Sunday, 15 July 2012

Girl From the South Heads North Episode 2

I still wear heels I promise!
Hard though it is to believe, I have been in the Lake District for over a month! For those friends in Kent and Sussex who think I have lost my love of heels, let me assure you I have not.  Heels have been worn for board meetings, office days and social events. My floral shoes and black patent leather heels have had the most outings (spotty Dune shoes will be making an appearance in the near future).

Cascade on Tongue Gill (before I caught up!)
Back to the outdoors though and my first day with some of the Fix the Fells volunteers on Seat Sandal.  I had an early start in Kendal so had to catch them up.  This was a bit optimistic given my hiking speed (as some of you know) so I actually did not arrive until lunchtime where they were waiting patiently for me as I collapsed in a tired heap in front of them (hardly the professional look I was going for but by then I was just glad they were still on the mountain).  After a brief respite, I was handed a shovel to get stuck into the work of clearing the path drains of stone and mud to keep them flowing, removing any loose stones from the stone-pitching and generally anything that helps maintain the path and avoid erosion.

The volunteers do a wonderful job and Fix the Fells would not be possible without their support and commitment.  They made me feel very welcome and I learnt a lot that day.  They were also very gracious waiting for me on the steep final ascent of Seat Sandal, where my “view stops” were essential and when they carried my shovel down the mountain as I had forgotten it (yes I am afraid it is true - so much for my plans to make a good first impression!)

Alfie on the Gondola
Later that week, the weather forecast predicted heavy rain and storms so what better time to join some of the volunteers again out in Coppermine Valley near Coniston to repair one of the busy footpaths?  When I arrived, the first thing I saw was Hamish the West Highland White dog in his jacket sitting under a large golfing umbrella to escape the rain and another dog, Alfie, playing in puddles.  After toying with the idea of joining Hamish under the umbrella in his “supervisory role”, I spied a mattock (variation on a pickaxe) and got to work moving turf and rocks and collecting stones.  The rain was heavy and as I was filling another bucket with stones, a deep rumble of thunder rolled over the mountain side and the sky lit-up with a flash of lightning.  I looked at everyone else thinking it seemed a good time to make a run for it and they were still working so I kept going.  The thunder got closer and before long the sky opened up and the rain just bucketed down.  Within seconds I was soaked through, the path had become a river and everyone downed their metal tools (not sensible equipment in lightning) and we fair sprinted down the mountain (except Hamish, who was carried – honestly I am missing a trick here somewhere) and piled into the 4x4 vehicle to get back down to Coniston, amongst the swirling rivers, mudslides and floods.

My appearance caused much amusement in the office at Boon Crag as I had set out dry and wearing lipstick and returned very soggy with my hair forming a new style never seen before (and not to be seen again).  It was a great day in spite of the rain but the credit goes to the volunteers who braved the elements and who have been back up on the fells since - they certainly are not “fair-weather” volunteers that is for sure!
Wray Castle

My volunteer induction did not stop there.  The following week I was out at Basecamp at High Wray meeting a group of volunteers from the Community Drug Outreach Trust who were spending the day working on the Windermere shore path near Wray Castle.  This has become a popular route and a path is being created to stop the grass getting muddy and unwalkable.  It is a beautiful area and Wray Castle is also beautiful.  Basecamp is a residential volunteer centre working with people from all walks of life and the volunteer groups work closely with the Fix the Fells team.

Believe it or not that's me at the back!
Turning up in my pink t-shirt and waterproof jacket and cream walking boots (well I am what I am!) I was pointed towards the industrial strength black waterproofs and black steel toe-capped wellies (well if it protects the toe-nail polish it is worth it!)  Kitted-up (pink lipstick stayed on) we headed to Wray Castle and started work.  We split into two teams – one to dig turf, build the bank and clear the route for the path, the other to move the piles of gravel by wheel barrow to finish the path.  I was in the gravel team.  Before long, we had got into a great routine filling wheel barrows with shovels and emptying them on the path.  I confess that in spite of the high energy levels from the volunteers, I found all the shovelling tiring so I decided to take a turn at pushing the wheel barrow, which looked a lot easier.  This lasted a good few minutes until I realised it was actually much harder so I returned to shovelling (I know my place).
Enjoying the sunshine on the shores of Windermere

Progress was swift in spite of the rain coming and going and we were all having a great time.  On finding a large rock in the way of the path my stone-pitching day came back to me and I was determined to shift it.  I failed and it took about four guys to get it onto the side of the path (I was a little optimistic in my ability).  As we were finishing, the sun came out and we all paddled in Lake Windermere in our wellies before heading back to the Castle.  A great day with a really inspiring group of people that I feel privileged to have met.

Celebrating the path we made!
I cannot praise the work of the Fix the Fells volunteers highly enough.  Their commitment, skill and knowledge is a key part of the success of the Fix the Fells programme and I look forward to continuing to work with them and the rangers over the coming months.  I thank them for making me feel so welcome and sharing their expertise.
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  1. A great account of the hard work of volunteers. I have donated now & will watch progress with interest.

    1. Thanks Sandra for donating and for your kind words :)

  2. Regardless of your comments I think you're doing a brilliant job in keeping up! Like you, I prefer to take my hikes at a leisurely pace - usually because I want to take lots of photographs and I also like to 'drink' in the scenery rather than racing on. I once joined a group of rather more determined walkers and spent the whole morning lagging behind. There are a couple of walking groups here in Paphos where I am at the moment - both groups meet together at the same time in the morning after which they set off on their respective walks before meeting at the same taverna several hours later. One group covers 5 miles and the other group aims for the taverna via a different, longer route and covers 10 miles! I know where I'm putting my name down... :-)

    1. Thanks Karen - I think I would join your route! I love looking at the scenery and the fells look beautiful even in the mist and rain (which is fortunate as there has been a bit of that latly).
      Paphos sounds divine....your photos from there will have a lot more sunshine in! Bring on your next blog!
      Tanya :)

  3. You are educating me - I hadn't realised that people are volunteering to do hard labour! Given all the negativity about the economy ans country it restores my faith about the generosity of spirit of people. Glad you haven't given up the heels though!

    1. I could never give up heels! Yes the volunteers do restore your faith...they are great people.

  4. Another great tale Tanya and I love reading about your new job.

    I agree with Peter above - the volunteers are inspiring and it cheers me up to read about so much positive energy being expended and something so useful to show for it.
    A big thank you to all the Fix the Fells volunteers.

  5. Thanks Chloe! They are an inspiring group of people. I will pass on your thanks :-)