Friday, 23 December 2011

Derwentwater and Friars Crag

In this final approach to the Christmas period, we have focused our attention on ensuring that the Friars Crag area is at its best.  Every year large numbers of both visitors and locals make the walk from town, along the lake shore and down to the viewpoint at Friars Crag so we have made sure the path surfaces are in good condition. 

You can download a Trust guide to the walk here:

Often we are asked for advice about star-gazing or sunset-watching.  Friars Crag is ideal for both.  It is well away from any street lighting which makes it ideal for star-gazing on clear nights and, viewed from the new seating, the sunsets reflected in the lake can be breath-taking.

On a clear day there are spectacular views along Derwentwater and beyond the Jaws of Borrowdale.  It seems strange now to think that, before travelling in the Lake District became fashionable in the Victorian era, this was considered to be a forbidding or even terrifying vista.  Now it is one of the most popular places to visit.  Its beauty has inspired countless thousands including Ruskin and Canon Rawnsley, one of the Trust’s founders.

With the new seating installed as part of the Derwentwater Foreshore Project, I’m expecting even more people taking advantage of those.  The turkey sandwiches are bound to taste good when the views are this good!

If/when you visit Friars Crag, remember to take your camera.  It is a very rare day when it would not be possible to take good pictures – even if it is raining!  

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Thank you time

Now that we are coming to the end of the year, I got to thinking about all that has been achieved since January last.  We all appreciate what our volunteers do but taking the big view of a whole year really highlights the enormous contribution they make.

I have been lucky to work with huge numbers of enthusiastic and hard working people who contribute to a wide range of activities.  There are the Yorkshire contingent who came for a long weekend as they do each year.  Every year there are a couple of groups who spend a week on a working holiday – their base is either Isthmus Cottage or High Snab Farm.  We had international volunteers from 5 countries who came to work for a couple of days.  We’ve had a lot of young people with us this year as well.- school groups who stay in the youth hostel or Glaramara Outdoor Centre in Borrowdale.  They have joined in several projects from clearing drains to farm walks and educational experiences. 

We also have our regional NT volunteers.  They have covered a huge range of work from Jean and Jean (the volunteer volunteer-coordinators) to those who worked outdoors on maintenance (fixing gates, stiles, footpaths, bridges) to the litter-pickers and the dog-walkers who informally helped to maintain their favourite dog walk.  We have also had volunteers who have provided admin support.

…  and there will be people who quietly share our vision and play their part without ever making themselves known to us.  So, although we have a sense of having achieved a lot, we really do know that it would not be possible to do so much without all the fantastic people who give their time so willingly and enthusiastically. 

Many thanks to you all.

The pictures in this post tell the volunteers’ story better than words alone.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Them thar hills and goings on!

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have mentioned the disused Force Crag mine a few times.  If you are in the area in the next couple of weeks I guess the appearance of a drilling rig on the site might seem to be a bit odd.

There is nothing sinister going on!  Force Crag is the site of a DEFRA funded Water Framework Directive UK pilot project which is part of an initiative to improve the quality of water that flows from the mine and finds its way into Bassenthwaite Lake (a SSSI). The mine was once a source of zinc, lead and barites but it was abandoned after an underground collapse in 1991.  The National Trust is working in partnership with the Environment Agency, the Coal Authority and Newcastle University to pioneer a new technique for cleaning up the water.

During the drilling phase, the team will be taking core samples to look at the soil conditions at the site.  The drilling will also establish the levels of flooding in the mine to find out if it would be possible to drain it next year. We also need to know more about the mine and its surroundings before a decision is made about the best place to site a long-term treatment plant. And that’s the background story for the drilling that will be taking place for a few weeks. 

Given the weather we are having at present, the drilling team could be forgiven for wondering if they are really in Siberia rather than Coledale!  It has been a week of bitter winds, snow and hail but the work has continued.

To find out more about Force Crag Mine, why not come on one of our open days in 2012 for a guided tour?  The dates will be posted on when they’ve been set.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Sheep-proofing a SSSI.

Last week saw me with a group of regular volunteers returning to work in Cat Ghyll.  The ghyll, which runs alongside Great Wood and up Walla Crag, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  SSSI is a conservation label applied to protect sites of biological or geological interest.  What makes Cat Ghyll special is that it is home to some rare lichens.  (Lichens tend to be rather modest in appearance but for scientists they are highly-valued for their sensitivity to a wide range of environmental stressors like air quality and climate change.)

The long haul up the ghyll.
A well-earned rest stop!
Time to enjoy the view.
The protection of the site has been the Trust’s responsibility for some years now and we have been working on a long-term (200 years!) project to establish a corridor of hardwoods, mainly oaks, from the lake shore to the top of Walla Crag.  As part of that, it is essential to exclude grazing sheep from the site so that natural regeneration can take place.  Last week we needed to replace a rotting gate post.  In itself, that’s a relatively simple job but we had to carry all our materials up there before we could start so it actually took most of a day to complete.  But our volunteers don’t let us down and they did another great job.

Out with the old!
The sheep aren’t the only threats  of course.  Some time ago we put in place a stone pitched path to narrow the footprint made by walkers.  It’s human nature to find a stable route to walk and by providing that, we find that people don’t stray onto surrounding vegetation.  It’s all aimed at trying to find the best balance between the uses of the landscape and its protection.

Good job done.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Autumn glories

A big job this week was to start working around the shore of Derwentwater doing litter picking.  Of course litter picking is a regular feature of our year but now that the vegetation is dying back we can see the stuff that has been hidden for some time.  Once again I had a great group of volunteers working with me.  We know that we have many more unsung volunteers.  Huge numbers of dog-walkers routinely take a carrier bag and collect litter.  Most fell-walkers will bring down any litter they come across.  Taking a bag when we go out is something we can all do easily and keeping the area tidy discourages careless littering from others.  We can all compensate for that day when the gale blew the wrapper out of our hand and whisked it beyond reach!

