Story from a new fell fixer
I graduated this year with a degree in environmental science and I wanted to volunteer and do something related to my course. Coming from the Wirral, Merseyside, I regularly went to theLake Districtfrom an early age with my family, rambling over fells and enjoying the breath-taking scenery, so I couldn’t imagine a more ideal region to volunteer in. I saw an advert for fix the fells in theLake Districtwhich caught my eye.
I was assigned a mentor called Martin, who organised for me to do a trial day with Fix the Fells. All the Fix the Fells volunteers out that day, led by a Fix the Fells ranger (Ian Griffiths) met in the Old Dungeon Ghyll car park, near Langdale. We got all the tools we needed out of the tool shed, including large and small spades, metal levers (for pivoting out large rocks/boulders) and mattocks (used for loosening rocks). Next we proceeded to hike up the slopes of Harrison Stickle with. Conversation was wide-ranging.
We reached the work site and split into groups of two and made miln pits. We dug into the ground on the side of the path until we reached a gravel layer (miln). This miln was then used as local material for building hard wearing paths to replace the existing, eroded paths. A subsequent work party used the material that we dug up to create a new series of paths, which I’m informed are used today regularly to great effect. It was a very work but thoroughly enjoyable, rewarding and a great laugh too!
Fix the Fells organises training for new recruits to ensure we are fully equipped for the role. It included a navigation course, which involved reading map symbols, planning routes, pacing, locating your whereabouts on a map, and general map reading in theLake Districtcountryside. Another training course offered is that of first aid in the workplace. This course was very interactive, interesting and gave a good grounding in the first aid necessary for preparing the volunteers for any incidents that may occur whilst volunteering on the fells. The final course that is offered is a practical tool skills course. This is very similar to a general work day, though it is assessed that you can adequately use the tools and any guidance and help is offered when and where it is needed. Upon completion of these courses, you become fully enlisted with the Fix the Fells organisation, and you become a volunteer lengthsman.
After completing my training I have very much enjoyed putting it to use and volunteering with Fix the Fells, mainly doing drain runs. Drain runs are the most common task work for Fix the Fells volunteers. It entails going out on different path routes and cleaning out any of the fix the fells made drains that have become filled with material. Any problems are reported along with the locations grid reference.
I joined a ‘residential’ with Fix the Fells in October 2013. We all stayed in an idyllic cottage near Keswick, overlooking Derwent Water. It was a three day residential in which we were joined by a group of National Trust volunteer leaders fromScotland. There was a really great mix of people. On the first day we had a tour around a disused mine before setting off on a long drain run, jumping in to clear out drains, partaking in interesting group discussions and hiking across rugged terrain. When we finished the day, we got back to the cottage, got washed changed and ready, then went out to Keswick. We went to a lovely quaint pub, had a few drinks of real ale, some apparently locally famous Hungarian goulash, which went down exceedingly well.
The next day we went to Cat bells, one of Wainright’s favourite walks. We spent a highly enjoyable and physically demanding day clearing out many drains, which were very much in need of our services, and sweeping off gravel from steep parts of the pathway. We also stopped for friendly chats with the public, who were very complimentary of the work we were doing. We also stopped many times to take in the panoramic views of cat bells and Derwent water. After a busy day, we unwound at the local pub then returned back to the base, where we had a few drinks, some home cooked food, played some board games and staged a rather interestingScotlandvsEnglandquiz game. We lost the quiz, much to the delight of the Scottish contingent and our disappointment.
On the final day of the residential our task was to rebuild an ancient dry stone wall which was next to a babbling brook. As this was the first time most of us had attempted dry stone walling it posed quite a challenge. With this said however, we all soon got the knack of finding the right stones to fit the right spaces, using a similar logic to that of a jigsaw puzzle. After some success in rebuilding the walls, we all parted our different ways back home. It was a very enjoyable, worthwhile weekend that left me greatly looking forward to the next time volunteering with Fix the Fells.
From the experience I’ve had with Fix the Fells I can conclude that if you want to meet great people, have a laugh, explore the beautiful Lake District countryside, keep fit, de-stress, take in fresh air, and truly make a positive difference to our countryside I would certainly recommend Fix the Fells for you. You also acquire new knowledge and skills, receive useful training, and feel part of a very warm and friendly community. I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Fix the Fells and very much intend to continue to benefit from volunteering with them for much time to come.