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.
The 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.
And 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.
I 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.