Some of the rewards for litter-picking in our area are to be seen in the following pictures – morning mist on the lake and a skein of geese being just two of them.  On sunny days the place is a blaze of colour from the copper of the bracken to the reds of the rowan and holly berries.   Keats nailed it when he wrote about the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'!

We were hoping to see otters because we now have a healthy population of them in Borrowdale.  They have been breeding in the valley for the last ten years.  I have seen and heard them a number of times and one of our recruiters has also frequently seen them from the Kettlewell car park between 10 and 11 am.  No luck this time but we’ll get lucky one day.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Autumn pleasures.

After a busy summer with several working weekends, I had accumulated enough leave to be able to take time off for a trip to the Ardnamurchan area.  Jan and I searched on-line and found Loch Shiel House Hotel which suited our needs very well.

 We took our bikes and just cycled around enjoying the great landscape and looking for wildlife.
On one of our outings we made use of a Forestry Commission hide on the loch shore.  It was a brilliant location with the additional advantage of being very accessible for wheelchairs.  We spent the best part of a day there watching a couple of otters and several seals – the otters were stealing the show and we didn’t immediately notice the seals! 

Look for an otter and a seal!

Soon after returning home to the Lakes I had a call asking for advice about what to do with an otter cub that had been found in an outbuilding.  It had been left undisturbed all day but was beginning to ‘cry’. The best advice in that situation is to call the RSPCA who have the knowledge and skills to deal with it.  In this case the cub was not there the following morning so either the mother had eventually returned for it or the RSPCA had made an early collection!

One of several dogs on the guided walk.
As part of the Trust’s walking festival 13 people joined my guided walk taking in Walla Crag, Falcon Crag, Ashness Bridge and the return to Great Wood via Falcon Crag.  Red squirrels, red deer and peregrines made appearances and we were also able to look at footpath management in Cat Ghyll and moorland management on Armboth Fell. 

Derwentwater in middle ground, Bassenthwaite Lake on horizon and another of the accompanying dogs.
The weather could not have been better – mainly sunny and clear visibility which was ideal for showing autumn colours at their best.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Mud and more mud.

There were three main projects to work on last week and all three involved people from our variously talented team of volunteers.

The first was a maintenance job on a footpath in the Great Wood car park area.  An annual task is to clear such access-for-all paths of accumulating mud, leaves and encroaching vegetation.  If the condition of the paths is allowed to decay, people begin to walk along the side to find firm ground and the area of trampled, damaged ground increases.  That’s not good for the ecology of the area or for the enjoyment of walkers.

Path maintenance
The second project was to continue work on routing water through an old mill pond site to reduce flood risk in the village of Braithwaite.  This is now underway after consultation with Jamie Lund, the Trust’s archaeologist.   The mill pond is of historical significance in the development of the village and we wanted to be sure that we would not irrevocably damage the story it can tell about the past.  To minimize the impact of what we are doing, we are hand digging through the old pond.  We are not expecting to make any exciting discoveries but …

Improving drainage - Reiver supervising!.
The final task for the week was a meeting with staff from the University of Cumbria to plan the next step towards a research partnership between the university and the Trust.  The university has research capacity in many areas that are relevant to the work of the Trust and there is enormous potential for collaboration.  This is a project that won’t come to fruition overnight but each meeting is moving us closer to setting up a good partnership.

Colouring up nicely for Autumn. 
All of this is happening against a backdrop of rich autumn colour – a few sunny days will set the scene for some great images.

Monday, 24 October 2011


A few weeks ago I mentioned that the Derwentwater Foreshore project was being inspected for its Green Flag award.  The good news is that the project has been successful.  Go here to read more about that.

Friars Crag, Derwentwater foreshore

So it’s congratulations to Naomi and her team for that achievement.  If you are one of the many thousands who have enjoyed the walk from Lake Road to Friars Crag, you will know what a fantastic little walk it is.  If you haven’t done so, you are missing a treat – no matter the time of day or what the weather is!

Evening light at the boat landings, Derwentwater foreshore.
We also have great skies!  (Altocumulus - mid-level clouds at 2000 to 6000 metres)
It’s now the time of year when we begin to have some time to reflect on all our activities and plan for what follows.  An important part of that is to get together with colleagues that we rarely see during the busiest months.  So, we recently had a Rangers’ Day where we shared experiences, lessons learned and ideas.  My contribution was to talk about the new initiatives at High Snab Farm – the sheep clipping, the lambing, the dry-stone walling etc.  These were all popular and we hope there will be more next year.  Diversifying like this is crucial to the survival of hill farming and we are constantly thinking of viable options.

Learn to clip sheep on your holiday.
I came away from the day mulling over an idea being used by the Wasdale Rangers.  They have been using a mountain bike and trailer for some of their work.  It is something I think could work well in Borrowdale when we are doing jobs close to our base that just need small items of equipment.  It’s probably too time-consuming for regular use for the furthest reaches of the valley and, of course, some jobs just need a vehicle to transport heavy equipment.  But I do like the idea of reducing our fossil fuel use where possible.  I also like the idea that we would be more approachable for visitors – chatting with visitors gives us great feed-back.

Another really useful session was on techniques for taking good photographs that we can use on blogs like this or indeed for any of our events and activities. 

It was a good day – lots of ideas and it also renewed the sense of belonging to a team with the same aims.

Hope to meet some of the blog readers soon - maybe at the walk I am leading this coming Friday:
Friday Oct 28th 10.30 – 15.30:  Autumn Colours and Panoramic Views from Walla Crag, Borrowdale.  Contact: 017687 74649