Thursday, 27 November 2014

Planning for winter.

After our short break in the Cairngorms, I returned to work with a renewed appreciation of just how fantastic our area is. It’s a great area to go walking with Jan and Daisy.  Daisy just loves running around and we see her just naturally ‘quartering’ or zig-zagging and returning to us.

We now turn our attention to a programme of work for the winter. Our fell rangers come down from the high fells and work on the lower slopes and in the valleys during the winter weather so I’ve been out with them to show them some footpath work that needs to be done around Castle Crag. They are a great bunch of guys who will be well able to use their experience to decide how best to do the repairs.

We’ve also been doing some more work on the play trail with the volunteers.  We’ll have to think of some kind of an opening ceremony for that.

Daisy here:

Roy’s back. It’s great. Me, Roy and Jan have been running around on the mountains. Well, I’ve been running.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Wild Camping

School half-term holidays are over and winter is fast approaching so a friend and colleague, John Malley, and I decided to take some leave and spend a long weekend camping in Cairngorm. We approached from the Braemar side, went up Ben Macdui and camped out for a few nights.

The weather was fantastic but, not surprising of course at this time of year, the nights were cold with temperatures well below freezing.  As you can see in the photographs, there was already quite a bit of snow on the ground.  We did have one day when we were walking in low cloud so we needed our map and compass skills to make safe progress. 

There really is no experience quite like wild camping in a remote place.  Just make sure that when you leave a site, the only evidence that you have been there is a temporary footprint of your tent and that will disappear very quickly.

Leaving nothing behind.

But, before you go, make sure you know how to use your equipment and skills.  Have a few outings to places you know and practise navigating with map and compass.  Then try it on a longer route and eventually include an overnight camp.  Once you are confident that you could rely entirely on your map and compass if you had to, then you can go to remote locations that are new to you.

We had a fantastic few days.  One night was a clear, crisp night and the stars were brilliant.  On another night a dozen or so red deer passed almost silently within about 20 metres of my tent.  It’s amazing that such large animals can move so quietly.  They were a stunning silhouette against the skyline.

On our way back out we called into Mar Lodge (National Trust for Scotland) to see the Head Ranger that John knows.  Had a welcome cup of coffee and shared thoughts about our work.  It’s a relief in some ways to realise that we are not the only ones with a large area to cover and never enough money to do all that needs to be done!

Daisy here:

The weekend was boring.  Roy went away.  Jan did some training with me but ... well, then I had to go to work with her and just be in the van.  But he’s back now.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Woodland trail.

The main focus of my work last week was the play trail in Cockshot Wood. That is making really good progress.  I began working with a couple of young guys who are doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and were very helpful.  Then I finished off with the regional volunteer group who are always excellent.

As it was school half-term break, we also did a 50 Things to do before you're 11 ¾ event down at the lake shore.  This was not as successful as we would have liked because the weather let us down unfortunately


There are still things to be done with the Wild Play Trail but there probably always will be things to add or things to improve as new ideas pop up.  But so far I am really pleased with what has been achieved.  All the people who have worked so hard to make this happen can be really proud of their work.  It is already proving to be a big hit with children as you can see in the photographs.


Daisy here,


I got to play in the woods with lots of different people. It was great.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Stepping stones in the wood.

Myself, Leila (our Academy Ranger) and Sarah (one of my regular volunteers) tackled a heavy job last week. We shifted some huge logs onto a trailer to take them round to Cockshot Wood to use on the new play trail.  They were cut from a Scots Pine that had just reached the end of its life and had been brought down during a storm some years ago. 

You might wonder how just three of us could move these but the photographs show how ropes, pulleys, ramps and some hard graft can do it.

Now that we have it in the wood, I want to use it as stepping stones to lead people on from the fairy ring and thrones even further into the wood.  I’ll soon be meeting up with my regional volunteers so digging those in will be the project for their visit.  The play trail is really developing quickly now so we are looking forward to seeing many more children following it and playing in the woods.

Elsewhere in the week, Leila and I went up Cat Gill to deal with a situation before it becomes a big problem.  Some time ago the Trust laid a pitched path up there for walkers and runners to follow but unfortunately some have started to take a short-cut down a steeper slope.  The problem with that is that eventually the short-cut will begin to cause serious damage to the slope with heavy rains and foot traffic combining to erode the area.

One solution is to fell some small trees across the short-cut so that use of the pitched path is the easiest option.  I had taken a chainsaw to do this but it was too windy to do it safely and accurately so I’ll need to go back to this.

Whilst we were up there, we took a look at a project that Leila will take on.  It will improve some fencing and access but I’ll let you know more about that in a future blog.

Daisy here.
I’ve been helping with some big bits of wood and I’ve been up Cat Gill.  Cat Gill’s great.  You can run and run and run and nobody cares.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Mushrooms and thrones.

Last week was one of those weeks where I was juggling a few different jobs.  I spent some time with my volunteers adding some mushrooms and thrones to the ‘fairy ring’ on the play trail in Cockshot Wood next to the Trust shop.  As usual, my team of volunteers did some great work.  

The son of one of the volunteers served as a very useful measure for how deep we needed to dig the holes for the thrones.  They need to be the right size. 

It has been very satisfying to see people sitting on the mushrooms as soon as we have stopped work for the day.  I think this ‘fairy ring’ in the wood is going to be very popular.

I spent some time with Leila, our new Academy Ranger surveying the area for an accessible path.  We do have to plan the route carefully.  Accessibility for all is always at the front of my mind and where ever possible I make things as accessible as possible. After all, our founders did say, “ For ever, for everybody.” That's a very long time and a lot of people.

And lastly but not least, I’ve been drawing up plans to submit with a planning application for a new stretch of board-walk.

On my day off, Daisy and me as usual walked along the lake shore.   I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it is worth repeating.  The colours are at their best at present and in sunshine or dappled shade the area is just stunning.  As ever, a few stormy days will begin to strip off many of the leaves from the trees and the first frosts will see the end of this year’s spectacular display.

Daisy here, 

Mucky face from digging.  Sad face because they have stopped me digging.

I was helping Roy and his volunteers dig holes for the mushrooms and the thrones at the wild play trail.  Then they tied me up and I don’t know why because all I was doing was helping dig.  And guess what – I’m brilliant at digging.