‘It suits the strong spirit’: Scottish mountain trail builders – photo essay | UK news

TThe National Trust for Scotland Mountain Trails Group is renovating a trail near the summit of Mullach an Rathein on the Liaths in Torridon. The main goal of the team is to prevent irreversible environmental damage to fragile habitats, not to increase access. NTS takes care of some of Scotland’s magnificent landscapes and over 400 miles of travel through Glen Coe, Kintail, West Africa, Mar Lodge, Grey Mare Tail, Torridon, Goatfell, Ben Lawers and Ben Lomond.

The Mountain Path team is committed to preserving and maintaining a network of over 400 miles (643 km) of trusted mountain trails for future generations where possible, hand built using local materials.

Without the Mountain Path Team and the Footpath Foundation, erosion would have caused irreversible damage to some of Scotland’s most magnificent landscapes.

The NTS Mountain Path team is at work repairing the path to Mullah and Ratan from Liathah in Torridon.

Nan Morris | Team member

“What people don’t understand is that one person stepping on vegetation will not change anything, but when hundreds of people step on the same piece over and over again, the plants die, the roots no longer hold the soil together, and then nothing won’t stop the next rain washing everything down the hill.”

“Eventually,” she chuckles, “Scotland will be as flat as Holland if you don’t walk the paths.” More seriously: “It destroys the environment… some plants are not very rare, but they all support the life of insects and animals, it is a holistic environment. You really kill everything.”

Nan has been involved in track building for 15 years, 13 of them with NTS after taking a course in environmental engineering at Lochaber College.

Nan Morris
Nan Morris
Nan Morris

“Before entering the courses, I was a housewife and a mother. I just went to the job center and said I wanted something physical and outdoors.

“Most road workers work for contractors, which is great, but it could be a feast or a famine. Personally, I like the continuity – knowing that I work on a long-term basis at the National Trust for Scotland in their team.

Trade tools

“I love it. I won’t pretend I always have a big smile on my face when the weather is downright awful and stands for hours. I love the fact that I can do some building work or switch off my brain and carry buckets all day, if that’s how I feel.

Nan Morris and Ben Farrington

“Usually we don’t throw stones. Having large contract jobs, they are often dropped from a helicopter or delivered with stones. For us, this is a case of finding the necessary materials on the hill, which is a skill in itself. Some of the stones we use are a quarter ton (250 kg) in weight. (C) On a rock of this size, we will have a couple of people with crossbars, sometimes a small hand winch. You need to be able to delicately plant trees, take turf from all sides without causing erosion, take a little from different places, then the grass, as it grows, will hold everything where it was placed.

Nan Morris (ponytail), Ben Farrington

“Some of the wild animals we saw are amazing. Eagles, foxes, pine martens, hares. We had amphitheater views of two herds of deer going to a race and two deer snarling at each other all day just waiting for them to start fighting. We had a raven at Goathfell on Arran and as soon as we stop for lunch it will be there.

At Ben Lowers, to their dismay, they saw a sheep roll down a steep hill like a tumbleweed. Stumbling on a rock, he stopped, stood up and staggered.

Nan Morris (ponytail)

Message from Nan: “Consider the facts when you are in the mountains: a thousand people can follow in your footsteps, is it sustainable? It’s not just you. The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years – after Covid they exploded.

“Most people say thank you and listen to us when we explain to stick to the trail, but you still meet a strange person who is a little resentful that there are trails in the hills. They don’t want to see the path, but I think they’re missing the point: they don’t understand that we’re trying to protect the mountain; we are not doing this to make life easier for pedestrians.

“If you have to use walking poles, fair enough, but put a rubber tip on them. If you don’t need them, don’t use them, they accelerate erosion, you get tiny holes in all surfaces and on the edges on the sides, which allows water to enter. leg on both sides, constantly using these poles.

Team Leader Ben Farrington

Ben Farrington | Team leader

The mission of the Path team is not to improve access, but primarily to protect the environment and prevent erosion.

Ben says: “It’s about keeping people on the path by making it good and blocking places where they can get off because if you don’t, erosion scars form and fragile plants like rare alpine plants are damaged. Ben Lawers.

“This is ultimately for the benefit of the individual visitor and not for the scars caused by the cumulative crowds of pedestrians. If you have hundreds or thousands of visitors every year, then that’s a big problem.

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

“If you imagine that years later, and if you didn’t do any work on the tracks, there would be a lot of scars and water would get inside; before you know it, there are ravines. People don’t want to wear them, so they move and start over.”

Ben started working with the team in 2004. When asked what qualities are required, he replied: “It suits the strong-willed, fiercely independent, who care about nature and do not mind bribery.”

The crew works all year round and works lower in winter 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 rocky field and boulders by faking the trellis a bit and putting in steps, some planking and covering. This is a good example as it has hardly had any maintenance work.

“It’s a chore for the most part, but sometimes you put your ideas together and do something very technical and it’s like wow. You come back a few years later and it’s still there.”

Team member Kieran Fogarty, NTS mountain trail team at work on repairing the path to the summit of Mullah an Ratan on the Liats in Torridon.

Kieran Fogarty | Team Member

Here in Torridon we have a particularly old rock, the Torridon sandstone, which is 600-800 million years old, to my knowledge, and is located on a layer of Louisian gneiss, which is 2.7 billion years old, so this is one of the oldest exposed rocks in the world. I believe that all over the world, only older things appear in Greenland and Canada.”

“It’s staggering, especially with the Torridonian sandstone – obviously it was once a different stone, and it has already been eroded to the point where it turned into sand, moved into sedimentary strata and formed into a rock. It just gives you an idea of ​​the geological epochs that have gone by to create it.

Nan Morris and Kieran Fogarty

“I am a real magpie in search of things. The most interesting thing I ever found was a 3500 year old burial pot with a cremation inside. In the end, unfortunately, I speared it with my pickaxe. I found all the pieces, and Peak District National Park Archaeology analyzed them.

“Now it is in the Stoke-on-Trent Ceramics Museum. They found that the cremated person was a 35-45 year old woman, and she was cremated along with two pigs. They could tell the intimate details of her life from the remaining bits of bones – that she must have had a hard working life.”

“Three standard phrases that we are constantly asked: “Do you dig for gold? Are you putting up an escalator? Or are you targeting it?

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