Our volunteers come from Cumbria and beyond. Some are retired and others work full time but they all have one thing in common - they love the fells!
There are around 100 volunteers and they are referred to as "Lengthsmen". This term comes from medeival times when lengthsmen would be paid to walk the length of the parish and repair any roads and unblock ditches.
Ever seen people on the fells with spades and brooms? A key part of the work of volunteers are "drain runs". This is effectively where drains are cleared of stones and vegetation to keep the water off the paths and areas of stone-pitching are swept to remove loose stones and soil to keep it easier to walk on. Drain runs can be done in small or large groups or even solo.
Volunteers also get involved in "work parties" that can include building drains, constructing handmade paths (such as that on Stake Pass) and removing pigeon holes. Much of this work is supervised by our rangers but unsupervised work parties also take place owing to the high level of skills developed.
In 2016 volunteers broke all records and gifted 1,936 days on the mountain paths. They completed 493 drain runs in all weathers - a truly phenomenal year of work. We could not undertake the volume of Fix the Fells work without them and their enthusiasm makes the programme what it is.
The training is comprehensive and includes learning the practical skills of path maintenance and repair, navigation skills, first aid and manual handling. There are also opportunities to learn additional skills such as hedge laying, dry-stone walling and juniper planting.
We also have a few furry friends who sometimes accompany the volunteers on the fells. These include Hamish the West Highland White and occasionally Tilly the black Labrador. They spend their time "supervising" the work.
A day in the life of a volunteer - Paul Arts...
Drain runs make up the bulk of the work for volunteer lengthsmen. A drain run involves travelling along a path clearing blocked drains, making minor repairs and clearing debris. Lengthsmen can also get involved in work parties which are usually led by a National Trust Ranger and can involve path building and repair, repairing walls or other more substantial projects.
As people arrive at the tool sheds, they discuss the work to be done that day. For drain runs this is often decided on the day and two or three options are batted back and forward until a decision is made based partly on what people want to do and partly on what needs to be done.
The selection of tools is an interesting sociological phenomena - a bit like ordering drinks at a bar, the men wanting to go with something perhaps a bit manly, at least one of the big spades but maybe also one of the iron bars used for levering stones. For those that really want to show their prowess, the mattock, a heavy duty pick axe used for clearing blocked drains, is the weapon of choice. The women may feel the societal pressure to select more feminine tools such as a broom, very useful for clearing loose rock from pathways, or even a ‘lady spade’, a smaller spade, the butt of many jokes but very useful for getting where the big spades cannot reach. Of course, some women rightly refuse to be subordinated by societal expectations and grab the mattock before any of the men can get there. Whatever the selection, it can be guaranteed that there will be some good natured ribbing about somebodys choice. I usually go with the conservative option of a spade - I’ve nothing to prove.
Walking along the selected path, it’s a good opportunity to catch up with people. The nice thing about the work is that there is something to suit everyone - you go at your own pace. The work is not complicated, it consists of clearing a path, sometimes making minor repairs such as replacing steps. Having said that, it can be amazing how much pontificating can go into exactly which way up a particular stone should go.
There is always a coffee break at 11am and then lunch at about noon. It is not considered good form to ignore these conventions. Some volunteers have foolishly made a name for themselves as providers of cake and this is now an expectation.
Before you know it, it’s time to head back to the shed. One of the most satisfying things about the work is walking back down a path you have worked on, noting how the water flows freely through the drains you have cleared and how well groomed the path looks. Once all the tools are back, some volunteers go for a coffee while others head home to bore their families about the work they have done.
I get a lot of enjoyment out of the Lake District, being a heavy user of the many footpaths. Volunteering with Fix the Fells is a great way of offsetting some of the wear and tear I create; a very practical way of giving something back. It's the polar opposite of my day job and it's a great day out with like minded people.
Recruitment for 2017 is now closed while we train our latest recruits, but please keep an eye on our website for future opportunities. In the meantime you can read the Role Profile for Fix the Fells lengthsmen volunteer and there is more information in our Frequenty Asked Questions. Thank you!