It is very noisy. I didn’t immediately notice the incessant background chatter. Poets, authors and artists go on about the peace and quiet of the Lake District fells. Thousands of words are crafted annually about the ethereal beauty, the peace, the quiet, the solitude of the mountains – but it isn’t so today. We walk towards the indistinct summit of Hartsop Dodd – a cairn on a bump in the ridge – and the noise, which is so part of the hills, was reminiscent of background music in restaurants: heard but not appreciated. We climb higher, the sounds become more vociferous. I am ignoring something as timeless as the hills. I am listening to sweet music, like an orchestra, and inevitably it finds its way through to the forefront of my consciousness.
Skylarks on Hartsop Dodd
It is not often that I am serenaded as I walk the fells. Hidden in the cloud, skylarks sing out their sweet songs. Sometimes they sound alarmed as we stray to close to their nests, hidden under tufts of grass. I remember that we are now in the nesting season. They sound beautiful and peaceful as they flit across the sky. We stop to listen and gaze.
We reach the cloud. It is quite surreal to stand on the slopes of a mountain while cloud moves around us like wispy strands of cotton wool. The lighting is flat, grey and lifeless. Sporadically, the sun breaks through. Patches of sunlight drift across the woodland on the slopes of Bell Knott across the Patterdale Valley. A cross-shaped patch of light glides across the treetops. I try to capture it, but by the time I lift my camera the sunlight has been obscured by clouds.
The clouds part and we can see High Street beyond Gray Crag. Its slopes are now grass-covered; a complete contrast to the snow, ice and gale force winds that we experienced on Wednesday. It is surprising how quickly the fells can change from their winter coats into their spring attire.
AW writes that the best route along the ridge is by the left of the wall – so you can gaze into Pasture Beck. I would have agreed with him, if we could see anything. Hannah is finding the going easier after climbing a 45 degree slope for 90 minutes. The cloud lifts and I can see why: we are descending. The summit of Hartsop Dodd, in the mist, seems like another mountain. I notice that we are in a depression. Funny how the mist can play tricks and make objects in the rear view mirror seem bigger than they really are, but there are no mirrors on my rucksack and the mountain isn’t chasing us!
A map and a monument
This is a good opportunity to let Hannah do some map reading. I point out our location on the map and ask her to lead us to Mark Atkinson’s monument. What a surprise. I look up. There is no cloud. In the few minutes that we were talking it disappeared! Fantastic views are before us. The sun is blazing down from a clear blue sky. The clarity is unbelievable.
“Never mind,” I tell Hannah. “Just imagine it is foggy.” She heads across the fell. I follow. After a while she becomes uncertain. “Take another bearing, you know where you are.” I tell her. Fortunately the monument lies beyond the summit, down the slope, where she can’t see it. The exercise wouldn’t be the same if there was a large cross sticking into the air. She moves on.
It continually frustrates me as to why Ordinance Survey decided years ago to blend the grid lines into the details of the map. At one time they used to be strong blue lines, and easy to navigate from, now they are barely discernible. The compass is pushed erratically across the map as I tried to locate the grid line. I wouldn’t relish trying to do this in wind and rain.
A big smile crosses her face as she reaches the monument.
“Well done,” I say. “Spot on.”
“Can we do it again, I’m enjoying this.”
Easter cross for the fells
We stop a few moments at the monument. It is quite poignant, especially as it is Easter, and we remember why we are doing these walks, amidst the awesome beauty of God’s creation. The cross commands such a prominent position high above the fells. We thank God for the opportunities we have to enjoy it. We think about all those children suffering persecution and horrible servitude around the world. Especially those trapped into the sex trade in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and around the Middle East. We whisper a prayer for them, and think about the cross and what Jesus has done for us all; how his sacrifice has set us free from slavery. We pray that God will bless our efforts in walking these Wainwrights, and children will be kept safe from trafficking. “
“Now then,” I tell Hannah. “We can either go down the valley, or climb up the other side to Thornthwaite Beacon, turn left, and go over to Gray Crag which will be our third Wainwright today.”
“What! I’m not going up there, look at it?”
“Okay, let’s just go and have a look at it. We can go down the valley, if you want to.”
Her face is a picture as she looks down into Threshthwaite Mouth, across the gap, and up the 650 foot climb to the Beacon.
“We did Thornthwaite Beacon on Wednesday, we don’t need to go there again,” she bluntly explains.
I point out the traverse I have planned. A short climb to the base of the scree shoot, then contour left along the slope and onto the ridge. Pathless, and in the spirit of hillwalking. She really enjoyed the scramble into the Mouth. I was happy all the snow and ice had gone, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as easy.
Sat on the summit
We sit on the summit of Gray Crag for ages. I don’t want to leave. The visibility is amazing. It is hard to imagine, that only two days before, we were being blasted by snow and wind. Now we are lying by the cairn in glorious warm sunshine.
“This is the best day I’ve had. It’s fantastic. I just want to keep walking for ever.”
Today she is enjoying the fells to the full. I can’t keep up with her as we descend back to Hartsop. I am taking picture of her walking along a ridge, half a mile ahead!
Eventually, I catch her up and we stride down the slope, onto the track, and back to the car.
“Can we go up again!” she says. “I think I might start fell running, then you and Mark will have to catch me up.”
I am encouraged, the fells beckon over summer, it should be fantastic. 214 in a year? I think we’ll do it, especially with God’s help and Hannah’s new legs.