Days Like This, No 16: Blue Skies, White Hills, Red Screes

red screes 1

THE magic of snow. It deadens sound and enhances light. Blue sky bleeds into shaded clefts and wall-backs. There is no wind – but air cuts throats with its sharpness and fingers hurt. And snow air is pure air, driven down from the Arctic to transform the landscape and freeze the earth. Today is a snow day . . .

This is a retro post for Because They’re There. It’s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .

I’ve bought a pair of crampons. They cost a fortune. Just over ten quid. And to try them out I’ve left the car at the Kirkstone Pass Inn and I’m inching up the steep walls of a corrie towards the summit of Red Screes.

The inn is far below me. There are loads of people skiing on the slopes behind the pub but I can’t hear them. I can’t hear anything except rasping breath, snuffling nose and crunching snow.

I have my ice axe and the family dog – Laddie II. I might have mentioned in an earlier post that his predecessor, Laddie I, met an untimely death beneath the wheels of a steam locomotive on the level-crossing at Askam-in-Furness. These things happen. They are in the past. Laddie II is a faithful replacement.

red screes 2The corrie walls become increasingly steep as I near the summit. It’s strenuous work but curiously liberating. After the stresses of driving a 1000cc Mini Estate through snow drifts and ice patches from Windermere to the top of the Kirkstone Pass, I find it exhilarating to stand here on this wall of crusty snow and gaze down upon day-trippers and skiers hundreds of feet below.

Two chaps are following my footsteps up the corrie wall. We exchange greetings as we reach the summit, then they head off towards Fairfield, and me and Laddie eat biscuits and drink tea at the summit cairn. He’s a dog of simple pleasures.

red screes 3And in this perfect silence, in a perfect mountain wilderness beneath a perfect sky, we sit and look about, lost in our own thoughts. And really, really and truly, I reckon this is what mountain walking is all about. It’s these fleeting moments that open like windows when you least expect and offer a unique and unexpected insight into something that might otherwise have seemed familiar.

Helvellyn and Striding Edge are cloaked in snow. Brothers Water is frozen and Patterdale stretches white and still into a grey northern haze. This is the Lakeland of Arthur Ransome, Harry Griffin, William T Palmer, EM Ward and a hundred other writers and poets. Those chaps were in the past – but this is here and now on the top of Red Screes. Above the hustle, away from the crowds, their Lakeland still exists in exquisite moments that drift past like snowflakes.

red screes 4 red screes 5red screes 6I head north down Middle Dodd and descend into freezing shadows. Then after hitting the road I walk back to the car at the top of the pass. It’s been a short day but a good day – one of those days that begins like any other but manages, through a series of events, to leave its mark imprinted in memory.

Climbing Red Screes, January 1979

A new series for January 1979 – Richard O’Sullivan stars in the title role of Dick Turpin, with Alfie Bass. Don’t miss it. Also new this month is quiz show Blankety Blank with Terry Wogan, and Upstairs Downstairs spin-off Thomas and Sarah, starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins. Finishing this month after a run of ten years and 86 episodes is the Liver Birds, starring Polly James, Nerys Hughes, Elizabeth Estensen and Mollie Sugden. It’s all a far cry from Can’t Pay We’ll Take it Away and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

A NEW series for January 1979 – Richard O’Sullivan stars in the title role of Dick Turpin, with Alfie Bass. Don’t miss it. Also new this month is quiz show Blankety Blank with Terry Wogan, and Upstairs Downstairs spin-off Thomas and Sarah, starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins. Finishing this month after a run of ten years and 86 episodes is The Liver Birds, starring Polly James, Nerys Hughes, Elizabeth Estensen and Mollie Sugden. It’s all a far cry from Can’t Pay We’ll Take it Away and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Environment, Hiking, Mountains, Walking, Weather, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Days Like This, No 16: Blue Skies, White Hills, Red Screes

  1. it’s lovely reliving memories while you write a retro-post, isn’t it? I think that’s why I enjoy doing it from time to time. Your old photos from the 70s(?) seem to scan in much better than my old ones from the 90s though!
    Never used to take a camera out with us in the 70s/80s……….

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Chrissie. I have to mess around with the images a lot because they are converted from slides. But that’s half the fun of doing stuff like this.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

      • Now I do have loads of trips on slides, too, but sadly not the means to convert them to computer files. Never seems to be a priority purchase to be spending money on!

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        • McEff says:

          I hummed and hawed about getting a converter for years and when I finally did it was a cheap one (about £30) and it’s not so good. If you ever do decide to buy one, get a decent one.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhh, memories. I was married (the first time) in ’79 and honeymooned in Askam-in-Furness – in a small caravan. I remember I had terrible hay fever and stayed inside for the whole week..just being outside for 20 minutes caused me severe sneezing and watery itchy eyes. She was bored and I was fed up…a bit like things to come. Your photos of the snowy mountains are superb. I have only worn crampons once when a few of us went up Penyghent one severe winter and I stuck the pointy bottom of an ice axe through my boot…just missing my toes. Red Screes are superb…one of my favourites. Excellent post!

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    • McEff says:

      James, if I’d known you in those days you could have given me a ring and we’d have gone out for a pint to relieve your boredom and hay fever. The caravan site is visible from my parents’ kitchen window and I used to walk down there a great deal with the dog.
      I take it from your ice axe/crampon experience you won’t be tackling the north face of the Eiger any time soon. Neither will I.
      All the best and thanks for the laugh, Alen

      Like

  3. Mountains always seem to look bigger in snow. The big landscape photos here could have been the Alps and mountains five times the size of the fells.

