Volunteers repair coast-to-coast path in Swaledale

One of the two new flights of steps at Swinner Gill near Keld on the Coast to Coast path.

A 220-metre-long flagged path has been laid across a badly eroded section of the coast-to-coast trail in Swaledale.

The scheme is one of the biggest rights of way improvement projects ever undertaken by Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority volunteers.

The popularity of the trail – walked by 7000 people a year – had led to an area east of Keld in Swaledale, known as Swinner Gill, becoming braided and boggy.

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The steepness of the gill and its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest meant that access to the path was difficult and any work needed to be time-limited.

“Contractors were an option, but an expensive one,” said Area Ranger Michael Briggs.  “Step forward our Dales Volunteers, including a group known as the Ragged Robins.  We couldn’t have done it without them.”

After a day and a half of airlifting flags by helicopter, rangers and volunteers laid 432 flags, built three large stone flag bridges, created two flights of steps with 19 steps in each, and constructed 12 cross channels.

“Work started on the August 9 and finished on the September 7. During this time 16 volunteers worked a total of 68 person days.

Head of park management Alan Hulme said:  “The challenge of tackling such a large scale project within a set time-frame has changed the view in many quarters both internally and externally as to what can be achieved through the willingness of volunteers if given the opportunity.

“The trail provides one of the greatest walking experiences in the world to a significant number of overseas visitors to this country as well as UK residents.

“By improving this route, this project has had a positive impact on people’s ability to enjoy the special qualities of the national park.”

Flagged paths can be seen on several high routes in the Pennines.

Although labour intensive to lay, they create a hard wearing, long lasting and easy-to-use surface. The flags mean that areas of erosion can recover and vegetation grow back, reducing further damage to peatland habitat.

Michael Briggs said every flag told a story.

“We try to source reclaimed flagstones and on this occasion they were supplied by Metcalfe Reclamation Ltd from Heywood in Greater Manchester.

“We use sandstone flags as they won’t polish over time and become slippery – like limestone would.

“We’re told that many of the flags came from demolished railway stations and siding. Others came from the floors of old mills across South Yorkshire or Lancashire. They still have the marks or holes where machines were fastened down.”

He added:  “I’d also like to give a special thanks to access ranger Ian Broadwith, who expertly led the team during this work.  It was Ian’s last big project with the volunteers, as he is due to retire in November.”

The purchase of the flagstones and the airlifting to site was fully funded from the YDNPA’s Public Rights of Way budget.