26 October 2012

The Lengthsmen's lunch

In one of our earlier posts, our footpath rangers gave us an insight into the mysterious subject of 'shed life'...this time they've turned their attention to a subject close to every ranger's heart - food!...with particular reference to those volunteer path minders we call 'lengthsmen'.

The traditional role of the lengthsman would be to “walk the length of the parish” to ensure ditches and drains were clear. The term was adopted to describe workers maintaining lengths of road, canal, railway and path. Below are some mid-19th Century lengthsmen employed on the Caledonian railway in Scotland for 'packing' (the ballast on the track is packed back under the sleepers) and maintaining the railway lines.

It must have been hard work as a 19th century lengthsmen
Lunchboxes started making their appearance during the 19th century. They were, either, baskets, with lunch wrapped in a handkerchief, or tin pails (not a 'bucket!'). A Lengthsmen’s lunchbox during this period may have been similar to this pail below, with a lunch consisting of a chunk of bread with a piece of cheese and/or meat.

Not the easiest thing to get up a mountain!
Today the Fix the Fells lengthsmen, who work closely with the footpath rangers, carry out regular drain runs across the fells, clearing drains of debris ensuring they shed water effectively. They play a crucial role in helping to maintain the footpath network making access to the fells easier and safer. Another part of their role is to help visitors understand the need for repairing and looking after upland paths, so look out for them on your fell walks.
new drain by Ian, Richard and Martin - maintaining both paths and tradition!
As you can see, for the lengthsmen working on the fells today, the lunchbox is likely to be packed with a selection of sandwiches, meat, pasta, savoury dips and fruit (although we can't promise they all look as healthy or indeed tidy as this one!).

Similar box but a richer variety of content than earlier generations
We're all familiar with the term 'Ploughman's Lunch' but this is due to The Milk Marketing Board promoting the ploughman's lunch back in the 1960s, nationally to boost sales of cheese. Perhaps it's time to launch a similar campaign to promote the ‘Lengthsmen’s Lunch’ ...maybe it could be used to boost sales of mutton and support hill farming; wonder if our colleagues at Sticklebarn in the Langdales would like to kick it off?!

post by upland ranger Luke
lengthsmen photo : from Fix the Fells


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