Under the shadow of Castle Crag

National Trust ranger digging bridleway, Grange in Borrowdale

Golden light dapples through the boughs and leaves of oak and larch, leaving the fleeting shadows of the leaves high above our heads flickering across the cobbled stones of the old Grange to Honister road.

A flash of colour like the rust on an old garden spade and the rustle of last year’s leaves tell us that a reclusive red squirrel is nearby. The lazy hum of bumble bees and dragon flies grappling a subtle breeze over the foxgloves that line the track tell us that it is summer time.

The all important 'before' picture!
Bridleway prior to repair work, Grange in Borrowdale
The all important 'before' picture!

A change of scene

With the peak of the tourist season soon to be upon us we’ve left the busy scree slopes of Cat Bells behind for now in exchange for this wooded retreat in the oceanic woodlands of Borrowdale.

We will return to Cat Bells in the coming months but the seasonal popularity of the mountain slows the pace of our work and creates a work site with too many hazards.

Pitching while the sun shines

Hitching the trailer onto the back of our beloved Land Rover I have a moment of nostalgia, it’s been a few months since we’ve been out with a couple of tonnes of stone in tow and I’ve missed it. New project, new stone, new techniques and I’m excited.

The stone we’re using is from the Helvellyn washouts of 2015’s storm Desmond. We load two tonnes of stone by hand onto a tipping trailer, driving as far as we can up the track we then unload onto our trusty quad bike to ferry smaller loads the rest of the way. I’m sure we’d have been the laughing stock of the miners that used to frequent this route, ferrying stone back up towards the quarry!

There’s nothing better than sticking your spade into the earth and finding no hidden boulders or bedrock beneath to jar your wrists. We were spared that luxury on this project and were soon grunting and sweating, lifting old cobbles out of the road before fitting our new holding stones (the stones at the bottom of the pitching).

Still smiling when wet
National Trust Ranger path pithing a bridleway in Borrowdale
Still smiling when wet

Digging through the pages of history

Working at a steady pace under the shadow of Castle Crag I can’t help but cast my mind’s eye back through the history of this area. From the miners and quarrymen trudging up this path with a cloth cap to keep the rain off and a hunk of bread to keep the wolf from the door and back further to the Iron Age settlers who called this part of the valley home.

It was the later 10th century Viking settlers who gave this valley its namesake. The name Borrowdale derives from Scandinavian Borg (fort) and Dalr (dale or valley). The earthwork ramparts of the Iron Age fort are still visible if you climb Castle Crag today.

Our place in the history of this landscape is something that has always interested me, the more I learn the more connected I feel to it. The wartime poet Edward Thomas talks of the walker (in our case worker) wearing the path in two ways, wearing it physically with our feet and internally in memory. So with this in mind as another project rolls to a close I feel an even greater connection to another beautiful part of this valley.

A bridleway fit for an ‘osses oof’!

We have pitched two new four metre sections of bridleway (track that you can lead a horse up) so far and we’re really happy with our progress. The true test was whether Mark (our North Yorkshire colleague) thought you could get an ‘osses oof’ or ‘horses hoof’ on there. We’ve used five tonnes of Helvellyn Stone and around 2 tonnes of local stone sourced at the site.

Rangers' hoofs testing the new path
Rangers standing on newly pitched path, Grange in Borrowdale
Rangers' hoofs testing the new path

The work is a priority as this route is popular and used by many user groups from mountain bikers to equine enthusiasts, sections were washed away by storm Desmond and it is important that we repair them before the damage increases. This work is just one of the ways that we are protecting the natural and cultural fabric of the Lakes.

We have several more projects to complete before the season is out so we’ll be hopping across the valley to Rosthwaite in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for coming events!