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‘It suits the strong-willed’: Scottish mountain trail makers – a photo report | UK News

JThe National Trust for Scotland Mountain Path team work to repair a path near the summit of Mullach an Rathain, on Liathach in Torridon. The team’s main goal is to prevent irreversible environmental damage to fragile habitats, not to improve access to them. The NTS takes care of some of Scotland’s stunning scenery and over 400 miles of trails on Glen Coe, Kintail, West Affric, Mar Lodge Estate, Gray Mare’s Tail, Torridon, Goatfell, Ben Lawers and Ben Lomond.

The Mountain Path team is committed to conserving and maintaining the network of over 400 miles (643 km) of mountain trails for future generations, wherever possible by building by hand using local materials.

Without the Mountain Path team and the Footpath Fund, erosion would cause irreversible damage to Scotland’s most stunning landscapes.

Nan Morris | Crew member

“What people don’t realize is that one person stepping on vegetation won’t make a difference, but when hundreds of people step on the same end over and over again, the plants are killed, the roots are gone. hold the ground together, and then there’s nothing to stop the next rain from washing it all down the hill.

“Eventually,” she laughs, “Scotland will be as flat as Holland, if you don’t stay on the trails.” More seriously: “It destroys the environment… some plants are not very rare but everything supports the life of insects and animals, it’s a holistic environment. You really kill everything.

Nan has been building tracks for 15 years, 13 of them with the NTS after taking an environmental conservation course at Lochaber College.

Nan Morris
Nan Morris
Nan Morris

“I was a housewife and mother before taking the course. I just went to the jobcentre and said I wanted something physical and outdoor.

“Most rail workers work for contractors, which is great, but it can be a feast or a famine. Personally, I like the continuity – knowing that I’m employed long-term by the National Trust for Scotland on their team.

Tools of the trade

“I love it. I won’t pretend that I always have a huge smile on my face when the weather is absolutely awful and crashing for hours on end. I love that I can get lost in a little construction work or turning off my brain and carrying buckets all day, if that’s how I feel.

Nan Morris and Ben Farrington

“In general, we don’t let ourselves down. With big contracts, they will often get a helicopter drop or a stone delivery. For us, it’s about finding the materials we need on the hill, which is a skill in itself. Some rocks we use weigh a quarter ton (250 kg). [With] a rock of this size we will have a few people on it with pinch bars, sometimes a small hand winch. You need to know how to landscape sensitively, taking turf around without causing erosion, taking a little in various places, and then the grass, as it grows, will hold everything where it is put.

Nan Morris (ponytail), Ben Farrington

“Some of the wildlife we ​​saw was amazing. Eagles, foxes, stone martens, hares. We had amphitheater views of two herds of deer in heat and two deer roaring at each other all day , just waiting for them to start fighting.We had a crow on Goatfell on Arran, and as soon as we stopped for lunch he would be there.

On Ben Lawers, to their dismay, they saw a sheep cartwheeling down the steep hill like grass. Bumping into a rock, he froze, stood up, and staggered groggyly.

Nan Morris (ponytail)

Take home message from Nan: “Think about the facts, when you are in the hills: there could be a thousand people following in your footsteps, is this sustainable? It’s not just you. The numbers have increased dramatically for years – since Covid they have exploded.

“Most people say thank you and listen to us – when we explain how to stick to the path – but you get the weird one who is a little indignant that there are paths in the hills. They don’t want to see a trail but I think they’re missing the point: they don’t realize that we’re trying to protect the mountain; we don’t do this to make life easier for walkers.

“If you need to use walking sticks, that’s fine, but put a rubber tip on them. If you don’t need them, don’t use them, they speed up erosion, you get tiny little holes all over the pavement and shoulders along the sides allowing water to get in. You’re basically expanding your own footprint by a good foot on either side by constantly using these sticks.

Team Leader Ben Farrington

Ben Farrington | Crew chief

The mission of the trail team is not to improve access but above all to protect the environment and prevent erosion.

Ben says, “It’s about keeping people in the path by making it a good path and blocking off places where they might get loose, because if you don’t do that erosion scars form and damage the fragile vegetation like the rare alpine plants of Ben Lawers.

“It’s ultimately for the benefit of the individual visitor – rather than facing the scars caused by cumulative crowds of walkers. If you get hundreds or thousands of visitors every year, that’s a big deal.

“You could see it lately: when everyone was released from confinement, so many people went to the hill, it was overloaded. There was such a volume that they avoided each other, a lot of damage was done in a short time.

“If you imagine that over the years, and if you don’t do any trail work, there would be a lot of scarring and then the water would seep in; before you know it, there are ravines. People don’t want to walk there, so they move and start again.

Ben started with the team in 2004. When asked what qualities are required, he said: “It suits people who are determined, fiercely independent, love the outdoors and don’t mind transplant.”

The team works all year round, with winter working lower to avoid snow.

Ben Farrington at work

Of the Coire Na Tulaich walk on Buachaille Etive Mòr, Ben says: “They created a line through the scree field and rocks, with a bit of bar handling and step setting, a bit coating and surfacing. It is a good example, as it hardly needed any maintenance.

“It’s a lot of donkey work, but sometimes you put your ideas together and do something very technical, and it’s like, ‘wow.’ You come back in several years and it’s still there.

Team member Kieran Fogarty, NTS Mountain Path team at work repairing a path to the summit Mullach an Rathain, on Liathach in Torridon

Kieran Fogarty | Team member

Here in Torridon we have a particularly old stone – the Torridonian sandstone – which I know is between 600 and 800 m years old, and which is underlain by a layer of Lewis gneiss which is 2.7 billion years old. years, so it’s one of the oldest stones still on display in the world, I believe, with only older stuff appearing in Greenland and Canada.

“It’s mind-blowing, especially with the Torridonian sandstone – obviously at some point it was another stone and it’s already been eroded to the point where it’s sand and re-settled in sedimentary beds and formed into rock. It gives you just gives an idea of ​​the geological eras crossed to create it.

Nan Morris and Kieran Fogarty

“I’m pious enough to find things. The most exciting thing I ever found was a 3,500 year old burial pot, with a cremation inside. I ended up, unfortunately, putting my pickaxe there. I found all the pieces and the Peak District National Park Department of Archeology analyzed them.

“Now it’s in the pottery museum in Stoke-on-Trent. They discovered that the person who had been cremated was a 35 to 45 year old woman and that she had been cremated with two pigs. They could tell intimate details of her life from the remaining pieces of bone – that she must have had a hard working life.

“The three common phrases we get asked all the time are: Are you panning for gold? Are you installing an escalator? Or are you paving it?”

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