Tuesday, 30 August 2011


A sleepless night. I'm not complaining. I drifted in and out of consciousness, dream and reality melding one into the other. And at 3.30am a barbershop quartet started to sing in the street outside.

Meet the gang, 'cos the boys are here,
The boys to entertain you-ou-ou...

I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled into the living room. I opened the window and leaned out.

"What the hell..." I began.

The quartet ground to a halt.

"I'm terribly sorry sir", said one of the singers, clearly the mover and shaker. "We're from Arnside Rotary Club. We have to get up early to catch the commuters."

At the this point our host, mother of F, popped her head out of another window and addressed me.

"Don't be too hard on them," she said. They do a lot of good work for the local community."

I aquiesced, and returned to bed.

Nothing much else happened. The grey sky I could see though the gaps in the blind gradually got lighter. Drizzle rattled on the window from time to time. As dawn approached the gaps between the pulses of rain began to close. I had planned to get up at 6.30, by which time they'd closed altogether. I fell asleep.

I woke up two hours later. Drat that barbershop quartet.

Or not. In fact, starting out later than we intended to meant that we caught the best part of the day. We stopped briefly at a coffee shop in Glenridding then set off on the stiff, uphill trudge that leads to the foot of Striding Edge (there are good photos at this link: I took no camera).

The trudge is worth it, as it means that nothing ever seems quite so steep for the rest of the day. We intended to climb Helvellyn via the classic circuit - ascend Striding Edge, walk along the summit ridge to the summit, descend Swirral Edge at the other end.  F and I had been up Helvellyn before and remembered Striding Edge as being a lot easier a scramble than its reputation suggested. It turned out to be not quite as easy as I remembered it: in the past, I decided, I must have taken the easier path around the most difficult part, the rock tower near the end known as The Chimney. It starts off easily enough. You have the pleasant feeling of rock underfoot as you walk along a ridge not unlike the ridge of a roof, with a view down both sides. An even easier path winds around the rocks for anyone who wishes to take it. However, as you approach the main body of the mountain The Chimney rises up (this is the part I must have circumvented in the past). This time we strayed onto it and were treated to several minutes of exhilarating, airy scrambling, ending in the descent of a short, steep gully which I'd guess would count as a Moderate-graded rock climb. All three of us -myself, friend F and son D- gathered finally on the col which separated the pinnacle from the long dirty climb to the summit ridge itself.

Any believer in the Genesis account of creation would be forgiven for mistaking this slope for God's building site. Piles of shattered rock are strewn all over the slope over a surface with the consistency of sludgy cement. Fortunately, although it's steep it's nothing like as long as the intitial trudge up from Glenridding, so we soon came out on the summit ridge. Surprisingly for a Bank Holiday, we had it to ourselves. The sun was out, the cloud was high and the wind only slight. We sat down, ate cake and admired the view. Then we made a few calls (including to F's mum, who had kindly offered to cook us a meal when we returned) and set off down Swirral Edge, feeling a twinge of envy for the handful of wild campers pitched below us on the banks of Red Tarn. As we did so, the first wisps of cloud appeared between ourselves and the summit. The further we went the damper the air became. A mile or so out from Glenridding it began to rain seriously. By the time we got back to the car park we were soaked.


Gwilym Williams said...

Pleased to see you are still enjoying walking in the mountains, Dominic. I haven't been over there since I was a child. I think Wainwright gives three alternative routes over the mountain on his Coast to Coast. I suppose it depends on the weather which you would choose.
I have put my latest Alpine walk on my Bard on the Run Blog - not as detailed as your account - but has a photo. On my main blog I go for a swim.
Mud on yer studs!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Wondered where you had got to - thanks for the photo - I didn't notice it until well into Sunday!

Furtheron said...

have never done Helvellyn - we were on hols in Windermere last week and did the Fairfield Horseshoe - that nearly killed me!

George said...

Sorry I'm late getting to this posting, Dominic, but I've been distracted since I first read it a few days ago. In any event, it sounds like you had a great walk, notwithstanding an inauspicious beginning of the day. I spent the night near Glenridding on my coast to coast walk, and, as I recall, Striding Edge was part of the walk — or maybe it was just near the path we took. Whatever the case, that is certainly beautiful walking country.