should look at the comfort side of things, it’s important to take it easy every now and again!  Come forth the shed.  A beacon of hope on wild days, but also somewhere to store the deck chairs for sunny days and our own personal kitchen…  
    Relaxing by the shed

    Equally it can be quite an odd thing to see on the fells so in some spots we do take to trying to camouflage it into the fells.
    Now im sure there a shed here somewhere...
    Staying on the relaxed theme our rucksack have one final and probably the most useful function of all, a pillow for that quick lunch time snooze!

    Written by Upland Ranger Sarah
    Follow us on Twitter @ntlakesfells

  • Winter Wildlife in 3D and High Definition

    10:00 23 January 2015
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Glenn Bailey, Sarah Anderson, Sam Stalker, Ian Griffiths, Matthew Allmark, Stuart Graham, Paul Farrington, John Moffat, Craig Hutchinson, Clair Payne, Luke Sherwen

    Zebra crossing !

    I was watching a David Attenborough wildlife programme recently it was the one where the 6 week old zebra with its mum was trying to cross a swollen river  , a raging torrent of a  river populated by grumpy hippos and with lions on the far bank waiting to pick off the tired beasts as they scramble up the bank on the other side. It was shocking,  thrilling and dramatic stuff to watch .

    Apart from making  me think how inappropriate the name ‘ zebra crossing ‘ is for  a safe place to cross  anything , I was also reminded that you don’t have to go to the African plains to witness this sort of life and death drama ; it’s going on all around us in the countryside and winter is a great time to witness these events.

    Stoat v’s Rabbit

    While walking along Wray Castle drive last week ,with some colleagues ,we heard a squeal from the field on the other side of the railings a rabbit was running at top speed towards us with a stoat in hot pursuit . Both rabbit and stoat were apparently oblivious to our presence.

    The large rabbit being closely followed by the much smaller stoat with its long slender body and short legs looked a comical mismatch , like a  sausage dog  trying to bring down a red deer stag !

    At least this would have been comical if it was a game of tig and not a chase to the death. The stoat  although much much smaller is very capable of bringing down the rabbit and killing it . The two did a figure of eight around us before disappearing back into the field .  We didn’t see the outcome, but let’s just say it can be long and very unpleasant for the rabbit !

    Hide and Seek

    the sparrowhawk - an acrobatic killer

    A unremarkable hedgerow next to Hawkshead village seems an unlikely place for thrilling drama , but just before Christmas I could see a bird of prey giving an impressive acrobatic display  zipping from one side of the hawthorn hedge to the other , flying along at speed  and then darting back , the lack of foliage made it easier to see what was going on . A sparrowhawk , the most agile of birds of prey, was after a blue tit . The blue tit trapped in the hedge was flying along inside, using the thorny branches for protection , the sparrowhawk goading and threatening, trying to get at the tiny bird or scare it out into the open .

    This deadly game of hide and seek went on for what seemed like ages , I’m sure it felt longer for the blue tit ,  but was probably over in less than a minute . On this occasion brains won out over brawn as the blue tit stayed put and the sparrowhawk lost interest or was scared off.

    Rumble in the jungle

    Probably the most titanic struggle that I have witnessed in the wild, while being a National Trust Ranger is that between a Great crested newt and an earthworm,  unlikely sparring partners I’m sure you’ll agree ! This ‘ battle’  took place in a small pond , under torch light,  on Claife Heights some years back ; the ‘rumble in the jungle’ if you like.

    in the blue corner

    In the blue corner……  the great crested newt the largest of the British newts is an uncommon amphibian, a protected species, with its jagged crest along its back it looks like a mini dinosaur generally 10-14cm long , but pretty fearsome looking , it looks like it can handle itself in a fight !   

    in the red corner
     And in the red corner ……… a worm a plump wiggly worm,  not really built for street fighting . Ladies and gentlemen ,place your bets please.

