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Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Night in Heaven


For those of you that haven't been to Ron Black's site "Lakeland Hunting Memories" which can be accessed from my list of recommended reads on line, here is a short story from there that gives you a taste of what you'r missing. Mostly Lakeland Memories saunters through and around the time between the 50's/ 70's when the local packs as well as others across Lakeland ran the traditional gauntlet after their quarry. Stories about Harriers, Terriers, Lurchers and more give you a warm feeling of comraderie that must have prevailed in this taditional hunting style. I hate I missed it!


A Night in Heaven

The bus swayed and lurched as it climbed Dunmail Raise, crested the summit and began the descent on the Thirlmere side. As it picked up speed it became difficult to walk along the top deck and descend the stairs due to the jolting. I just managed to get down the stairs and attract the driver’s attention in time for him to stop at the little church at Wythburn. We bade each other “Goodnight”, and I stepped off the bus and into the road, adjusted my pack, and began the long, boring ascent of Helvellyn.

I had caught the last bus from Ambleside to Keswick and the darkening of the sky showed the lateness of the hour. It would go dark on that summer night, but it would not last for any great length of time.

It was another trip up Helvellyn to see the dawn. Not the first by any means, but so far I had had no success. On one occasion I was defeated by low cloud and a weather front that had sneaked in during the few hours of darkness. On another, we had carried a tent up on that still evening, in the school holidays, and pitched it on the summit plateau. We had climbed into our sleeping bags and attempted to get some sleep, only to be awoken by a strong wind and showers of rain that reduced our tent to a flapping hulk, and greatly worried the lad to whom it belonged. It was one of the old ex-army ridge type tents and totally unsuitable for camping at 3000 feet plus. However, today had been bright and there had been an almost cloudless sky all day and the forecast was good.

I climbed slowly through the trees. Even in the 1960s it was a good track, but today it is almost paved, such is the usage it gets, which unchecked would cause massive erosion. Soon the forestry was behind me and instead of looking at the trees I was looking at the tops of them. Little spurts of dust rose as my feet struck the ground. We had had no rain for weeks and the fell side reflected this.

To my left stretching away in the distance was Thirlmere, one of the sources of Manchester’s water supply since the 1930s, to my right Dunmail Raise and Steel Fell that towers above it. The top of Helm Crag, the site of many hunting adventures was not yet visible in the late evening light.

The sun had gone now, sinking over the Langdale fells with one final show of defiance, before it disappeared. Shadows lengthened in the valley bottom and the temperature noticeably dropped. I buttoned up my shirt. My path joined another path coming up from Grisedale Tarn, a lovely spot, and my descent route with the dawn. The path continued across the plateau rising slightly to the memorial to the two men, who, in 1926, landed a plane up there. Luckily two walkers were present to witness their achievement.

Moving on I passed the Gough memorial, situated above the cliffs that fall away to Red Tarn over a thousand feet below. In the year 1805 an artist called Charles Gough fell to his death from these rocks, whilst crossing Helvellyn to fish in Thirlmere Lake. His body lay on the shore of the tarn for three months, guarded by his faithful dog, until their discovery by a farmer. On the body was a penknife with his name engraved upon it, two and a half guineas in gold and fifteen shillings in silver, all of which were given to the overseer of Patterdale to be distributed to the local poor.

Soon I reached the shelter just under the actual summit. Built of local stone it is shaped like a cross with stone benches against the back wall. It had been re-built just after I left school and I had carried half a bag of cement up to help in the process. A couple were already in residence and had come equipped. Despite the climb they had had enough breath left to inflate two airbeds. I was destined to sleep on the ground. I wandered on passing the trig pillar that marks the highest point. Here the ground falls away to Red Tarn a thousand feet below, but if you look hard there are a couple of places where you can lay in your sleeping bag just under the top. It pays not to toss and turn in your sleep however.

After locating a suitable place I unpacked my sleeping bag and set out across the plateau to Brownrigg Well to get some water for a brew. I have no idea how water collects so high on Helvellyn but collect it does, and, although I have not used the spring many times, I have never known it fail. It did not take long to return to my “spot” and soon the purr of the primus stove could be heard.

