Week 27 – The Grand Finale

So here we are, 6 months down the line, all graduates of year one of The Mountains and the People level 2 SVQ traineeship in Environmental Conservation.

And what a great 6 months it’s been! April began with munro bagging, path maintenance on The Cobbler followed by our first ever path site at Craigmore just near Aberfoyle building a new path from scratch.

We then spent a week learning professional techniques in Drystane Dyking with Gordon Kydd based at Luss Estates.

We carried out smaller scale maintenance tasks on Conic Hill and along the West Highland Way near Beinn Ghlas Farm.

My mandatory path skills work placement was with The National trust for Scotland’s Mountain Path team working on Ben Lawers NNR with Ben Farrington and Nan Morris.

And I had the chance to spend two weeks with Becky Austin and Ami Lee at RSPBs Loch Lomond Reserve as part of my work experience placements. This focused on the habitat management and surveying course modules and I was given the opportunity to work alongside Becky’s volunteer work party, carry out non-native species removal, tree planting, bird and butterfly surveying, fence removal, woodland inventories, fen burning on the Aber bog, path maintenance and species identification. It has been great to see how a relatively new reserve has grown and progressed over time and as a volunteer with the National Park, I plan to continue returning to the reserve to help out as much as I can.

We then re-built the approach path to Beinn Dubh in Glen Luss using stone pitching techniques.

Focusing again on our habitat based modules, we spent a week on Ben Lomond aiding in the peat bog restoration project with Alistair Eckersall of NTS. He explained why the peat bogs are so important for the worlds carbon capture and taught us the most effective techniques used in damming the deep drainage ditches, creating reservoirs to help re-saturate the mountain bogs.

I was also lucky to be selected for another work placement with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. This was kindly arranged by Tom and Charlotte Wallace and was a really mixed schedule allowing us to focus more on our modules which looked at promoting public use of the outdoors and environmental good practice. We looked at the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and the Land Reform act in more detail with the access and planning department. I spent a day cycling a section on National Cycle Network 7 between Callander and Balquidder. Wednesday was spent in Balmaha discussing education, inclusion and engagement and gave us a chance to work alongside the seasonal rangers in the visitor centre. We worked with the maintenance rangers on Conic hill carrying out some path work on Thursday and finished with a black grouse habitat survey linked with the parks Wild Park 2020 project.

Returning to where it all began for our second last path site, we stomped up The Cobbler for 4 weeks carrying out a path refurb on an area requiring a lot of stone pitching to be either built or re-built to reduce a steep gradient. We built drainage features including cross drains and water bars and finished it all off with new surfacing and landscaping.

I worked along side Rosie and her volunteer work parties at Inversnaid and on The West Highland Way to repair some path sites.

And finally, our last site was The Harry Lauder Memorial path in Glenbranter. This project was planned and funded by The Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and we transformed an old, tired route using the stone building skills that we’ve developed over the last 6 months.

Breaking it all down to what we have achieved over the course puts it all into perspective. It’s really wonderful looking back at all that we have done. I have learnt so much and had the opportunity to meet so many interesting and knowledgable people along the way. I’ve been involved in lots of great conservation projects across the National Park and feel so much more confident moving forward in my career.

Spending the last 6 months with 7 blokes on the side of a mountain has been an absolutely fascinating experience. I sometimes felt like it was all a big wind up and I was being secretly filmed for some kind of hidden camera show, and those lads don’t half moan! But I’m certainly going to miss them all dearly.

I also just wanted to say thank you to all of you for reading the blog throughout the course. I committed to writing it when I began and the kind comments and support from everyone has been a real driving force for me to keep it up. My readers stats have been so overwhelming and I’ve really enjoyed writing and consolidating each week along with all my photos. I’m happy to have been able to help promote year one of the project and provide an archived blog which will be useful for future years.

Tom is kindly putting me forward for the Lantra learner of the year award and I think the blog will play a big part in that. I’m going to take a bit of a break from it at the mo, but it isn’t necessarily disappearing forever. For now though, thank you for reading!

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Week 26 – The Penultimate Week

img_6471Returning to the Harry Lauder Memorial site in Glenbranter this week, Rory and I continued to work on the first stretch of the path, building stone pitching steps above the cross drain we finished last week. We needed to curve the path around to the left to meet the flat level surface at the top. Apart from finding the original old tarmac A815 and having to hack away at it with a mattock for a while, everything has gone really well. Building with quarried stone has been very different to having to just use what we could find on the Cobbler. There have been so many more flat surfaces to work with and I could get used to this lowland path millarky. No walk in, lovely wee sun trap! The photo’s show the process from start to finish. We are really happy with the result and feel we have created a really inviting start.