    I recognise that feeling of stillness after the slog and the almost trance-like state you end up in when you settle back against the summit cairn with a pork pie and a flask. The phrase you used ‘fleeting moments that open like windows’ reminded me of being on top of Great Dodd in scurrying cloud which kept opening up to allow a few seconds view of the horizon to the north east.

    And 1979 telly? Do you keep all your old Radio Times magazines? I couldn’t remember old television with that much accuracy, but I do remember the outrageous derision Wogan suffered on Blankety Blank because of that microphone that looked like a straightened coat hanger. (Was it Kenny Everett who bent it?)

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hang on while I move this three-metre pile of Radio Times editions, keg of Whitbread Tankard and half-finished Airfix model Ford Escort and I’ll answer your question, Chris.
      I have nothing but contempt for Wogan because he managed, single-handedly from what I recall, to transform the Eurovision Song Contest from a harmless night of outrageously bad but entertaining pantomime into a “them and us” race to the bottom with his Johnny Foreigner comments. Thank god for Graham Norton and his superior sense of humour, that’s all I can say. And three cheers for Kenny Everett.
      On a more serious note. Yes, those moments when the cloud opens. They make everything worthwhile. It’s what walking’s all about.
      All the best, Alen

      Like

      • I used to enjoy Wogan’s Eurovisions, but in later years he did become a grumpy old conspiracy theorist. Norton was a pleasant surprise and his comment one year to one of the points presenters ‘thanks for nothing, hideous dress by the way’ was unforgettable.

        Whilst I never left an Airfix kit half finished, most of them were left naked and grey because I couldn’t afford the extortionate price of Humbrol paints.

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        • McEff says:

          There was always that temptation, especially with aeroplanes, to stick the transfers on before painting the wings and fuselage. I will never forget the shock upon watching the Battle of Britain at the cinema and realising that Spitfires and Hurricanes were all different colours and not that bland Airfix grey.

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      • I agree with the ‘attitude-problem’ on the Eurovision Song Contest – but I also think it’s crept into all our international sports commentatorism as well – it’s always ‘them’ and ‘us’ – makes me vote for the other side usually!

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        • McEff says:

          Hey, I’m exactly the same. Wimbledon is the worst. Crowds being encouraged to cheer for certain people just because of their nationality, when it’s not even a team competition. Gets my back up.

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  4. One of my favourites, though I’ve never done it in snow, and antics around Kilnshaw Chimney provides endless amusement for the viewers below at the pub and car park. Great Pictures!

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi John. I’ve never climbed the Kilnshaw Chimney. Might have a crack at that route one of these days – when it’s quiet and there aren’t many people in front of the pub.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

  5. Hanna says:

    I love this post, Alen. It’s a pleasure to read your description of landscape weather the joy of climbing and the tranquility that’s fills your mind on such a wonderful day. Thanks for sharing.
    All the best, Hanna

    Like

  6. Alastair Lings says:

    Beautiful photos and prose.

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  7. Don’t think I’d be up for that route in snow – too steep for my liking!

    How come the dog didn’t hear a steam train approaching? One of our dogs got run over by a train (an alsatian) but it had gone to the rescue of another dog which was on the line. If you saw the dog get run over that must have been very traumatic! 😦

    Great photos 🙂
    Carol.

    Like

  8. Dave (B) says:

    There would still only have been 3 TV channels available in 1979, if my recollections are correct; I think Channel 4 was launched in the early eighties. To my mind this had two advantages: if there was nothing worth watching, it didn’t take long to find out; if there was something to watch, it wasn’t half over before you’d located it.

    Modern life is rubbish and I’m minded to nick (and slightly tinker with) a bit of James Earl Jones’s ‘Field of Dreams’ monologue: “This blog, these posts: they’re a part of our past, Ray (well… Alen, obviously). It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again”

    Like

    • McEff says:

      Hi Dave. Thanks for that. Field of Dreams was one of those films that had a dubious plot but it really worked. If it was on the telly tonight I’d sit down and watch it – but it isn’t.
      Modern telly is pants (apparently that’s a modern word for rubbish). There are loads of channels but they all share the same programmes and mix them round from day to day. They even do it with films. If you’re a Bruce Willis fan then you’re in permanent telly heaven, but if you like something that has a bit more depth then you’re sunk.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

      • Dave (B) says:

        Alen, notwithstanding my comments above, buried among the dross there is still the odd jewel. If you have the opportunity, try and catch up with ‘Reginald D Hunter’s song’s of the south’; it’s a BBC2 3-parter (final part this weekend) about the music of the southern states of America. Not all of the music is to my tastes, but it’s relevant to the story.

        Like

        • ossroad says:

          And apologies for the ugliness of the totally unnecessary apostrophe in ‘song’s’. Note to self: proof read before pressing ‘post’.

          Like

        • McEff says:

          Hi Dave. Yes, I watched every one. I’m into early blues music (Robert Thompson, Big Bill Broonzy) and found the series extremely informative as well as entertaining. I like his style. I hope he does another series.

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  9. Jo Woolf says:

    Oh my goodness, Alen. Love your reminiscences. And then you hit where it hurts, with telly from 1979 that I can remember. Strangely, we were in Cumbria on Friday, and I was walking around Castlerigg in a howling gale. We drove up the Kirkstone Pass on the way home. You did well to get your Mini up there, in the snow! Sounds like fun.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. That old Mini was great. It would go anywhere. But it was a bit uncomfortable for sleeping in – even with the seats down.
      Sounds like a good day you had. I haven’t been over Kirkstone Pass for about twenty years so I’m about due a return trip. Too many things to do, that’s the trouble.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

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