27 February 2015


At this time of year the Upland Rangers start to think about how the projects on the fells will go.   Most of the work we have this year are on sites that the team have worked on previously and each site brings back memories.

Probably the biggest project for the team this year is on Coniston Old Man.  The overriding memory here was when we were given the task of removing a rather large boulder from one of the paths.  We managed to remove it safely to the side of the path using some serious winching gear.  For some reason, whilst moving the rock we all had a serious urge to see if we could get it to roll down the fell side and into the Tarn. We managed to restrain ourselves, but only just.  Would other people have this urge or was it just us?

One of the jobs we’ll be returning to is Martcrag Moor, near Langdale.  Five years ago we completed a floating sheep fleece path through a peat bog area.  The theory is that the fleece stops the gravel from disappearing into the peat when people walk on it.  Whilst constructing the path we had many a horrified look from walkers who passed by.  We realized it could easily be mistaken for a mass grave for sheep.

We then reacquaint ourselves with Raise Beck, above Dunmell Raise.  This path treks along the bottom of a steep sided Ghyll that eventually climbs up to Grisedale Tarn.  Memorable for one team member in particular due to the fact a sheep nearly took them out.  The sheep was grazing on the fellside above and whilst it was trying to get to some nice grass on the other side of a boulder field, it dislodged a rock the size of large Beach Ball.  The rolling rock gathered speed descending the steep hillside and only just missed the unaware Ranger by a couple of Feet. 

Last but not least, we’re returning to Striding Edge.  Of all the sites we’ve worked on over the previous years, it’s this one that remains the most memorable for the team.  The best views, the longest walk in, the highest walk in, the most atmospheric and the record holder for the furthest a landscaping bucket has rolled when misplaced.

20 February 2015

Wanted: willing participants to test out new and exciting play trail features!

I’ve said it before but I do love my job. The sheer variety of day to day work and projects we get to work on keeps me on my toes and eager to keep learning more!

Testing out the dens: It can be a tough life being a ranger!

The best part of it by far though is looking after and developing the Natural Play Trail at Wray Castle. Phase 1 saw the construction of a scrambleboard, a slackline, stepping stones, balance beams and plenty of den building material! Many people tell me that they love the trail and can’t wait to see what comes next! So we are excited to announce our phase 2 plans! 

Scrambling up to the trail!

Behind the scenes: 

It might look like we just go out and have fun moving woodchip, digging in posts and constructing scrambleboards and climbing features! Well we do, but we also do lots more besides. We have less exciting but equally important jobs to do, in particular checking the trail regularly, and continually updating the checksheets and the risk assessments! All to keep the trail as fun but as safe as possible!

Gathering materials for the trail can be an interesting task too! Last week, I found myself ordering a new slackline, more rope, screws, bolts and various bits of timber. Who would have thought that slacklines come in different colours?

A slackline in ranger red? Yes please!

An army of volunteer and ranger help: 

Without the help, dedication and enthusiasm of our volunteers we wouldn’t be able to create the play trail! So a massive thank you to all who have been involved and will be involved in the future months!

Dedicated volunteers! I had to order the sun especially!

We have exciting plans for 2015 in the natural play trail. We will be looking for willing participants to come and try out our new features as we build them. These include: 

1)      Climbing traverse – Test your climbing skills by traversing up and across the slope to join the main trail! Is it as easy as it looks?

Lots of lovely colours :)
2)      Another tyre swing – the current tyre swing has been so successful that we are going to put in another one!

I can't wait to test this one!

NB: some of the eagle eyed amongst you will notice that we have had to take down the tyre swing temporarily. Never fear, it will go back up very soon!

3)      A horizontal spiders’ web – Using a large tree stump, we will construct a spiders web of epic proportions! You’ll be able to climb over, under or simply sit on it and admire the views around you! You'll have to come down and see for yourself as it starts to take shape...

4)      Log stilts – Test your balance and stretching abilities…

5)      A muddy pit – Mud, mud everywhere… come and find worms in our muddy pit, create mud pies or get your wellies on and get stuck in! *warning* parental advisory – muddiness very likely!

Be like a volunteer or ranger for the day - getting muddy is fun!!
6)      Most exciting of all: a treehouse – keep an eye out as we ask for your ideas very soon on the Wray Castle Facebook Page

Ok, so perhaps this is a little too elaborate for the size of trees in our woods! But we are looking forward to getting your ideas! I can't wait to get my hands dirty constructing it!

Watch this space! If you see us working out and about on the trail over the course of the next few months, come and have a chat! We love hearing your ideas and we are always in need of people to test our creations!

You can keep up with developments on the play trail on the Wray Castle Facebook Page

6 February 2015

Friends, Romans, Hedgelayers

 Friends, Romans, hedgelayers … 

One of the great things about working at High Wray it is that we are playing our part in helping to keep traditional skills alive. One such skill is hedgelaying, which is carried out all over the country with regional variations in styles and techniques. It’s a fascinating process with a long history – according to the National Hedgelaying Society in 55BC Julius Caesar mentioned a tribe in Flanders using techniques recognisable today.

Hedge with a view

A winter task often means chilly conditions!
Hedgelaying is a job that can only be done in winter when the sap is not rising. It involves cutting hedge plants most of the way through their stems and ‘laying’ them on their sides to form a stock proof barrier. The traditional tool for this is the Billhook, although often today hedgelaying is done with a chainsaw.

A billhook - lots of regional variations available ...
 As well as looking good, a laid hedge provides shelter for the stock, encourages new growth in the plants and makes good ground cover for wildlife. The regional variations come (amongst other things) with the differences in how steep an angle you lay the plants, how wide and high your hedge is and where you put wooden stakes to hold everything in place.

Finished stretch of hedge, quite late in the season (note leaves on plants)
Collateral benefits

So it’s a satisfying, traditional skill that many regular local volunteers look forward to each winter – although for some we’re sure that has a lot to do with the fact that when you’re hedgelaying you generally have a nice big fire to burn all the excess bits of wood!

Utilizing the fire in a vain attempt to dry out the thorn proof hedgelaying gauntlets
We also run National Trust hedgelaying working holidays which adds an extra level of interest for us as we will often have some quite experienced people from other parts of the country turning up to ‘see how we do it here’. Not only do they bring different knowledge and experience we can pick up on, they sometimes bring all sorts of interesting tools and equipment for us to admire too.

That's some very interesting equipment - A working holiday participant's wood burning kettle
By the time we finish this year’s hedges the season will be over for the year and we’ll be moving on to other tasks. We look forward to this time, not because we don’t like hedgelaying but because the end of it heralds the start of spring and all that glorious sunshine that’s no doubt heading our way …..

Find out more about National Trust working holidays here:

By Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger

30 January 2015

An Upland Rangers Sack...

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

23 January 2015

Winter Wildlife in 3D and High Definition

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.