Following last week’s climb over Coniston in deep, fresh snow, today we walk away from the car in the drizzle with a gentle breeze blowing. A blanket of cloud hugs the peaks, swirling in the wind, carrying drizzle and heavier squalls across the fells.
On Stone Arthur, much of the snow has now gone, the legacy from the last few days of driving rain and higher temperatures. Only the highest fells keep their snowy caps, and even the mighty giants like Helvellyn and Scafell are losing their white mantle. Meltwater runs off the crags and fills the already overflowing waterfalls and becks. On Helvellyn, cornices are dropping, crashing into the valleys.
The rain is most unwelcome; Cumbria has had enough of it, and as we ascend the path higher onto the fell, the storm damage over the last month is only too evident. Great gouges scar the hillside; rocks perch precariously on the edges, and soil, ripped out of the hillside, lies in heaps, left behind by the deluge.
Our path crosses a few of these ravaged becks, ripped down to the bedrock by the unprecedented volumes of water that flooded houses and villages.
Around the corner, a stark, black crag dominates the skyline. It appears through the parting grey mist and drizzle, almost like someone has adjusted the contrast levels in a photograph, and then, just as suddenly it is gone, and we are left once again cocooned in the cloud.
I cannot understand why Wainwright included this hill in his guidebooks. The summit of Stone Arthur (Arthur’s Seat), is a few lumps of rock that mark the start of the ridge over Great Rigg and onto Fairfield; but Wainwright has called it, and so here we are making the most of a bad day. Granted, it is still a good little hill to do during inclement weather.
According to the guidebooks, the views from here of the Vale of Grasmere and the hills beyond: Steel Fell, Helm Crag (with the Lion and the Lamb) and The Langdale Pikes are stunning, but not today.
From the small gap between Stone Arthur and the ridge, lies the route over Brackenwife Knotts that offers an alternative descent into Tongue Gill with the bulk of Seat Sandal rising above.
We find somewhere to shelter for our lunch, away from the billowing wind. Before us, two small snowfields cover the path, a remnant of the snow that covered this area last week.
A small wall ahead, desaturated through the mist, barely visible against the crags, arouses my curiosity. I am certain it is a wall and not a pile of rocks built with human hands rather than by nature.
Unusual lunch stop
As we approach, we discover it is a square construction, with just enough room for three people, maybe four, albeit with a squeeze. I am curious about why it was built. There is no entrance. We have to climb the wall to get in, but it does give us protection from the wind and that is what we need.
Minutes later the stove is burning and the kettle is whistling. Hot chocolate anyone? What a great spot for lunch, a house in the mist. The unseen summit of Stone Arthur is about 100metres way. We pile more rocks on the wall, making a higher defence against the wind.
Some walkers pass by us, on the way up to Fairfield, they said. We did that, last February, in blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. That journey is not for us today, just this one, our 108th Wainwright ticked off, a quick ascent for a rainy day.
Going south, we walk over the summit of Stone Arthur, sometimes known as Arthur’s Chair. The term chair refers to the outcrop of rock, but there are no kings here–in case you are daydreaming about those knights of old–but then why should there be?
I am always curious about the origins of these place-names. Apparently, this mountain has nothing to do with King Arthur, surprise. He never sat here, on the rock by the edge of the ridge, as far as I know, although he would have enjoyed the view.
Mark Richard’s wrote, in his Near Eastern Fells guidebook, that the name ‘Arthur’, in the old British language, means something like ‘leader’. Much of the time I think too deeply about these things. If it didn’t have a name, then that would be more confusing.
With no cares at all about whether Arthur sat here or not, Hannah and her friend Caitlin have disappeared over the edge, and left me to my ramblings. A group of walkers pass us, leaning into the final section of the steep climb. In the distance, voices drift on the wind, and soon a group of collie dogs and children catch us up.
Blink and it has gone
Dropping below the cloud level, we receive a glimpse of what the view would be like with the sunshine and favourable weather. For a second, the rain stops and the hills appear. Blink and you’ve missed them. I didn’t blink, but nearly missed them, as another squall swept down the valley.
The drizzle stops, and again we cross the becks that resemble landslips. Near Thirlmere, only a few miles away from us, the road is gone, washed away by the floods. I can see how it can happen. If the rain has done so much damage to this hillside, then I can only imagine the impact that this amount of water had when it hit the road barring its way into Thirlmere. There’s no contest. Only one winner: nature.
We are soon back at the car, after a short day, only three hours, a quick ascent and descent. We get changed, then head down the A591 towards Ambleside and home. Hopefully, the weather will be better next week.