News from Roy Henderson for May 2012

  • Cakes and maps.

    10:01 23 May 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Once again I have been working with a group of volunteers but this time it was with the National Trust’s regional volunteers.  These are people who commit to twelve volunteer work-meets per year.  They work with a number of rangers across the region including two sessions per year with me.  With that level of experience, they have built up an impressive array of skills which can be used on a wide range of projects.  Most of these people return year after year and it is always good to see them and catch up on all our news.

    This time we were working at Braithwaite trimming back the vegetation along the side of the approach road to Force Crag mine.  En route to the start of the job they pointed out that a bridge we were crossing is one that they built in a previous year.  It’s always good if volunteers can revisit this type of project and see it in use.

    An extra benefit to working with this group is that part of their routine is to bring cake – as you can see in the picture, they don’t ‘do things by halves’ and the lunch-time picnic is much enhanced with generous slices! 

    Library picture

    The other theme to the week/weekend was the Keswick Mountain Festival where I ran a ‘Map-reading made easy’ course.  This was fully-subscribed and was free – although we don’t refuse donations.  It was aimed at people who want to get to grips with basic map and compass work.  We started with learning to ‘read’ the contour lines and carried on to recognising other features on the map.  We then added taking bearings and back-bearings and also some micro-navigation.  We present the material in as many different learning-styles as we can and sooner or later everyone has that moment when the penny drops and they ‘get it’.  We have the reward of knowing that a new group of people can go out to enjoy the fells more safely. 

    Library picture

  • Neolithic cross-roads?

    10:38 13 May 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    Regular readers of the blog will know that I have mentioned Castlerigg Stone Circle a few times.  Any who have visited will know that it is in a stunning, elevated setting with glorious panoramic views of the surrounding fells.  It dates to somewhere around 4.5 thousand years ago and is one of the oldest Neolithic circles in Britain.  It became one of the earliest scheduled ancient monuments of Great Britain & Ireland in 1883 and was purchased and donated to the National Trust in 1913 when Canon Rawnsley organised a public subscription.

    The stones are of a local metamorphic slate with the heaviest being estimated to weigh around 16 tons and the tallest stone measuring approximately 2.3m high. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.  There is a tradition that attempts to count the stones will produce different answers and there may be some truth in this.  It all depends on which stones you count.  Some that are now visible are probably stones used merely to pack and stabilise the larger stones. 

    There are many theories for the building of the circle but nobody really knows what Neolithic stone circles were used for.  Part of the charm of these sites is that we can each enjoy imagining their use.  Your theory might just be right. 

    Current thinking links Castlerigg with the Langdale stone axe industry.  The site is situated at the junction between several valleys and the main intersection between the routes from the coast to the Eden Valley and to the Central Fells.  If you plotted the axe factory sites in central lakes, the obvious route from the coast would be to head for Castlerigg and follow the Armboth Ridge through to the Langdale fell and central Scafell Massif where the majority of the stone axe factory sites are to be found.  Langdale axes have been found in many ritual sites so it’s possible that trade and exchange of the axes would take place with ritual and ceremony at a site like Castlerigg.

    Langdale was important for axe production because of the greenstone (Borrowdale volcanic series) to be found there.  When napped it fractures with a fish-hook-style fracture – a shape that lends itself to the production of good tools and axes.  These were of such quality that they were traded across Europe.

    There is plenty of other evidence for Neolithic activity in the area.  Some years ago I helped to document burial mounds on Armboth Fell overlooking the circle.  We also have examples of cup & ring rock art in the Borrowdale valley.  So there is no doubt that this area was a hive of activity then.

    All of which makes this a site with some special qualities.  You really need to visit to ‘feel’ the place and maybe even imagine your own stories.

  • Protecting 4000+ years of history and also introducing Fletch.

    15:40 03 May 2012
    By Roy Henderson

    I was working this last weekend at Castlerigg stone circle (a Neolithic stone circle just outside Keswick that is 4 to 4.5 thousand years old) with a National Trust volunteer group from the Leeds area of Yorkshire.  Members of this group have been coming annually to spend a working weekend in the Lakes for the last 15 years.  Over those years they have done huge amounts of work. 

    This year we were re-turfing around the Castlerigg stones.  It is a job we do every one or two years depending on the wear and tear caused by the combination of footfall and weather.  The heaviest wear of course is immediately around the stones so we replace worn sections with new turf to protect the site and to keep it looking good. 

    We dig out the soil from a section to a depth of about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm).  

    That is taken across to a strip along the side of the field where we have taken out turf to use for the repair.  The soil fills in the strip and is reseeded and the removed turf is laid around the stones in the circle.  This is an annual or biannual cycle.  We also trial new seed mixes in search of the most sustainable, hard-wearing option for this site.

    Sunny had his last day with us on the Saturday as he returned to his family on the Sunday.  He’ll be able to show off his new swimming and ATV driving skills!  The Yorkshire crew carried on without him and, as they always do, completed a fantastic amount of work for the Trust.

    I’ll close this post with a mention of Fletch the perch-crow and his new blog.  Fletch is a resident of the gardens at Wordsworth House in Cockermouth who believes that he is the world’s first ever blogging perch-crow.  He is going to be blogging about thieving birds, visiting armadillos, crocheted mice called Bubble and Squeak and his life in general.  He will also be talking about gardening (particularly heritage gardening) and what’s going on at Wordsworth House plus he’ll be giving useful tips.

    Go to the following link and you can check out his blog – there’s even a photograph of him!

News from Roy Henderson

Photo of Roy Henderson

I’m the National Trust ranger for Borrowdale and Newlands in the North Lakes, UK. I volunteered for the Trust when I came on the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme aged 13. I started by building a new fence on Friars Crag to tackle an erosion problem and making paths more accessible for people with limited mobility. I enjoyed it so much that I continued to volunteer until I left school and was lucky enough to get a job with the National Trust. After working for the Trust for 29 years, I still love the job.