Darkness was with me now. The outline of the fells against the night sky was a memory. Below me the lights on the M6 Motorway drew my eye, and individual lights from remote farmhouses could be seen, as could light’s of vehicles travelling on the quiet country roads. The town of Penrith could be clearly seen to my left. I dozed off. Not a deep sleep, but one where you are aware of the slightest sound, the cry of a sheep, the call of a mountain bird and the sound of a stone being dislodged, all registered in my mind as I lay there. Above me some stars were visible in the inky black sky, but to my shame I did not recognise them. My thoughts returned to other nights spent here. On one occasion I had been awoken in the early hours by a sheep sniffing my face no doubt expecting a sandwich, and on another by a mountain fox, which jumped my sleeping bag before continuing on its way down towards the valley below, startled me.

The lightening of the sky on the eastern horizon awoke me as the dawn began. A faint band of light over the Pennine hills, deepening by the minute, the light began to return and slowly the outline of the surrounding fells became visible. It was so quiet. The only sound that you could hear was a gentle breeze. Soon the sequence began which is, perhaps, best described as the palette of colours that precede the dawn. I sat there lost in wonder.

All the time the light intensified, and the valley sides began to show detail. It was quite cold and I sat there in my sleeping bag, with my back propped against a rock.


Suddenly without warning the sun blasted over the hills to the east. One moment there was nothing and then a bright yellow orb climbed steadily into the clear sky. Slowly sunlight began to spread down the valleys and the temperature became noticeably warmer. I unzipped the sleeping bag and put on another brew. As the water heated I sat there taking in the morning. I cannot recall the time, but it must have been quite early and was a lovely summer morning. The sharpness of the light was magical. The high tops were bright, illuminated by the morning sunlight that by now was making its way slowly down into the valleys as the sun gained height. The valley bottoms however, were still in a dark shadow, the sunlight not yet having penetrated the gloom.

Brew finished, and the sun well risen, I got to my feet and packed my sleeping bag into the rucksack. I shouldered it and set off back towards the shelter. As I wandered quietly by, I noticed the couple of the evening before had been joined by several more, and all seemed asleep. One in particular was snoring loudly. I wondered if they had missed the dawn. A few strewn beer cans and an empty whisky bottle suggested they might have.

I arrived at the track junction from the previous evening. To my right, the track I had ascended sloped away towards Wythburn. My way lay down over Dollywaggon Pike and down the twisting track, known as the zigzags, (so easy to descend but a nightmare in reverse), to my breakfast stop beside Grisedale Tarn.

Soon I arrived and got the primus going in the lee of an earth bank to brew some tea. No fresh milk so I opened another little pack of powdered milk, called Marvel, to add to it. I sat drinking tea and watched the morning develop. It was still quite early. A slight wind ruffled the water on the tarn and the reeds beside it. Already the temperature was climbing as the sun gained height in the cloudless blue sky. I seemed to be the only person for miles. Here and there a sheep was dotted on the fell side but apart from that no one.

After some considerable time, and several cups of tea laced with the sickly Marvel, I again shouldered my pack and descended via the Little Tongue route to Grasmere. As I entered the village it was just coming to life. School children were waiting for the bus; an odd van passed carrying workmen about to start their day; shopkeepers were just opening up ready for the tourists.

I sat on the low wall and quietly waited for the bus. Eventually it came down the road towards me. It was the familiar 555 that had so often featured in my childhood journeys. It was also the same driver of the night before. The bus stopped and I climbed aboard offering money for my ticket. The driver recognised me after a couple of seconds, “Been up all night?” he said.

“Yep,” I replied, “A night in heaven.”

He studied me for a moment. “Daft bugger,” he laughed, and put the bus into gear.

Thanks to Mr. Black for permission to share this with you.

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I’m a Southern Boy, just 56 last November, I get around here and there, Central America, Africa, Red Bay. I’m a Father, Grandfather, Husband, Artist and general flunky of sorts. Live in a little historic town in an old building I remodeled. Just wanted to hear myself think I guess, talk about the need of simplification, show some art, express an interest or two, brag on my dogs and see where it goes. That’s it!, That’s the deal, Thanks