First things first. I finally made it into the Stirling Observer. I have memories of my older sister featuring many times for her varied Primary school talents, so i’m just going to enjoy my glory moment. It’s only taken me 29 years!
Week 3 kicked off with, yes you guessed it, another delightful stroll up The Cobbler. Just what one needs to start off a Monday morning, tools and all! We really lucked out with the weather at the start of the week. I’m getting slightly worried that we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security what with this strange burning ball of light that seems to have been following us around a top the hills!
The plan for Monday to Wednesday was to finish up the path maintenance we had started the previous week. For Rory and I, this involved re-landscaping around the cross drain we repaired and cleared on Friday, and then moving on to digging out our first ‘Borrow Pit’. This would allow us to gain some aggregate surface for the path which had been very water damaged and was really just a peat bog. There were large braided areas on both sides where walkers had been avoiding the muddiest parts and it was only going to grow wider over time. Stephen and Fraser had been gathering cobble to fill in the area of bog removed and Ryan, Ross, Jake and Jack were re-landscaping the path edges with boulders and large turfs taken from the hill in order to disguise the trampled sides of flora and keep people on the track. It was a great 3 days where we all saw a huge improvement and felt a sense of pride in being able to transform such a damaged area of the path reasonably quickly. Suddenly, we realised it was well worth the walk!
The Borrow Pit before and After
Thursday was a more realistic spring day, driving to Balloch I quickly encountered blizzard conditions. We were starting the morning by heading down to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs maintenance unit in Dumbarton to meet with Ranger Services Manager, Martin Page and his team. It was great to see their facilities and get a better idea of the work they carry out all year round. After some great hospitality of tea and biscuits and a chat with Matt, John and Kev, Stuart Thompson gave us the grand tour and we then made our way up to Beinglas Farm to rendevous with Gilbert McNeill.
Now, as a practical task volunteer with the National Park, I’ve heard a lot about the legend that is Gilbert so was looking forward to meeting him. I found his knowledge and passion inspiring. It was great having Stuart and Gilbert take us along a severely damaged section on the West Highland Way. An area I remember from walking the WHW back in 2010 (in similar weather I may add). There were many problems such as issues with getting to the site in the first place as it would be inaccessible for any plant tools. There was a lack of available stone on site to work with. There were visible areas were severe weather had caused tree fall to rip edges of the path away, very steep slopes and a lot of braiding damage where walkers have been choosing new lines in order to avoid old redundant features, such as steep and slippery stone pitching. As Gilbert explained, it is a head scratcher in terms of where do they even start. As the park maintenance team have so many jobs to do already, it is likely that something this complex would have to be done by contractors in the end.
So from my first three weeks, it is becoming clear to me that path maintenance is an essential aspect that is needed in order to protect the landscape. Not just from the increasing social pressures, as more and more people are getting out into the hills but also from the extreme Scottish weather and its unpredictability. Once a path has been built, it will always need to be looked after, so I suppose the question has to be, does the path need to be there in the first place, and if so, can it be built in a way that will cause the least amount of damage as possible.