    The ‘fight’ started with the newt bothering the worm and quite quickly devouring a third to half of its length , this should have been game over for the worm , but we underestimated the worms instinct for survival and what followed made for  compelling viewing , for several minutes the worm used the only weapon in its arsenal ….the wriggle….. it bucked and writhed for as long as it could, the newt not letting go , the worm tiring, stopped , rested and then started wriggling  again as though its life depended on it and indeed its life did depend on it . After maybe five minutes of this strange wrestling match, an unlikely outcome,  the newt  decided that there were easier ways of getting a meal and the worm, having never given up, broke free, and lived to wriggle another day.  Rocky would have been proud.

    So turn off the telly, put on a coat  and get out there this winter. These amazing thrilling spectacles are available for free,  in high definition, in 3 D and with surround sound,  in your back garden, local green space or nearest bit of countryside.

    Hawkshead village is worth a visit at any time of year , the Beatrix Potter Gallery in the village re-opens on Feb 14 2015, the Victorian gothic  Wray Castle located 2 miles from Hawkshead re-opens on 21 March 2015 but the grounds are open year round. 

  • Step back in time in Little Langdale

    10:00 16 January 2015
    By John Atkinson, Nick Petrie, Paul Kear , Richard Tanner, Rob Clarke, Glenn Bailey, Sarah Anderson, Sam Stalker, Ian Griffiths, Matthew Allmark, Stuart Graham, Paul Farrington, John Moffat, Craig Hutchinson, Clair Payne, Luke Sherwen

    It’s hard to avoid the eerie feeling that you’re walking in the footsteps of our ancestors when you cross Slater’s Bridge in Little Langdale.  There’s not a road or modern building in sight – barely a building at all, in fact – and with the worn stone beneath your feet, it’s easy to become lost in time.  Anyone at any point in the four-hundred years since the bridge was built could have done the same thing; gazed around at the same fells, peered down into the same smooth clear water flowing swiftly beneath.  On a misty morning, it’s almost a surprise that a pack-horse doesn’tcome clopping over the hill from Birk Howe Farm.
    Slater's Bridge in the timeless landscape of Little Langdale.  Photo Amy Askew.
    While Slater’s Bridge might be the most iconic old feature in Little Langdale, the whole valley is rich with the signs and scars of centuries of human use, not to mention five legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs).  

    Industrial heritage

    Perhaps the most obvious features (although not scheduled) are the quarries which dominate Tilberthwaite and the south-east part of Little Langdale along with their enormous spoil heaps.  Slater’s Bridge is named on a sixteenth century map so it’s thought that quarrying was already taking place here then – this seems likely as the stone for most of the Lake District’s old slate buildings would have come from small local quarries.  The Victorian era brought a full-scale ‘slate boom’ to Coniston and the surrounding countryside as people travelled from all over the country to try their luck in companies of four or five people.  The use of compressed air drills to make holes for blasting enabled exploitation on a huge scale and the creation of giant pits like Cathedral Quarry, Hodge Close and Moss Rigg.  The development of quality bricks brought large-scale slate quarrying to an end, and nature has reclaimed many of the sites – the peaceful valley we enjoy today is a far cry from the Victorian scene of heavy industry with drills ringing, dynamite blasts and the rumble of heavy sleds of slate being dragged along.

    Three companies of quarrymen in their shed.  Photo courtesy of Alastair Cameron.
    The area is also known for copper mining, and the most remote of Little Langdale’s SAMs is the Greenburn copper mine, tucked between Wetherlam and Wetside Edge, a mile beyond where you have to leave even a 4x4.  The site is huge and lots of the infrastructure for processing the ore is in good enough condition to give an idea of the scale of the operation in this lonely place, while tunnels (now closed) disappear up to 700m into the hillside.  Stone huts, a cavernous pit for a waterwheel, leats for moving water, and the remnants of a tramway are some of the most dramatic evidence of mining from the 1690s through to the late 1800s.

    Greenburn copper mine with the wheel pit visible at the front right, looking down Greenburn to Little Langdale.  Photo Ian Taylor,
    Ancient hamlets

    Where Greenburn meets the main valley we step back even further in time.  Two catchily-titled ‘mediaeval dispersed settlements’ are scheduled near Fell Foot Farm.  These date from sometime between 1066 and 1500 and consist of the foundations of buildings and a kiln that is likely to have been used for drying corn; they’re only visible now in the straight lines of giant boulders used for their foundations.  Lots of people in Cumbria lived in these ‘dispersed settlements’ during this period, with villages spread across entire valleys, a house or two in each hamlet, and their occupants sharing open common grazing on the surrounding land. 

