Standing Crag (600 m), Ullscarf ( 726m), Greenup Edge (608 m), Wythburn
Arctic weather was imminent, so the broad Ullscarf ridge west of Thirlmere was our choice. Sub-zero temperatures and storm-force winds were forecast so we had a gear-check before we left home. Layers, lots of layers.
After mid-day, the sky grew ominously dark as snow clouds massed in the north west. ‘Prepare yourself,’ said David. With fortitude, I think he meant. The onslaught of the storm was swift, the blizzard enveloped us- all landscape lost. In a white-out, I staggered through snow-covered heather on a sheep-trod as winds lashed and grauples pelted us, stinging a patch of cheek that balaclava, hat and hood left exposed and battering limbs through layers of gear. Snow crystals fused with more and more frozen water droplets, turned malevolent in the turbulence of the storm high above us and compacted into pellets: volleys of grauples. The munitions of the snowstorm were hurled at us with a ferocity that hurt. Sensing David always by my side, I watched for the fence which should guide us along the high-line of our ridge, through a zone of featureless ground to a cairn at Ullscarf. We reached an angle in the fence which should have confirmed our position, but something was wrong. As the blizzard howled about us, we puzzled over our maps, double checked our compasses. The fence was shown veering south south east to Ullscarf: OS and Harveys map agreed. On the ground, a stout fence ran north west - the only fence. Map and ground did not match. Not a discrepancy to discover in a ferocious storm. We could make out a fragment of post that might be the ghost of a long-dead fence heading for the cairn. So, the Ullscarf foray (plan B was to return to the fence- angle and think again). We were looking for a tarn so insignificant it was shown as marsh on my map, gently rising ground, and remnants of fence posts. David’s confiding in me as he thought it through was reassuring. His forte is micro-navigation, and he thrives on challenge. I could see nothing until we were right upon it but he found a hint of frozen tarn, imperceptible in the blizzard. A white-out concentrates the mind and I noted slightly rising, rocky ground as we approached the cairn on Ullscarf, the highest point of our walk. Thank heaven fasting for a navigator who keeps a cool head in a snow storm.]
We came off the broad shoulder of Ullscarf and as swiftly as it had struck the bombardment stopped, the enveloping whiteness was no longer hostile, it was over. Our snow blindfolds were whisked away and whiteness dispersed to reveal bruised clouds, shreds of bright blue, and pearly light. The storm headed south, and to the north west Glaramara and the Borrowdale Fells appeared, illuminated and under fresh snow, our lost landscape restored. There came a sprinkling of tarns and rocky knolls on the approach to Greenup Edge and we stopped to drink, to name peaks and to take photographs but the cold numbed my fingers and I was soon back in triple pairs of gloves: red thermals, black mittens and red waterproofs. Flour Gill wound in a frozen, grey-green course through ice and soft rushes. We kept high on our contouring slope following sheep trods through bracken, rocks and boulders filmed over with ice. Wythburn after a snowstorm: at our feet was fresh powder snow with a dusting of ice pellets that formed a mosaic when they froze on rock, petrified grauples. We walked through a swathe of shadow and icy pallor and here, somewhere here, began a wondrous transformation. Far off sunlight touched the summit of Helvellyn and began to flow into Wythburn until rushes glowed, bracken gleamed red-gold and the landscape was suffused with warm colour. Time for sun glasses. Snow, sun and shadow highlighted shapely deposits of fine debris, moraines that marked the course of the glacier. Fraught with rocks and boulders, the glacier had gouged and ground its way down into ice-melt and oblivion. With moraines above us and beside us in their snow and ice element, we seemed to be walking through aeons of geological time. Our solitude intensified the feeling. The extensive marshy area, ominously named The Bog, was the bed of a glacial lake. Beyond Wythburn Head Tarns came ice-falls along the constricted course of the beck. Warm colour in a stunning winter landscape. Hoods off, balaclavas off, waterproof gloves off- we emerged from cocoons of clothing. With the dale in a golden glow, it seemed as if nothing had changed for hundreds of years, we both felt it. A sense of pastoral with sheepfolds along the gill, dry stone walls etched in the snowscape, traces of sheep.
Hot chocolate, clementines and my fortifying fruit cake all well earned. Streaks of a red sunset over Dunmail Raise as we drove home.
The stout fence was too new to feature on our maps - a reminder that features like walls, woods and fences can come and go.