It is good that some Wainwrights are solitary, have no connecting ridges, and are easy to tick off. Such hills are welcome, especially on days of inclement weather when it would be dangerous to attempt the higher summits. Today is one such day, and Loughrigg – near Ambleside – is one such fell; suitable for a quick ascent and descent.
We left Pelter Bridge underneath lumpy clouds that raced across the blue sky. The sun shone; I looked at the fells and was puzzled, I hadn’t expected this. Maybe it is going to clear up and be a great day.
My optimism is blown away as the wind smacked into our faces. The path of slate, just before the caves, is a raging torrent and had washed away the fence. After wading through it, we turned left and climbed up the valley onto Loughrigg Fell, past gin-smelling juniper berries and rowan trees.
I watched the fantastic landscape and stopped to take pictures. Strong winds blew heavy clouds across the sky. Awesome mountain light moved across the hills like spotlights. Brilliantly yellow peaks contrasted against others sulking in the shadows of dark, rugged hillsides. Helm Crag – famous for ‘The Lion and the Lamb’, a rock formation that, seen from the right angle, resembles a lamb lying underneath a lion – was lit up by a blast of sunshine that turned it golden against the dark rise of Ullscarf.
Spotlights continued to traverse the hills, plunging Helm Crag into shadow and capping the summit of Heron Pike against a thunderously dark sky. Mark and Hannah had gone on ahead. It was probably best to move on now, though I was reluctant to leave this amazing scene, waiting in anticipation for light to hit the right spots.
I caught up with them just before the main path that came out from Rothay Park, Ambleside. The valley had sheltered us from much of the wind. Hannah was eating a sandwich, when her eyes opened wide. I turned to see what had startled her. In the distance, racing towards us, was a malevolent curtain of mist. Seconds later we were hit by a shower of hailstones the size of peas.
Stumbling across the Mire
We stumbled across the fell and started to climb through Black Mire – very aptly named – towards the summit that we could just see through the hail. A fell runner ran past, shorts and t-shirt, legs red from the wind and hail – keep going I thought. I knew if she kept running then it would be okay, but there would be no summit stop for her, it would be over and down as quickly as possible.
Another band of hail raced towards us, closing across the Langdale Valley like a curtain. We ran towards a wall of rock about 50 yards away and sheltered while it passed.
Climbing out of Black Mire, we turned into the wind and headed towards the summit. There were a few people sitting on the lee-side. They smiled as we passed them, knowingly indicating- through experience – that the summit was not the place to linger today.
The ferocity of the wind stopped us in our tracks as we crested the top and blew us back down the hill. Hannah nearly fell over, but I managed to catch her. She made a dash for the trig point and wrapped her arms around it, resembling a sailor clutching the mast of a sinking ship in stormy seas.
Clinging to the trig point
It was time for a picture – Wainwright number four. I tried to display the Tearfund t-shirt; it was like unfurling a flag in gale force winds, which it was! It flapped wildly above my head. I gripped it. Hannah clung to the trig point and wouldn’t let go. I was blown backwards and nearly crashed down over the rocks. Mark spent most of the time jumping into the air, and going backwards. The wind was so strong that you could lean forward 30 degrees and still not fall.
Another veil of hailstones, thicker this time, headed towards us. It was time to get down off this wild mountain. The fun was over; our ears were ringing from the howling wind. We descended north-westerly towards Loughrigg Terrace, down the steps, the full force of the wind in our faces, constantly shielding our eyes from hailstones.
‘Wind like an express train’
I read about the weather later that day. Weatherline reported, “Storm force winds were the feature of the day. The assessor ascended Helvellyn, via Swirral Edge, and turned back about 20m from the top as there were no more rocks to hold onto. The noise of the wind was like an express train.”
The forecast had predicted that gusts of 85mph would affect summits and ridges, especially early Saturday and in showers. They weren’t wrong! It had been a wild and exciting day.