The term ‘lengthsman’ comes from medieval times when lengthsmen would be paid to walk the length of the parish and repair any roads and unblock ditches. There are currently 110 Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen, coming from Cumbria and beyond. Some are retired and others work full time but they all have one thing in common – they love the fells!
A key part of the role of the volunteer lengthsmen is to walk upland paths on path maintenance days, more prosaically known as ‘drain runs’. This is where drains are cleared of stones and excess vegetation to keep the water off the paths and areas of stone-pitching are swept to remove loose stones and soil to keep it more tempting to walk on. Drain runs can be done in small or large groups or even solo. They are essential to help keep our paths working as they should and to prevent them deteriorating to the point where they need more substantial repairs
Volunteers get involved in “work parties” which can include building drains, constructing handmade paths and removing pigeon holes (the first signs of a developing erosion problem). Much of this work is supervised by our rangers but unsupervised work parties also take place owing to the high level of skills developed. You can read more about path repair techniques here.
In 2022 the Fix the Fells volunteer lengthsmen gifted over 2,500 days on the mountain paths. They completed hundreds of path maintenance days 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.
Training for volunteers 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 and dry-stone walling, especially in winter when the high fell paths can become difficult to effectively work on. In return for this training, we ask all volunteers to commit to a minimum of 12 days every year.
Additionally, it’s not just people that volunteer – we also have a few furry friends who sometimes accompany the volunteers on the fells, including Hamish the West Highland White. They spend their time “supervising” the work.
Fix the Fells Volunteer Lengthsmen, Barry Capp, says:
“Volunteering as part of the Fix the Fells Lengthsmen team provides great personal enjoyment, satisfaction and camaraderie as well as making a really useful contribution to the repair and maintenance of our spectacular Lake District upland paths and landscape. It is also a brilliant way of keeping fit and active in a unique, all-weather environment”.
Want to get involved?
Volunteer recruitment for Fix the Fells is now closed. It will hopefully open again in January 2024. If you think you might be interested in joining us, please click on this link to the Lake District National Park volunteer website, where you will see more details of what’s involved, including a checklist and role profile.
If you can’t make the commitment necessary to become a regular volunteer, you may enjoy the “Fell Care Days” organised by our partner organisation Friends of the Lake District. Everyone is welcome at these fun and worthwhile events and details can be seen on their website here.
You can also help to Fix the Fells by going on a National Trust upland path working holiday. Click here to find out more.