Grey Friar's stunning views of creationFront row seats for a grandstand view of Scafell, Scafell Pike and Eskdale
Grey Friar, Lake District. — We walked away from this mountain the other week. Today we return, retracing our steps. From the Three Shires Stone we begin our second attempt to reach the summit of Grey Friar.
Last week, the weather forced us back – making it inadvisable to tag our fourth Wainwright – but today we walk under a clear blue sky, freckled with fluffy white cumulus and the summit is bathed in sunlight.
The sun rises over Wetherlam and paints the summits of Cold Pike and Crinkle Crags with a warm orange hue. We must wait a while to feel that warmth: we climb in shadow. Thin ice covers the path, opaque in dawn’s blue light, crackling underneath our boots.
The way is familiar and we make short work of reaching Wet Side Edge. As we crest the ridge, the sun dazzles us, a contrast to a few weeks ago when the only thing we faced was the buffeting wind and swirling snow. Turning right, we head for Hell Gill Pike.
Approaching Hell Gill Pike and Great Carrs from Wet Side Edge
Grey Friar exposed
Grey Friar, rises on our right. It’s summit peeps over the rocky outcrops of Hell Gill Pike. Last time, this renegade Wainwright – the one that got away – hid under thick cloud and snow. Today, there are no clouds, no snow, it’s summit now exposed and attractive in the morning sunshine.
The path veers to the right; we head left, and in minutes we stand on Hell Gill Pike. I don’t want to miss a moment of the grandeur of this beautiful day. We have set out to claim one peak, but we will revisit the summits and gaze upon the views that we missed.
We walk the mountains of the Lake District, not to tick them off, but to appreciate them, to savour the views, to delight in what nature offers.
Swirl How and Wetherlam
From the summit of Great Carrs, the mountains display their beauty. Swirl How, shadowy against the sunlight, rises above Prison Band. To our left Wetherlam dominates the skyline. The snow has gone, the place where we breakfasted in sub-zero temperatures last November displays a new crop of green grass, heralding spring and the warmer months.
Jumping down from the cairn, we stride out for Swirl How, enthusiastic about the prospect of a great day in the hills. To our right, Grey Friar waits. We head east, giving it the cold shoulder. Sitting by the cairn on Swirl How, we eat our first snack and gaze across to Wetherlam. The wind is cold, biting, and northerly, but the visibility is clear.
Behind us, over Grey Friar’s shoulder, across the sea, sits the flat outline of the Isle of Man, shimmering in the morning haze. It doesn’t seem to far away – a stone’s throw.
To Brim Fell, or not?
Over brunch, I suggest continuing to Brim Fell. The cairn breaks into the horizon. Behind it rises the bulk of Coniston Old Man. Dow Crag’s southern slope rises gradually out of the Seathwaite Valley, then stops, ripped away, exposing the jagged, torn crags beloved by generations of climbers.
Should we continue to Brim Fell’s plateaued summit? We set out in that direction. What a joy to be strolling over the fells on such a beautiful day. Grey Friar continues to draw us, but it can wait, there is more walking to do. To the north, a group of clouds appear, but no worries, they have not yet reached Skiddaw, and soon dissipate into the northern azure sky.
We turn south, Brim Fell will be there another day. Walking for an extra two hours will turn our leisurely day into too much of a rush and I want to stroll. It is so long since we have been on the hills on such a day as this. We meander down the path that leads to Grey Friars; this time, we will climb it. Like a dog that waits for its dinner, wagging its tail, panting, Grey Friar watches us with interest as we approach.
Walkers on the summit of Grey Friar with Scafell and Scafell Pike in the distance
Lost path and dark crags
On the Fairfield plateau, we pick out the route we had followed a few weeks ago through thick cloud. The reality amazes us; there is no path. The obvious route runs across the top of the crags, but we had followed a lower sheep trod that ran between the rocks. We laugh, because the place where we had taken a compass bearing before climbing the hill was only a few metres below our feet.
As we climb Grey Friar, the waters of Seathwaite Tarn, wild and secluded, appear dark as they reflect the blue sky. The summit cairn appears: a pile of rocks on top of an outcrop. The Duddon valley spreads out before us; its waters twinkle in the sunlight. Hardknott Pass climbs over Hardknott and disappears towards the coast.
Grey Friar is an enjoyable mountain to climb, but what sets it apart are its front row seats that offer astounding views of mighty Scafell and Scafell Pike. From this grandstand position the Eskdale Valley sweeps through wild and mostly pathless habitat to the feet of these mountains. This place will be a grand overnight camp; in the morning the sunrise will colour the crags, and I make a mental note to return.
We sit in the warmth of the sun and gaze over a landscape to-die-for. Without a care in the world, we soak up everything the mountains can give us. Yet, two weeks ago we were fighting through Arctic conditions, in a hostile and life-threatening environment.
For the next half hour, I lie prostrate, taking pictures of Scafell. Cloud shadows race across its dark, rugged crags. The sun spotlights each of its summits. Its light drifts across this panorama and peters out somewhere in Eskdale. Hannah sits behind the cairn, protected from the wind, and enjoys the warmth of the sun while finishing her lunch.
Creation, groans and suffers
I suppose we could have just nipped up Grey Friar and ticked off our 117th Wainwright, but that isn’t why we walk. It is not about ticking off mountains like train spotting. We walk the hills to appreciate their beauty, the pleasure they give, the personal experience of being around nature. All around us, mobile phones and instant everything clammer for our time, but here time keeps its pace, impervious to the demands of everyday living.
But we must return to civilisation. To a creation that the Bible says, ‘groans and suffers’ (Rom. 8:22). We sit in the sunshine, marvelling at God’s creation. We know others are not so blessed, they may never see these mountains.
Tearfund and trafficking
Our goal, while walking these hills, is to help Tearfund prevent thousands of children from being trafficked. Many are already held in slavery in violation of their human rights and, on the summit, as we sit in the sunshine, we pray for their release.
We descend the path towards Hell Gill Pike. Grey Friar will exist long after we are gone. Another generation will walk the same paths, paths that people have walked for generations. In rain, hail, snow, or brilliant sunshine, it will still be there. Society will continue on its accelerating journey to somewhere. Will trafficking be abolished and creation cease to groan? The answer is yes; but will we witness these things in our lifetime?