April in Lakeland can be unpredictable weather wise, glorious sunshine one minute, hailstones the next. 16 degrees one day, below zero the next.
Having received a kind invitation from George Fisher in the Lake District to visit, I grabbed a tent and my toastiest sleeping bag and headed off for a weekend of camping and walking.
At this point I should admit to not being “hill fit”. A winter of too much good food and too little exercise has resulted in an expanded waistline and a slow plod rather than a bound. This isn’t any reason not to get out in the fells. It will actually help reduce my waistline, burning off calories; you know, the ones that hide in the wardrobe and tailor your clothes tighter while you sleep.
Arriving in Keswick, it was straight for my favourite campsite; Castlerigg Hall. It’s a mile outside the town, but it’s position on a hill means that it is a lot less likely to be waterlogged and with a new tent to try out I wanted to at least give it a chance. Pitching the my new prized accommodation is a doddle even for a solo camper and the extra room in the two person tent when it’s cold is actually very welcome. Putting down an extra mat prevents the need to step onto cold ground when emerging from a cosy sleeping bag; it’s the little things!
Read more Lakeland adventures here: Wild Nights in the Lakes – The Lakeland Haute Route
The following morning arrived clear and crisp with a dusting of snow on the tops of the surrounding fells. A good time to grab the gear and head into George Fisher, and meet my fellow bloggers.
The George Fisher building was originally Abraham’s photographic shop, built in 1887 by George Abraham to house his famous photographic business. In 1967, George Fisher acquired the premises and this iconic building became an outdoor equipment store.
Since then the business has continued to establish itself as one of the best outdoor stores in Lakeland. The helpful staff live and breathe the outdoors and bring a wealth of experience with them. There is a visiting podiatrist to ease ailments and keep you enjoying the outdoors. The business is also investing in training with the first ever Academy weekend where you can spend the nights in the fells under canvas.
However, it is an investment in the care of the environment that brought us all together. Outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia launched their European “Worn Wear” campaign in Lakeland.
“One of the most responsible things we can do as a company is to make high-quality stuff that lasts for years and can be repaired, so you don’t have to buy more of it.”
They put their money where their mouth is, bringing a van equipped with seamstress and sewing machine to repair damaged clothing for free on site.
The Worn Wear program celebrates the stories we wear, keeping treasured gear in action longer and providing an easy way to recycle outdoor garments when they’re beyond repair. Often a favourite jacket is more than a garment, it’s a trusted friend that has protected us from unfavourable conditions and shared special moments in our lives.
More hiking in the Lake District: English Lakes; Trekking Adventures on Helvellyn
The campaign also seeks to educate us in how to care for and repair our own equipment, buying less and impacting favourably on the environment.
Wait though, there was more to the weekend, with some other worthwhile initiatives being showcased.
Nurture Lakeland is a charity which aims to bridge businesses, tourism and the natural environment working together to sustain the tourism industry. Visit, Give, Protect is a simple campaign, asking visitors to contribute small amounts, but small contributions from many people soon adds up. Every penny is spent in maintaining the natural environment and adding value with projects like Drive Less See More which connects buses, boats and bikes to visitors, so cars can be left behind, enabling greater immersion in the environment while impacting on it less.
Finally, it was time to head to the fells and appreciate some of the work that Nurture Lakeland, George Fisher and another partner Fix the Fells are involved in. Fix the Fells is a quite remarkable organisation. Manned mainly by volunteers, who go out in all weathers surveying paths, gathering local stones to construct and repair footpaths.
It seems unlikely many who spend time in the outdoors appreciate the amount of work that goes into the repair and maintenance of the fells we take for granted.
Richard, our guide for the walk explained some of the work they do.
Now, can you imagine having to build a stone staircase, on a remote hillside, gathering the stone for this yourself. That is essentially what Fix the Fells are doing.
When the gradient is steeper than 15 degrees, material simply won’t stay on a path so it has to be “stepped” This technique is used when it is the only one available and then the last resort. The “steps” are constructed in such a way that they are irregular and made to look as natural as possible. Making them look as natural as possible actually involves gathering the stone from the same valley. The Lake District is formed of glacial moraines, stone in each valley is unique so every project requires a team to go rock collecting.
Does walking in the hills appear too much like hard work? Imagine collecting 50 tons of stone along the way because, of course they have to hike in and hike out of their working locations. Thankfully, they do get a lift with the stone! Helicopters move it one ton at a time. If a digger is needed for path construction, it must be taken apart and choppered in, then reassembled on site, repeat to remove.
This Herculean task relies on volunteers to do the legwork with skilled Rangers well versed in the construction methods required. Just so we can all enjoy the hills while minimising the damage.
Richard was asked a really important question. “When should we stick to a path and when should we deviate from it?”
“When a path is made of stone, stick to it. When a path is made of living material, spread out and minimise the footfall”
That is one of the most important things we can all do. That and put a few quid into Visit, Give, Protect. Every time we visit Lakeland, we need to consider that actually, there is a cost involved. The valuable time of the volunteers and rangers, or the ceaseless efforts of the fund raisers.
Every time we enjoy the great outdoors, we should think how it is maintained, and preserved for future generations.
As Alfred Wainwright wrote:-
‘The fleeting hour of life of those who love the hills is quickly spent, but the hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest; always there will be the exhilaration of the summits. These are for the seeking, and those who seek and find while there is still time will be blessed both in mind and body.’
Guest post by Alison Bailey
I started as a photographer at the tender age of three when my Dad gave me my first camera, a Kodak Brownie. I crawled around ‘taking pictures’ of everything, even though there wasn’t any film, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since.
I’ve worked as a Lab Technician specialising in Pathology to the promised land of Olympus cameras, and even a spell in law enforcement. I’ve returned to my first love now however, focusing on wedding photography. I predominantly use digital today, but the traditionalist in me still loves film, and the skills required to develop it.