27 March 2015

Views, Brews & Loo's

If you are a regular visitor to our blog you will have noticed that being a National Trust Ranger has many varying different tasks and responsibilities, for instance.

The Upland Ranger, fix miles upon miles of the Lake Districts Fell top paths, their skin hardened by the elements and suntans any antique dealing TV presenter would be proud of.
The Estate Team, endlessly & tirelessly mending broken fences and wall gaps, ensuring lost or misguided wanderlusters continue safely on their quest for the ultimate 'WOW' by simply pointing them in the right direction!
The Woodland Ranger, rarely seen without his trusty tail wagging companion, will have a dangerous path side tree felled and tidied away in the time it takes you to consider if anyone was around to hear it fall?

All of them take great pride in what they do! I am no different, I am ....

Claife viewing station
The Car Park Ranger! ... Before you swiftly scroll away to a story of epic endeavour I want you to know that I am going somewhere with this story. My main role is managing the presentation of the car parks (5 in total for the South Lakes), filling in potholes, fixing drains etc etc. I also assist the team with the maintenance and upkeep of certain areas the car parks are attached to such as Tarn Hows, Blea Tarn and so on. This means I have the pleasure of traveling around our property the most. This encompasses the sleepy village of Little Langdale, the rugged landscape of Coniston, the beautifully picturesque market village of Hawksead and the wild wild western shore of Windermere, in particularly what is known as Claife Heights, and what is a personal favourite of mine.

welcome to Claife viewing station
Claife is steeped in folklore, legend and history, most noticeably at Claife viewing station. Originally built in the 1790's by Rev William Braithwaite, to entertain wealthy visitors to the area. Legend has it that the windows were varied in colours to create a 'WOW' effect to the views over Windermere deemed so amazing that female visitors were given mirrors to witness the views in reverse for fear of swooning. The Viewing Station (not the Cottage & Courtyard) passed to the National Trust in 1962 as part of a 1000 acre estate. Sadly the building which once stood as a grandiose beacon for the picturesque movement had become quite derelict, and beyond repair.

With the help from donations, legacies and various project funding (such as Windermere reflections) the station once again stands proud as a beacon of artistic movement. You can now discover this amazing structures colourful past and enjoy the Panoramic views of Windermere as they were enjoyed over 200 years ago (N.B. mirrors are not supplied just yet). The station challenges all your senses, from textures of the building, the views over lake Windermere and the slightly chilling sound of the Aolean wind harp.

Preparing for the big day
No National Trust property worth its salt should come without it's very own Cafe and, Claife is no exception. So after you've absorbed the views of the Lake you should wander down and grab yourself some freshly made cake, a coffee or a pot of freshly made tea from local, family-owned tea specialists 'the New Leaf Tea tasters' (located just 5 minutes away).

The Cottages are a very recent addition to the National Trust family. They came into our possession in 2010 and were built c1800. From the early 20th century to the 1960's these cottages served as a tea garden. South Cumbria Construction, along with the National Trust labour teams have done a fantastic job of bringing these cottages to their former glory, and are in effect an attraction in their own right. Sit in, or sit outside in the young gardens underneath the wooden gazebo.

It may only be a toilet, but we're proud of it!Now, before you set off! I have something very important to tell you! there aren't any public toilets on site. Before you reel away in outrage there was very little we could do about this, mainly due to lack of facilities. HOWEVER! this does not mean we have left you lumbered in the middle of no where with your legs crossed. Saved from closure in 2011 the National Trust took on the mantel of managing the toilets at Ferry Nab from the National Park. We've given them a fresh lick of paint and a full makeover in line with the rest of the development ...

We hope you will come and visit us at Claife, it's testament to the hard work everyone has put in over the last year or so, and it's particularly warming to see this almost unrecoverable building standing proud once more.

cup of tea anyone?
standing proud
aolean harp
Viewing station interior
we look forward to seeing you soon
Craig in his natural habitat

20 March 2015

Nothing lasts forever.....

In the South Lakes property we look after millions of trees, most are in our woodland but many are large individual trees scattered across the countryside which make a huge impact on the landscape.

Sadly nothing lasts forever this is especially true of trees, old age and the weather take their toll.  The weather this winter has seen a double whammy the combination of waterlogged ground and high winds often means we loose a few of our larger trees.

  Large ash tree fallen into the road following a night of high winds.

Its sad when an especially large tree falls, this was the case at Monk Coniston when one of the largest beech trees fell after a particularly stormy night.

Beech fallen at Monk Coniston.

Phil the forester cutting the root plate.

Gary removing damaged branches from neighbouring trees.

The tree was 195years old so it would have been familiar to Marshall who created Tarn How while he lived at Monk Coniston.  When trees this size fall they create an enormous amount of mess to tidy up and it's a team effort to get roads and paths cleared quickly and safely.

One of the challenges we face is how to retain these trees which are often part of famous views or paintings and ensure that there are young trees being planted to grow for the next generations to enjoy.