Simon has been working on building the larger cross drain which meets the clay culvert pipe running through the embankment to reach our smaller one. Originally, there was a sort of wooden bridge crossing the ditch, so large stones have been needed to reduce the step across and gain quite a lot of height. Simon’s been quite vocal this week whilst wrestling with rocks, but the result is quite a brute of a cross drain that will definitely do the trick!

Fraser worked on the next section setting in a stretch of anchor bars needed to reduce the paths gradient and they will also act to control the movement of surfacing downhill.

Then we come to Ryan’s “Stairs to Mordor” as I like to call them. This was the steepest section of path so needed continuous stone pitching to reach the corner. It also functions to really contain the path and it would be unlikely that walkers would choose to take an alternative route.

Once Ryan, Rory and I had finished our pitching we put in another seven anchor bars to reach the kissing gate to the field.

Kieran began work on the next section of pitching towards the monument and the last stretch of wooden box steps have now also been removed ready for the stone work. Jake and Fraser have dug out the path tray around the fence line and this will be surfaced using type 1 aggregate and finished with wind dust as will the rest of the path.

Rosie is returning to the site with a volunteer work party on Saturday to carry out extra tidying such as final surfacing, ditch clearing and landscaping and the wooden handrails will also be reinstated.

Week 25 – Roamin’ In The Gloamin’

This week we began work at our final path site in Argyll, at the Harry Lauder memorial.

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In 1911, Lauder had become the highest-paid performer in the world, and was the first Scottish artist to sell a million records. He raised vast amounts of money for the war effort during World War I, for which he was subsequently knighted in 1919. He then went into semi-retirement in the mid 1930s, but briefly emerged to entertain troops in World War II. He suffered personal tragedy during the war, when his only son, John, a Captain in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was killed in action on 28 December 1916 at Pozieres. Harry wrote the song “The End of the Road” in the wake of John’s death and had a monument for his son erected in the private Lauder cemetery in Glenbranter.

Glenbranter is now owned by The Forestry Commission who manage the land. I was actually told that back around the 1920’s, Lauder sold the land (something like 15000 hectares) for £21,000! This project to improve the site has been organised and funded by Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, looking to make the path more obvious and accessible to reach the memorial, situated just off the main A815 road between Strachur and Dunoon.

We had from Wednesday to Friday to make a start on clearing the existing path of vegetation and ripping out the old wooden box steps and hand rails. We also had 30 tonnes of stone brought in from the local quarry and began to transport it across to the site with the power barrow. We were a smaller team this week so Rory and I began at the start of the path building some anchor bars to reduce the gradient and set in a cross drain to meet the clay culvert pipe running down the embankment.

We also dug out a drainage ditch above the kissing gate to encourage water flow away from the path and Ryan and Fraser began working on the anchor bars and large section of pitching at the higher section.

We’ve made great progress in three days, and are hoping the sun stays out for the following week. We’re all really enjoying the little sun trap and how pleasant working on a lowland site is!

We also helped Rosie at the start of the week on a volunteer day with West Dumbartonshire Councils New Horizons work group. We were looking at defining an area of the West Highland Way path at Millarochy Bay. It had become slightly unclear where the path route was going so we built two anchor bars, cleared the path line of large boulders and trip hazards, used revetment to build up the path edges and finished with a bit of resurfacing.

It’s been satisfying to be able to complete these kind of tasks in a day which produce really successful results that everyone can feel quite chuffed about.

Week 24 – Cleaning Up the Cobbler

The beginning of the week took me on a boat ride from Tarbet to Inversnaid to help Rosie in leading her volunteer work party for the day. As well as her troop of returning volunteers, we also had a work party from Lloyds TSB who had come out on their annual volunteering day to take part in ‘Make a difference day’. I was tasked alongside Tom to help clear and widen the RSPB managed woodland trail which had become overgrown with vegetation. It was a really good day working with the group and great to talk to them about the sense of achievement they all felt after a day of path work. They really enjoyed the day despite the torrential rain and it was very different to their daily office environment. I’m so pleased with our result and know that it is really appreciated by RSPB Site Warden, Fraser Lamont who was kind enough to give us a tour of the reserve before we began working.

The rest of the week saw us return to the Cobbler for the final time. I’m not saying i’ll NEVER go up again, but we’re on a break for the next wee while! We had a few small sections of the path spec to complete and a lot of landscaping and tidying up to do to get everything finished for Friday.

img_6248I’ve really enjoyed working to Gordon’s spec drawings on this site. It’s been a good chance to see a section of path, pre-work and understand the reason for certain features to be required, be it for drainage or gradient control. The weather has been extremely unforgiving this time around, but I think that’s all part of the test to see if we can cut it as path workers. No-one cried, so I think we’re doing ok! The photo’s below show a comparison of before and after photo’s of the path. This site has given us a chance to practice a lot more stone pitching techniques than we have before. Everyone contributed to at least one section and I think we all feel a strange sense of ownership of the mountain now.

Before                                                        After

For now Ben Arthur, it’s adios from me!