Walkers on the Pennine Way through the Northumberland Cheviot Hills will be able to keep their feet dry this summer thanks to a major work programme to be undertaken by National Park rangers in March.
At several locations, sections amounting to over a kilometre of the national trail, some of which currently have boardwalk, are being paved with recycled sandstone flags.
Thanks to financial support of £160,000 from Natural England, Northumberland National Park Authority has been able to buy old mill flags that ‘float’ on the vegetation providing a firm walking surface and preventing further erosion of the peat. The vital funds will also enable the hundreds of tonnes of stone to be airlifted onto the Border Ridge, where there is no vehicle access, and to hire local contractors to assist with putting the flags in place.
Work on sections of the trail at Auchope Cairn (1000 metres) and at Wedder Hill (60 metres) are under way now, followed by further work on the section of the route at Padon Hill in Redesdale. It is a challenge for the National Park Ranger team working at this height and getting people and equipment to such a remote area. The weather conditions at this time of year are unpredictable as the last few days have shown, there is snow lying and the ground is frozen.
The upgrades to the Pennine Way are part of a continuous improvement programme by the National Park Authority when funds allow. In places the boardwalk has become slippery and flags have sunk in particularly wet areas, making repairs urgent. National Park Authority Rights of Way Officer, Lorna Lazzari, explained: “We’re delighted at last to have the funds to make these vital upgrades to the national trail. When footpaths become waterlogged, people will naturally divert off the path onto the fragile vegetation, which results in large patches of erosion along well-used routes and much greater damage to both the peat soils and the footpath.
“This part of the Pennine Way has long, challenging stretches between shelter and accommodation, but during the dry summers the going is relatively easy. With so much rainfall recently, it has been both uncomfortable and distracting for walkers forging through a stretch to enjoy some of the finest views in the Borders.”
National Parks across the UK have a wealth of shared experience and tested techniques at maintaining and improving footpaths to provide the best walking conditions while protecting the natural environment. When funding permits, it is acknowledged best practice for heritage and wildlife conservation to provide a sustainable walking surface that can cope with traffic and weather conditions rather than to drain naturally wet areas or divert footpaths.
Most of our national trails pass through internationally significant nature conservation areas as well as the outstanding landscapes of National Parks and AONBs. The Cheviot Hills with their upland peat bogs are an important water catchment area and feed the most pristine rivers in the country.
Northumberland National Park contains some of the best bogs in Europe and are our most natural habitat, being largely untouched by human activities as they have slowly built up in cool wet conditions over 10,000 years. The high hills of the Cheviots a have been covered by a layer of peat known as blanket bog which is an important carbon store. Plants that grow there include cloudberry and crowberry as well as sphagnum mosses, sundew, bog rosemary and cotton grass in a patchwork with heather and bilberry. This forms a habitat for invertebrates such as the Emperor Moth and Mountain Bumblebee and for nesting wading birds such as the National Park’s signature curlew.
Category: Northumberland National Park