News from Roy Henderson for January 2013

  • Wintry work!

    20:40 30 January 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    The main job this last week was the repair of a heck.  A heck* is like a swinging vertical gate across a river or stream that is designed to open when the stream is in full spate but otherwise is closed and acts as a stock barrier.  We needed to replace the top beam of a heck and this meant shifting the wood across the river. The wood we used was larch that I had felled in Trust woodland.  The bark was then stripped off as this means it will last longer.  We moved it over the river using a tensioned high-line (guiding line) and pulley system.  There were five hefty sections of wood the largest being 5.3 metres in length but, once we had the tension and angles right, it made the job a lot easier.

    Just to give you a sense of the weather conditions – we found that the water was freezing on the ropes which meant that knot-tying was a bit tricky at times.  I placed my watch on the Landrover roof at lunch-time and it read - 4C!  But, my regular volunteers don’t give up easily and they did another splendid job.

    Later in the week, I spent some time out with Joe (Ranger colleague) and we cleared some fallen trees with chainsaws.  This is part of our routine maintenance.  We respond immediately to any reports of potentially dangerous tree damage or blocked footpaths.  The cut timber is stacked to one side to act as eco-heaps.  These are habitats for insects, small mammals, fungi and also to encourage birds.  It all contributes to increasing and improving the bio-mass of the woods.

    As we seem to have had the snow across most of the country, I hope many of you have been finding interesting animal tracks.  Even in urban gardens, a fresh fall of snow is ideal for revealing what visitors you might have in the quiet of the night.  And, no matter where you live, it is always a good idea to put out bird food and some water each day.  If you are still and quiet, hungry birds will approach quite closely to feed and you will be helping them to survive.

    Otter tracks

    Red Squirrel tracks

    * Heck is a term used in a number of place names.  It has several possible uses relating to grids or racks.   It emerged from the language of the region south of the Forth/Clyde line to the northern modern English counties between the 7th and 12thcenturies.
  • Orchard guardians and apprentice path builders.

    20:05 21 January 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    I’ve just had one of those brilliant weeks that convince me that I have one of the best jobs in the world.  The weather has been very diverse and one day, as I continued my checks of the old mine sites, I found myself above low-lying cloud.  The pictures give you a sense of what that looks like but there’s nothing quite like actually being there.

    Regular readers of the blog will know about our long-term project to upgrade the path around Derwentwater to access-for-all standard.  We have now embarked on the next phase of that and I recently made a field visit with a group of National Park apprentices and their supervisor plus The National Park’s Rights of Way Officer.  One of the discussion topics was what we have learned from our experience a couple of years ago of installing a recycled plastic boardwalk   Plastic performs quite differently from wood with temperature change and requires different expansion joints.

    The apprentices are going to adopt a stretch of the path on the western shore as one of their projects.  The Park Authority will finance it and the apprentices will carry out the job.  So they are now working on drawing up plans and specifications and, once they have been cleared with me, they will get to work.  This is a collaboration where we all benefit.

    I’ve also been to Watendlath on a visit with children from Borrowdale School.  Beside one of the Watendlath farms there is a long-disused community orchard that we hope to restore - it is the walled space in the centre of the picture above.  They have adopted the orchard as part of the Trust’s Guardianship Scheme.  On the day of their visit there had been an overnight snowfall.  Watendlath is a hanging valley approached up a steep hill so I checked the road condition early in the morning.  It was obvious that the snow and ice patches might be difficult for a minibus so we ferried the children there in our four-wheeled drive vehicles and the teacher’s Landrover.  Two trips successfully took us all to where we wanted to be and greatly enhanced their enjoyment. 

    They did a huge amount of work and have now surveyed the orchard and devised a plan for the work they will be doing to care for it. (One of the Trust’s experts in heritage fruit varieties will be visiting to identify existing plantings and advise on their care.) The children also met Helen who has lived all her life in Watendlath and she was telling them tales of when her parents first married and moved into the valley.  For the children, this is history being told by someone who was there.  Showing them that they can have fun as they care for their surroundings is exactly what we want to do and they certainly enjoyed that day.

  • Regular maintenance.

    15:38 12 January 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    A Winter evening.

    Third from the left will make her debut soon.

    A highlight of my week was the visit last weekend to choose our new dog.  She comes from a lovely litter of puppies and a good-looking mother.  Now we have to be patient for a month until she is old enough to leave her mother.  In the meantime we can try to settle on her name.  Whenever we think we have one, another idea pops up.  With Reiver we were actually in the car bringing her home before we made a decision and it’s beginning to look as though that might happen again!
    A fine-looking mother (right).

    Back at work I had to turn my attention to an old mine site where one of the shafts had opened up a bit more.  Although it is fenced and capped because so many people use the area, in this case the cap needed attention.

    These old mines often closed when they went bankrupt and detailed surveys were not carried out to map all the workings.  In many cases the records are incomplete and we really don’t know where all the shafts are located.  On my quarterly checks, I look to see that all fencing is in good repair but also for any signs that there might be an unknown shaft in danger of opening up. Once we know of a shaft, we fence around it and in some cases we also cap it so that, even if people go inside the fenced area, they won’t fall down it.   We do know the mining areas and have some plans for them but we also know they are incomplete.  

    The square-cut shaft shown in the picture above was unknown to us until about 12 years ago.  So that's one of the reasons I monitor the areas at 3 monthly intervals and a network of local walkers will also notify me if they see anything out of the ordinary.

    The Bowder Stone

    White patches are chalk marks from the hands of climbers.
    I’ve also been doing some work at the Bowder Stone abseil point – a location near the Bowder Stone that is used frequently by groups like the Calvert Trust.  It provides opportunities for people with disabilities (including wheel-chair users) to abseil down a sheer or slightly overhanging cliff face.  At this time of year it is quiet so it is the ideal time to do some maintenance work including renewing the signs at the top and bottom. 

     If we have any frosts, I’ll return to do some de-scaling work on it.  That involves my abseiling down, checking the rock face for loose flakes and knocking them off so that the site is as safe as we can make it.

    The Bowder Stone is part of Grange Fell which was purchased by public subscription for the National Trust.  The fund was set up by Princess Louise who was then President of the National Trust (1910) in memory of her deceased brother King Edward VII.  It is one of the best-known landmarks in the Lake District.
  • A tale of dogs.

    06:40 08 January 2013
    By Roy Henderson

    Dock Tarn

    So, here we all are at the beginning of a new year.  There are things planned to be done; no doubt there will be unexpected happenings and there are already things to anticipate with pleasure – more on that later in this post.  Over Christmas and New Year there were just a couple of phone calls related to work but fortunately they were small incidents that could be dealt with quickly.  Our weather tended towards grey and damp most of the time but it didn’t stop us going out with friends and dogs for walks.  The photographs are from a walk in the Watendlath and Dock Tarn area.

     Jan and I also did some dog-sitting with three dogs belonging to friends. 

    We enjoyed having them so much that Jan began her not-so-subtle campaign for us to have a new one of our own.  To be honest, it really didn’t take much to convince me.  The upshot of that is that, by the time you read this, we will have just returned from a trip just south of Edinburgh to see a litter of four-week old black Labrador puppies.   They are too young to leave their mother at present but, all being well, we should have our new resident dog in just a few weeks.  So this is what we anticipate with pleasure!

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.