In mid-May 2003 I led a week's "Acorn" working holiday at Wasdale, in the SW Lake District, only about 20 miles from where I grew up.
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Around the basecamp
We stayed in the basecamp at Wasdale Annexe, next door to Wasdale Hall Youth Hostel in Nether Wasdale. The basecamp was a bit on the small side - I wouldn't fancy staying there with it filled to its capacity of 15 people - and had a few problems with the plumbing, but otherwise was quite comfortable. The setting was fabulous, at the SW end of Wastwater, with views up towards Great Gable from the lake shore a few yards away.
Outside the basecamp: Dave, Bobby, Jessica & Shaun.
The view towards Great Gable from the lake shore just a few yards from the basecamp. The fells visible are (L-R) Yewbarrow, Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Lingmell.
One of the many lambs in the field in front of the youth hostel.
Classic Wasdale view, from the lake shore about a mile from the basecamp. You can see Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Lingmell and Scafell Pike.
Toad in the hole for dinner.
Making up pizza bases for dinner on the last night.
Our tasks for the week were:
1. Working at Wasdale Head, clearing stones from a riverbed (Fogmire Beck, at the foot of Kirk Fell) to improve spawning grounds for salmon and sea trout, and de-brambling and rebuilding damaged sections of the neighbouring drystone walls. These "famous historic wall patterns at the valley head", as they are described on the NT website, are mostly around 1000 years old.
2. Pulling out hemlock - a poisonous water plant - from a beck in Nether Wasdale
3. Rebuilding broken sections of drystone wall on a hillside in Nether Wasdale.
The weather was very mixed and quite cold for the time of year, but at least the soakings tended to alternate with enough sun for us to dry out reasonably well. A couple of the group members had some prior experience of drystone walling but for most of us it was a new skill. Although this was at least my 15th working holiday, I'd never done it before. Progress is quite slow, but it's very satisfying to see your completed handiwork and be confident that it's going to remain standing for many years. The hemlock-pulling was less popular, not helped by the attitude of the two estate staff in whose care were were left for most of that day; they gave a first-class demonstration of how to demoralise volunteers by telling us that they thought the job was a waste of time and then sitting in the LandRover for most of the day while we got on with the work. Colin - the warden in charge of us for the week, who the rest of the time looked after us very well - was not impressed when he came back, and he took us on a nature walk to cheer us up.
A section of Fogmire Beck before we started work: removing big stones from riverbed, clearing brambles and bracken and rebuilding broken wall.
The same section after we'd finished. Colin's in the water, with Richard and Jessica showing off their handiwork beside him.
Another part of Fogmire Beck before we started work..
The same section with the wall rebuilt.
Having a break by Fogmmire Beck, with Great Gable in the background.
A bridge that we did some work on, putting in new foundations and a stone ramp on each side to make access easier for the less mobile.
Looking down Wasdale from part-way up Kirk Fell.
View from part-way up Kirk Fell, showing the patchwork fields and our group at work just beyond the yellow gorse bushes.
The section of wall that was rebuilt mostly by Bobby and me. The red lines show where we had to dismantle back to to get a sound base.
Tania with a tame lame lamb in the farmyard. Unfortunately we were told that it was unlikely to survive.
Putting on latex gloves ready to pull hemlock.
Removing hemlock from the beck. The entire root system had to be dug out or it would just regrow, like dandelions do.
A broken section of wall in Nether Wasdale.
The same section of wall, rebuilt by us.
Starting to clean out a broken section of wall prior to rebuilding. The collapse had been caused by a huge boulder breaking off the crags above and smashing through the wall.
Putting in new foundation stones after cleaning out the same section of wall (viewed from other side).
Fortunately we got good weather on our day off. Mary, Shaun, Nick and Dianne undertook a big hike up Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Pillar, while Tania, Linda, Jessica and Dave hiked from Wasdale Head over to Boot in Eskdale and then the girls took "La'al Ratty" (the Ravenglass & Eskdale narrow-gauge railway) down to Ravenglass while Dave hiked back to the basecamp via Illgill Head and Whin Rigg (at the top of the screes). Bobby, Richard and I took a gentle stroll around Boot then they caught the Ratty down to Ravenglass while I drove down in the minibus to meet them at the other end, where we went for another ramble. In the evening we all ate at the Screes pub in Nether Wasdale (good apart from the leeks in horseradish - in my opinion horseradish is fine as part of a menu option but should never be served up as a default accompaniment!).
Friday was a miserable wet day. After we'd spent half of the morning finishing off our sections of wall in Nether Wasdale, Colin took us on a minibus tour of Eskdale, the Duddon Valley (Dunnerdale) and Broughton-in-Furness. We went over Hardknott Pass, the steepest road in England, so I was glad to let him do the driving! in the Duddon Valley, where he grew up, he pointed out several farms and other buildings occupied - currently or previously - by members of his family, and on the way back he showed us what used to be his own farm. Unfortunately we were in the clouds so we didn't get to appreciate the fine views out over the Irish Sea and Isle of Man!
The barn owl that Colin took us to see.
Bobby & Richard on a bridge in Eskdale.
Richard & Bobby on the Ratty.
The Ratty passing Muncaster Mill.
Roman bathhouse at Ravenglass, which fell out of use at least 1600 years ago. Looking pretty good for its age!
Richard and me in front of the display of rhododendrons by the entrance to Muncater Castle.
Looking down Eskdale from Hardknott Roman fort.
Looking up Hardknott Pass from the Roman fort.
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