It’s no secret that I love winter. However, as much as I adore its manipulation and simplification of the landscape, this isn’t just down to snow. Which is a good job given the current winter we’re (not) experiencing.
Winter also brings lovely low light, generally more exciting hill weather, and now and again interesting atmospheric conditions. Everything is just that little bit more on edge.
Which takes us on to Blencathra one day last week. There’d been mention in the MWIS forecast about potential inversion conditions, but their counterparts at the Met Office were only offering fog and cloud for the summits – but with a little dangled carrot of clearing conditions shortly after daylight. That was all the invitation I needed to take a punt. Surely if it was due to clear it might do so sooner rather than later.
So, at around 1pm I hauled my bag out of the boot at the car park below Blease Fell, donned boots, strapped on the tripod, and headed up into thick cloud.
I’ve long since learned not to expect too much and not be too disheartened if things don’t turn out. That’s mountain weather. You get the most dramatic experiences and thrilling light from marginal circumstances. If you want the best, you’ve got to be prepared to accept the worst.
As I trudged up Blease Fell (it really really isn’t the most exciting way up Blencathra, but the added height advantage at the start often sways me) the cloud soon got thicker, the light gloomier. Despite feeling like the onset of darkness, this wasn’t necessarily a bad sign. The lower down this thick layer was, the better chance of me bursting through it later on.
Topping out on Knowe Crags with the knowledge there wasn’t much height left to gain had me playing the usual inversion seeker’s game. Surely *that* bit of sky up there is a bit brighter… maybe tinged with blue… maybe if I peer and squint hard enough I’ll bore through it with the power of my vision…. maybe not.
On along the ridge I continued to the highest point so far at the top of Gategill Fell. Looking up again there was definitely a hint of blue! I wasn’t going mountain mad. But then it was gone as suddenly as it had appeared.
Some cause for optimism, but with not much height left to gain before the top of Hall’s Fell, and no more height to gain after that, it would have to clear some more.
Shortly before that highest point I passed the first other people I’d seen all afternoon, a couple just leaving the summit, which I assumed to be an unpromising sign. If it was clear, they’d still be there rather than trudging back down looking glum as they now were.
Busy messing around adding layers in the cold damp cloud, I didn’t bother asking them if they’d had a view. I’d find out soon enough whatever.
They should have waited longer. Within ten minutes of arriving on the summit, I had more to play with than I could possibly manage to photograph.
As the sky opened up, I was anointed with a Brocken spectre and fog bow. The prow of the ridge just walked poked into view for the first time. Streams of cloud spun up the gullies on the face of Blencathra, spilling over the ridge like a gravity defying waterfall. Through pure luck, I’d timed this to perfection.
I’d got so involved in shooting in solitude I was surprised by a collie that suddenly came sniffing around my tripod legs, soon followed by the fell runner it accompanied. After a brief chat and quick portrait photographer duties with his iPhone, he was off again.
All that existed of the Lake District was me and Blencathra, the Helvellyn range, and Great Gable and the Scafells.
I then had the mountain to myself again until just before sunset, when Stuart and a couple of friends emerged from the top of Hall’s Fell Ridge. He sent them off to run to the end of the ridge to pose as sunset models, before they returned to all set off back down Doddick Fell.
I always keep a head torch handy, so with the sun down I set off back on my return route with little urgency. It was a beautiful evening to alone above the cloud as the light dwindled.
Atop the natural stopping point on Gategill, I paused for a couple of longer exposures. In the gloaming, the flowing blue hour cloud made a lovely cotton wool bed for the lingering colour in the sky. It was too good to ignore, despite increasing numbness in my fingers.
To buy prints of any of these images, please visit the Blencathra gallery. If there’s something you’ve seen that you like but isn’t there, please ask!