Friday, 19 December 2014

Time to reflect.

Once again, as we approach the end of another year, I have been reflecting on what has been achieved and once again I realise just how much has depended on the fantastic volunteers who work with me.

Some of the work has been creative in that we have started with an idea and have made it a reality. I think of the play trail in Cockshot Wood that has taken many hours of hard work. Our reward is to see so many children (and a good few grown-ups) enjoying themselves in the wood.

Some of it has been stewardship in that we have worked to protect the best features of the area. I think of the work done to maintain good surfaces on the paths so that there is good access for as many people as possible.

It just would not be possible for me to do all of it without my groups of volunteers. The National Trust is fortunate in having thousands of committed and gifted volunteers and I know I am lucky to have mine.

So now is the time to say a HUGE THANK YOU.

Daisy here:

I’ve decided not to be a rescue dog. I am going to concentrate on being a ranger dog.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Getting ready for Christmas.

Christmas is fast approaching and the time has come to make sure that a few jobs are done so that people can have a memorable experience here.  On Friars Crag we have one of the most popular Lake District walks and it is a special favourite of both visitors and local residents over the Christmas period.  For many people an outing in the fresh air along the lake shore seems to be as much a part of Christmas Day as the turkey dinner so we like to make sure that the path through the wood from the car park and along the lake is in good condition.

So my volunteers joined me in clearing accumulated leaf mould from the path surface.  If we don’t do this regularly the surface becomes slippery underfoot but, just as important is that, if we don’t clear it, the path will become overwhelmed by the debris and vegetation that quickly invades.  Clearing it extends the life of the dirt scree surface.  As they usually do, my volunteers did a superb job.

One of the good things about working there is that we meet so many people.  We’ve had a few days of really good weather with a lot of people taking the opportunity for a short holiday and of course there are regular local walkers who have a sense of ownership and stewardship of the area.  Chatting with them is not only enjoyable but it is an important way of finding out if our work is achieving what we want it to.  The Trust’s work is all about preserving and protecting for ever, for everyone so it’s good to hear a wide range of views.

Daisy here,

I’ve been helping Roy clear footpaths on Friars Crag but the best bit was that I met Stanley who can run really fast.  When I was a puppy, he could run rings round me.  Now I just wear him down.  It’s great.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Swift water, fixing paths, felling trees and hunting for drains!

It’s hard to believe that it is now 3 years since I last renewed my Swift Water Rescue Technician ticket for the mountain rescue team but last weekend was time to do it again.  This is one of those occasions when it is essential to have a clear, concise briefing about what we will be doing.  Once the rescue begins the noise of the water makes communication difficult and we cannot use radio equipment where it is going to be drenched.  So it is vital that we have a Plan A, a Plan B and clear signals if and when we have to change from one to the other.  It sounds simple but of course needs to be very well planned to actually do it.  As ever, it was a really good weekend.

Once back at work, I returned to a project in Braithwaite, one of our lovely Lake District villages.  As the village has developed over generations, layers of drainage systems have been installed and sometimes their exact position is long forgotten.  There have been some flooding problems and I have been working with the Parish Council and residents of the village to decide how to solve them.  During my round of knocking on doors to explain what we are going to do, I came across one resident who remembered the installation of a land drain and showed me its position.  This is going to be a very useful find because we can feed a new drain into it.

Later in the week I returned to Cat Gill with Leila, our academy ranger, and some of the guys from the footpath team.  You might recall that I was up there recently to fell some trees across a short cut that people have started to use.  Unfortunately it is in a position where it could develop into serious erosion quite quickly so I want to discourage its use as soon as possible.  The last time I looked at this, it turned out to be too windy to fell the trees as accurately as I wanted them but this time was successful.

As I did that, the footpath team improved the condition of part of the pitched path.  Most people do prefer to use a well-built and maintained path so we think that problem will be solved now.

Daisy here,

I’ve been playing in the woods. It’s great.  I love running around and I went to play with the footpath team. They think I’m crazy.  

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Planning for winter.

After our short break in the Cairngorms, I returned to work with a renewed appreciation of just how fantastic our area is. It’s a great area to go walking with Jan and Daisy.  Daisy just loves running around and we see her just naturally ‘quartering’ or zig-zagging and returning to us.

We now turn our attention to a programme of work for the winter. Our fell rangers come down from the high fells and work on the lower slopes and in the valleys during the winter weather so I’ve been out with them to show them some footpath work that needs to be done around Castle Crag. They are a great bunch of guys who will be well able to use their experience to decide how best to do the repairs.

We’ve also been doing some more work on the play trail with the volunteers.  We’ll have to think of some kind of an opening ceremony for that.

Daisy here:

Roy’s back. It’s great. Me, Roy and Jan have been running around on the mountains. Well, I’ve been running.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Wild Camping

School half-term holidays are over and winter is fast approaching so a friend and colleague, John Malley, and I decided to take some leave and spend a long weekend camping in Cairngorm. We approached from the Braemar side, went up Ben Macdui and camped out for a few nights.

The weather was fantastic but, not surprising of course at this time of year, the nights were cold with temperatures well below freezing.  As you can see in the photographs, there was already quite a bit of snow on the ground.  We did have one day when we were walking in low cloud so we needed our map and compass skills to make safe progress. 

There really is no experience quite like wild camping in a remote place.  Just make sure that when you leave a site, the only evidence that you have been there is a temporary footprint of your tent and that will disappear very quickly.

Leaving nothing behind.

But, before you go, make sure you know how to use your equipment and skills.  Have a few outings to places you know and practise navigating with map and compass.  Then try it on a longer route and eventually include an overnight camp.  Once you are confident that you could rely entirely on your map and compass if you had to, then you can go to remote locations that are new to you.

We had a fantastic few days.  One night was a clear, crisp night and the stars were brilliant.  On another night a dozen or so red deer passed almost silently within about 20 metres of my tent.  It’s amazing that such large animals can move so quietly.  They were a stunning silhouette against the skyline.

On our way back out we called into Mar Lodge (National Trust for Scotland) to see the Head Ranger that John knows.  Had a welcome cup of coffee and shared thoughts about our work.  It’s a relief in some ways to realise that we are not the only ones with a large area to cover and never enough money to do all that needs to be done!

Daisy here:

The weekend was boring.  Roy went away.  Jan did some training with me but ... well, then I had to go to work with her and just be in the van.  But he’s back now.