Between 7th and 14th August 2004 I led a "21 Plus" working holiday (aimed at people in their 20s and 30s) at Windermere in the Lake District. The accommodation was in the first-ever NT basecamp at High Wray, about five miles south of Ambleside on the west side of the lake. The basecamp had been opened 35 years ago to the month, though the dorms had only been added five years later (tents had been used until then). I stayed in this basecamp for a hedge reinstatement holiday back in 1991. The main changes since then are that cutlery and crockery are now provided (last time we had to bring our own) and the dormitory building up the hill has now been provided into two proper dormitories with a toilet & wash basin for each; 13 years ago it was just a single dorm with a partition running most of its length, and we had to rig up curtains in order to cover the gap and create two separate sleeping areas.
Our task for the week was drystone walling, in the Troutbeck valley on the other side of the lake. In the hamlet of Town Head there's a pub called the Queen's Head; opposite the entrance to the car park is a gate leading into a field; and in the opposite corner of that field we rebuilt a 25-metre stretch of drystone wall, also putting in a new gate, over the course of the week. The weather was very mixed and we got drenched more than once - in fact one day we had to abandon the task after two hours because we were all soaked through and the mud was making the worksite quite hazardous - but we achieved our objective in the end. It was very satisfying, especially as these walls should remain standing for decades if not centuries, so we'll be bringing our grandchildren back to admire our handiwork.
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Around the basecamp
The basecamp. Main building in foreground, dorm in background (up hill) and toilet block off picture to left.
Welcome speech from Morag, the warden in charge of us for the week.
Toad-in-the-hole for dinner. We saw lots of real toads over the course of the week too!
A simultaneous swim & shower in the lake, about 15 minutes' walk from the basecamp.
Working through a quiz.
Barbecue on the final evening.
Views from viewpoints around the basecamp.
On the worksite
We started by demolishing what was left of the wall; some of it looked pretty good from one side but was dangerously bowed on the other, so it was decided that the best approach was to start again from scratch. The demolition took most of the first day. I've put the before, during and after photos first, and assorted other pictures afterwards.
Wall from left - before.
Wall from right - before.
Wall from left - end of day 1.
Wall from right - end of day 1.
Wall from left - after rebuilding.
Wall from right - after rebuilding.
Surface of wall from left - after rebuilding.
Surface of wall from right - after rebuilding.
Morag introducing us to the wall.
Demolition in progress.
One of the larger rocks we needed to shift.
A bit of extra help from the LandRover to lift this boulder into place!
Picture showing how the wall is constructed: basically two walls back to back and gradually sloping towards each other, with smaller pieces of stone filling in the gaps in the middle, and then the whole thing topped off with a row of near-vertical cam stones.
Putting the cam stones on the top of the wall (to discourage the sheep from climbing up).
Ray & Roland, the two estate workers who worked with us throughout the week.
The whole group, with our handiwork on either side.
Waiting for the rain to ease off on day 3 so that we could start work.
Out and about
At the Vale of Rydal Sheepdog Trials - waiting for the end of the hound trail.
Hound trail - the first dogs approach the finish line.
Sheepdog trials - judging one of the dog beauty contests.
Sheepdog trials - a demonstration of training gundogs.
At the China Cottage in Ambleside.
Townend - historic NT house in Troutbeck, near the worksite.
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