Tree planting opposite Hill Top.

Trees are planted in cages to protect them from browsing animals.  I reckon the cages should last for about 20 years, by then the tree should be established and big enough to look after itself!

Part of the planting this winter has been to restore the designed landscape around Wray Castle in all 94 trees were planted.  We used a map from 1888 to locate where the trees were missing, sometimes there was an old tree stumps in the field so we planted replacement tree next door.  
We planted a mixture of oak, beech, sweet chestnut, small leaved lime and sycamore much the same as the Dawson's in the 1840s when they created the Wray Castle estate.

The footpath team down from the fells tree planting at Wray.

Cages well on the way to completion.

For the planting closer to the castle we re-cycled metal tree cages from Knightshayes.  The ground in the lakes must be stonier than the parkland in Devon as we couldn't hammer the metal fixings all the way home which meant some in the field adjustments had to be made!

Me tightening the last bolt on a metal tree cage. 

Old and new trees on Epley Head near Wray Castle.

Richard Tanner
Woodland Ranger

13 March 2015

New Rangers on the Block

Hello! We are Ted and Abi, new volunteer rangers with the team at Boon Crag. 

So far we’ve had a variety of work and weather testing our waterproofs to the max, wellies full of water, but soaking up beautiful views too!

Work goes on, whether fencing or replacing a gate in a deluge – as Ruskin said: “there is no such thing as bad weather, only different types of good weather” (We may have to remind ourselves of that one!!)

No two days are the same. Abi has been ‘chopping and shifting stuff’ at Claife viewing station. She has yet to get a well-earned brew from the new cafe opening on 28th March!!

Ted has learnt how to use an angle grinder, the power barrow, and was asked the question ‘how do you shift a tonne and a half boulder?’ Easy: 3 rangers and a lot of grunting.

And after.
Before . . .

We are looking forward to getting stuck in to the full scope of being a Ranger within such a diverse and interesting property.

…And the most important thing we have learnt is to never be further than 10 meters from your lunch!

6 March 2015

100 working holidays and counting .....

Working holidays are a great way to get involved with the National Trust’s work and some people return many times to take part in them. Some go that extra mile though and Di Lang is a great example of this. A long standing working holiday leader (the leader is not staff but takes charge or housekeeping, shopping, menus etc), Di led her first holiday here at High Wray back in 2004 and recently returned here to lead her 100th!

Di (left) on the 100th holiday

Di has led holidays as diverse as Drystone walling and hedgelaying, woodland management and running events. We’re particularly thankful for her formidable organisational skills and boundless enthusiasm in leading our upland adventure holidays, where participants camp out on the high fells for three nights and work to reduce path erosion in the day.

‘I’m from a farming background’ Di says ‘I always used to be out with my Father when I was growing up. My career took me on a different path, running my own flooring business, but one day I noticed a hedge by the side of the road. ‘That’s a well laid hedge’ I thought, then thought ‘that’s my father talking’. So I went to agricultural college and did a few short courses, then looked into conservation holidays and found the National Trust’s Working Holidays and I’ve stuck with them ever since.’

So what is it about Working Holidays that keeps Di coming back for more? ‘The variety, the places you go to and the people you meet. I love the extra knowledge you learn as I think your brain is still a muscle that needs working. It keeps your body moving as well! I enjoy the social elements too, meeting new people and some of their experiences and backgrounds are amazing. No working holiday is exactly the same either, you may come back to the same Basecamp but the dynamics of the group are completely different.’

‘The High camp ones are really special to me and I love footpath laying too. I’m off to do scything this year, because we’ve got a grassland area close to where we live and we want to turn it into a wildflower meadow. It’s new skills again. I’ve discovered I’m not really a gardener though – it’s too tidy!’

On the fells on a camping holiday
To cap it all, to mark the 100th holiday Di stayed on a week at the end of it and with the help of ever supportive husband Max brought her flooring skills to bear by replacing our tatty old vinyl floors with a new hard wearing surface. This looks great and should last for years to come

‘I sort of think of High Wray as a second home now and when I was here another time I was looking at the floors and thinking I could put a new floor down to make it more attractive for people to come here. You get a pride in your work when you’re doing something like this and it’s nice to think that other working holidays and volunteer groups will get the benefit of this in the future.’

Di reclines on the newly fitted and very smart floor in the 'Acland' block, with 100th working Holiday presentation picture
We’re looking forward to many more years of working alongside Di, with another camping holiday scheduled for this May. It’s thanks to the dedication and hard work of leaders like Di (and there are plenty of others too) that the National Trust is able to offer such a varied and interesting working holiday programme, enabling many people to get involved with our work and help us look after our special places for everyone.

We’ll leave the last word to Di:

‘I’ll be carrying on with working holidays as long as I can, I’ve no intention of giving up. I still get excited every year when the new brochure comes out and I’m straight in there looking at where working holidays can take me this year.’

Rob Clarke, Basecamp Community Ranger

Find out more about National Trust working holidays here:

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