The National Trust for Scotland cares for some of Scotland’s magnificent landscapes and over 400 miles of paths including Goat Fell, Ben Lawers, Ben Lomond, Mar Lodge Estate and Torridon as well as many others.
The NTS Mountain Path Team are committed to conserving and maintaining the Trust’s network of mountain paths for future generations. By using light-touch techniques, and wherever possible building by hand using locally sourced material, they aim to ensure the paths are preserved by providing a long lasting solution to the problem of erosion, with a minimal visual impact.
Ben Lawers is Scotland’s tenth highest Munro and the highest mountain in Tayside. Stretching 1,214m (3,984ft) above Loch Tay, it gives it’s name to a whole National Nature Reserve. It encompasses nine mountains within the southern slopes of the Ben Lawers and Tarmachan ranges, seven of which are Munros. It is a hugely significant mountain range due to its unique arctic-alpine flora, of which many are rare and endangered species.
Simon and I spent the week working on the Beinn Ghlas path with Ben Farrington and Nan Morris. They form half of the NTS mountain path team who have existed since 2002. Seeing their approach to path maintenance has been really insightful. Rather than having to carry out large scale build works after severe erosion has occurred, they have a more consistent relationship with the mountains they manage. This firstly means they already know the paths well and are aware of areas which may be prone to damage from weather or feet and secondly, they return more regularly so can see what techniques have been successful and if not, why.
We started from the top and worked our way downhill as the week went on which was a nice treat. Knowing your walk in will be shorter every day is pretty nice! We were looking at areas where the path had been widened or the main path line had been slightly lost due to excessive braiding (where people avoid walking on the path and gradually create new lines, damaging the surrounding vegetation). It was very interesting having to think about the psychology of hill walking. It was a case of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and thinking where would my tired legs take me to get me up or down the hill. People will often be looking for the easiest, kindest on the knees option.
By using techniques of setting in large blocker stones and landscaping at the top and bottom of the braided sections, they become almost closed off to the eye and by smoothing down the larger cobble and adding some new surfacing onto the actual path line, you can control the way people will walk. This allows the vegetation to regenerate at the sides of the path (albeit slowly due to extreme weather on the mountain). We also reduced the drop on some large steps by setting in extra stones. Another small scale fix which makes a real difference and we cleared all drains as we worked our way down hill.
I have really enjoyed the week working with Nan and Ben. There is something to be said about spending time up a mountain with some like minded people. The wild weather becomes quite insignificant and the satisfaction of seeing progress and quick results from a hard days graft makes it all the more rewarding. The extreme change in weather is something i’m getting pretty used to!
If you are interested in seeing how the NTS Mountain Path Team are getting on, you can follow their continuing great work on their Facebook page, (link attached below).