The Life of an Upland Ranger

As I sit in my billowing emergency shelter, I listen to the staccato of rain against the nylon fabric and sip on tea. It’s another lunch break at work as an upland ranger. A few months into the project on Longstile and we have become very familiar with the small section of exposed ridge on which we work.

Building and repairing paths in the uplands for Fix the Fells is a hugely satisfying role. At the end of a day’s digging and hauling stones into place, I can take a step back and admire the fruits of my labour. Whether that’s another increment of path built, landscaping to keep people on the path, or deflecting water to reduce erosion – there is always a tangible result.  On a good day I build about a meter of stone pitched path, but this depends on how long the walk is to the work site, how easy the digging is, how much bedrock lies in hiding, how quickly the rain is filling up the hole you’re digging and a plethora of other factors. There are constantly challenges to keep you on your toes and thinking. 

As well as the satisfying nature of the work, the constant stream of positive feedback and appreciation from the public adds another layer of fulfillment. Just about everyone who passes us on the fell expresses their gratitude in some way. “You’re doing a great job!” they proclaim, with the authority of an expert path builder. “Thanks!” I reply, as I place another shallow and unstable stone with a running join, destined to fall out within a year. On a more serious note seeing a path being built is a unique opportunity to see just how big the stones are and how deep they need to go, to ensure structural integrity and longevity - what you see on stone pitching is just the tip of the iceberg.

The chats with members of the public are one of my favourite parts of the job. As well as an opportunity to explain why the work we’re doing is important, it is a chance to connect with individuals over what the landscape means to us. To hear what it is about the fells that are special to them, where they camped last night, or simply the route they’re walking and what they’ve observed. It’s a constant reminder of why we strive to keep the upland paths of the Lake District in good condition.
It’s amazing how many times we hear the same jokes – “Are you on day release?” being the most common. “Something like that,” whilst grimacing and holding intense eye contact usually ends that conversation. Acting like it’s the first time we’ve heard it is just part of the job. “Burying a body?” or “found any gold yet?” are also personal favourites.   

The public aren’t the only people that make the job special. The amazing team I’m part of is essential to enjoying the job. Walking up into a soul-sapping rain cloud for the umpteenth time is fine if you’re with mates and can look forward to communal suffering, cake, and crack.

Of course the views are exceptional. We often remind ourselves how lucky we are to be paid to walk in these magical fells. To experience them in all weathers is humbling, at times it feels wild and unforgiving. But then the wind relents, the clouds part briefly. Shards of sun alight the valley and the curtains of rain as they swathe the fells, a show that makes the spine tingle.