    Straight lines of giant foundation stones are all that's left of the hamlets.  All the smaller stone would have been scavenged to make more recent walls like the one towards the back of the picture.
    The dry stone walls we see today were laid over this landscape during the following few hundred years and you can see the evidence of this ‘layering’ effect where some of them run across the foundations of these settlements.  The more intricate patterns of walls in the smaller fields in the valley bottom were built first as people started to manage larger flocks and herds more intensively and needed places to sort and store them; from 1690 a series of Enclosure Acts then allowed landowners to effectively privatise common land, eradicating the common rights.  The dead straight lengths of wall arcing miles over the fell tops date from this period as landlords marked their territory and controlled the grazing on it.

    Please note that there is currently no public access to the mediaeval settlements.

    This long, straight wall dividing Great Intake on Low Fell from the fell grazing on Wetherlam is likely to date from one of the Enclosure Acts.

     Vikings and Romans

    Tucked away directly behind Fell Foot Farm is the site that speaks most to me – the Ting Moot (AKA Thing Mount/Mound – take your pick).  This terraced rectangle of earth, about the size of a tennis court, was an Anglo-Saxon meeting place and would probably have been constructed sometime in the 7th-9thcenturies.  Courts would have been held here as well as day to day meetings to administer the affairs of the area.  Little Langdale would have been chosen as this spot is central to the southern part of the region, with access possible over Wrynose Pass from the west and via Ambleside from the south and east; the passes here were a major trade route, and you can just about pick out the route of the Roman road (which the current road follows over the passes) in the field in front of the farm.  Standing on the road by the Ting Moot, with the Roman road in sight and Wrynose disappearing vertiginously behind you, it’s easy to see why this spot would have had such power. You can imagine the importance this route must have had when travelling the Lakes by foot or horse, with the valley opening up impressively below while Castle Howe rises sentinel-like directly above.
    The Ting Moot tucked away behind Fell Foot Farm.  The terraced edges are very obvious when you visit.
    Speaking of Castle Howe, this is the last of Little Langdale’s scheduled monuments, but unfortunately it seems likely that its history isn’t so compelling.  Although it was scheduled in the 1920s as an Iron Age hill fort, current thinking is that it’s probably not a fort at all (although, as with all archaeology, we can never be certain).  The ditches to the west of the peak, which were originally interpreted as man-made defensive features, are now thought to be natural, and a look at the summit suggests that even if ancient people had created a defensive cordon here, there would be nowhere inside to make buildings or live due to the steep and rocky ground.  Although its human history is in dispute, Castle Howe is a fascinating piece of geology known as a dyke, formed by a plug of lava cooling in a vent from a giant volcano.  It's consequently made from harder rock than the surrounding area so while the rest of the landscape was eroded under the glaciers of successive Ice Ages, these lumps - like Tarnclose Crag and the Langdale Pikes to the north - stand ruggedly proud.     

    Castle Howe (on the right) rises above Fell Foot Farm and the Ting Moot, with Greenburn and Wetherlam beyond.
    There’s a huge amount more history in the valley that there’s not room to cover here – each of the farms is a fascinating tale in its own right, for instance – and this just demonstrates the rich story the landscape of the Lakes has to tell.  Little Langdale is considered one of the Lake District’s gems in terms of scenery, but scratching beneath the surface can add a whole new level of interest to your hike; the valley is the perfect place to start an archaeological investigation and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors.  

    The rangers work hard with the National Trust regional archaeologist and building teams as well as the tenant farmers to ensure our Scheduled Ancient Monuments and the rest of the amazing history in our landscape is looked after as well as possible.  Sometimes this means excluding livestock or cutting vegetation on a monument to ensure it's not eroded, while other times we need to get the experts in to find out more information or carry out structural work.  Keep reading our blog to find out more about our varied work in the South Lakes.