Always an advocate of trying new experiences, summiting a Lakeland Fell hauling a spade and broom along was certainly a first for me on my recent day with a team of Fix the Fells volunteers..all in a days work for these guys!
Just an hour before our prearranged meeting time, I peeked out of my soggy tent to see nothing of the nearby fells but swirling grey cloud and sheets of rain. Keener to stay snuggled up in my toasty warm sleeping bag than try to extricate myself from my tiny one-man tent onto the sodden grass beyond I wondered what the cutoff level of discomfort might be for the Fix the Fells team to decide to hang up their gaiters and retreat to the warm and and cosy interior of the village pub or cafe for copious amounts of hot tea and homemade cake uttering promises of returning to the fells just as soon as the sun was shining again , everyone was volunteering for this after all! But it turns out, these are no fairweather fell goers, rather, a hardy bunch of outdoorsy folk whose attitude to our fickle British weather is that if the National Park Rangers went out in all conditions then so would they!
Repairing and maintaining our ancient network of mountain paths is an all-weather task. A combination of millions of pairs of walking boots, the weather and gradient means erosion is a constant problem. Our path work reduces erosion scars and also helps protect the ecology and archaeological heritage of our beautiful landscape.
Fix the Fells are celebrating 10 years of volunteering, a decade of dedication. In fact, their level of commitment and dedication humbled me more than once during that day.
Introductions made, I took custody of my ‘on loan’ trusty spade and broom, unsure of what exactly what exactly I was supposed to do with them, and along with the team headed up the path towards a brooding Place Fell. Our mission for the day was glamorously referred to as a ‘drain run’. Spade and brush in hand I was a little confused but all was soon expertly explained. The drains along the paths help the water continue on a natural course rather than using the path itself as a quick route downhill, damaging the path and causing further erosion or even washing away the path completely in heavy rain. Volunteers completed 493 ‘drain run’ days last year carrying out minor maintenance and repairs and clearing debris.
We soon arrived at the first drain and it became immediately apparent to me that this was more technical than I had initially imagined. It certainly didn’t seem in any way obvious to my untrained eye if, where and what might need doing to maintain a happy drain. But as the day went on and the number of drain encounters chalked up I gradually began to understand how to identify the problems and how to remedy them, doing a very fine job of clearing out a very clogged, muddy and smelly drain by the end of the day ( if i do say so myself!)
Other maintenance tasks on our day in the hills involved picking up litter and cleaning pitching. (the large stones and rock slabs that make up sections of path and/or steps) Keeping this clear of loose rocks, stones and debris makes it much safer and easier to walk on and therefore more inviting than the surrounding ground which helps to reduce and prevent erosion. This was something my obsessive inclination for cleaning could really get enthusiatic about and my designated pitching was certainly very vigorously brushed to a standard at which you might be able to eat your rehydrate, boil in the bag dinner off it.
Volunteering with Fix the Fells is not all about getting wet and muddy though. Hard work but lots of fun it is a wonderful and productive way to spend a day in the hills with a group of diverse yet like minded people seeing parts of the Lake District you may never have been before and giving something back to the outdoor environment we all love and enjoy. The pace and work was always steady, there was always time scheduled in to stop for a brew and picnic lunch and as i worked and spoke with a different group member throughout the day I also realised it is a wonderful opportunity to make and catch up with fellow volunteer friends as well as meet new people. The volunteer group on any particular day can include regular volunteers who have been involved for several years to new recruits still working through their training program or complete first timers like myself staring at a drain with a somewhat confused look on their face. The pool of volunteers indeed spans all ages and backgrounds with a wealth of experience in a variety of outdoors pursuits from keen walkers to outdoor instructors, National Trust Wardens, National Park Rangers and Mountain Rescue Team members.
Anyone interested in volunteering with Fix the Fells has an opportunity to go along for some ‘taster days’ , similar to the day I spent, to meet other volunteers and discover what the work involves. After this, comprehensive training is provided in the practical skills of path maintenance, first aid and navigation as well as training in the whats, whys and hows of carrying out the various work required. A minimum annual commitment of 12 days volunteering is required but many volunteers far exceed this, some out on the fells more than once a week in all seasons. Car parking permits and a travel allowance within the national park is also provided to minimise costs to the volunteer and all training is included. It is also a fantastic opportunity to learn many new skills working with National Trust Wardens and National Park Rangers.
One of the most valuable and perhaps often overlooked aspects of the teams work that day to me was simply their presence on the fells. Many walkers commented and asked what they were doing and thanked them for their efforts. I felt this was invaluable for raising awareness and encouraging responsible behaviour outdoors – I think someone is far less likely to discard that sweet wrapper or cut that corner in the path when they witness volunteers giving their time to pick up litter and work on the paths in all weathers and with enthusiasm and positivity, and have an opportunity to learn why the work they do is important and necessary. Fix the Fells volunteers are definitely great ambassadors for the outdoors and inspire and encourage us all to be more appreciative and protective of our precious and beautiful, great outdoors!
The fantastic team I had the privilage to spend the day with. And the sun finally came out just in time to enjoy a well earned cuppa! A huge thank you to volunteers David, Wendy, Steven, Chris, Mim, Ann, Andy and Claire for welcoming me so well. You guys rock!
If you want to find out more or are interested in becoming a volunteer for Fix the Fells you can find more about what’s involved HERE or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
How else can you help? Sponsor my 3PeAksRun here and support their work!