Nottingham Outdoor YHA Group

Event report

A Winter Wonderland

Kendal, New Year 2009-2010

I got a lift up to Kendal during the late afternoon / early evening of the last day of 2009 with Paul H and his vocal satnav (it's the one he uses for truck driving and it goes 'twang' every time you go faster than 58mph). We were the last to arrive at Kendal Youth Hostel. Already there were Rob & Karen, Sharon & Andrew, Tim G, Mel, Mark, The Sappster, Rachel & Paul W, associated kids (sorry, didn't get your names), Tash and Kelly (apologies to anyone I have missed). Having parked Paul's car on the ice rink that the hostel were using for a car park, we joined the others for a fine New Year's Eve buffet in the dining room, to which everyone had contributed savoury or sweet foods.

After clearing up we ventured out into Kendal for the New Year's revelries, and several of the local establishments were sampled. Your scribe is, as you know, an abstemious, almost puritan soul, and retired shortly after welcoming in the New Year. Others there were who partied hard into the early hours (you know who you are).

Cautley Spout, Howgill Fells

We drove east to the Howgill Fells on a snowy 1st January 2010 morning and parked at the famous Cross Keys Temperance Inn, on the A683 between Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen. Immediately out of the car park we crossed a footbridge over the River Rawthey. From there, Cautley Spout looked icy and spectacular. We slogged up the north side of the gully. On the slopes above the Spout it was snowing heavily, there was a strong wind, and visibility was poor. Also, it must be said, a few of those present were suffering the after-effects of the previous night's festivities. So Rob produced the NOYHAG shelter and a debate took place between those who wanted to continue upwards and those who felt less happy to do so.

Some returned to the Cross Keys while the remainder of us converted onto a lower-level walk around a horseshoe north of Cautley Spout where the long, snow covered slopes afforded us an opportunity to enjoy some survival bag tobogganing. Those big polythene bags slide really well on the snow.

Back at the Cross Keys I had a slightly surreal experience when I unexpectedly bumped into the guy who sits at the desk next to mine at work. You never know who you might meet on a NOYHAG weekend (see also the Braemar write-up when it appears ...).

On Saturday 2nd a variety of activities were available. There were two walks being led, in addition to which some chose to do their own thing around Kendal. I decided to tackle the Kentmere Round led by Sharon, along with (tall) Tim, Mark, Rob and Karen.

The snow that had fallen the previous day and night was still lying deep in the fields as we drove out and the roads were icy. At one point we were not sure if the road ahead was passable, but both drivers agreed to give it a go. We made our way carefully to Church Bridge on the A592 where we left the cars near the churchyard.

Now, if I may digress for a moment. I studied geology at University, and one of the things that most British geology undergraduates have to do to get their degree is undertake a field mapping project. You do six-weeks of field work during the summer vacation between years 2 and 3, and you write it up during the first term of your final year. As well as being a test of all that you have learned about geology up to that point, it is a real test of confidence and self-motivation. It is your job to map that 10 square km, to go out each day come rain or come shine, to identify those rocks, trace those boundaries, log those outcrops. To be sure, you have friends mapping adjacent areas to yours, and you eat breakfast together and meet up again each evening. But your mapping area is yours alone. It was one of the formative experiences of my life, and I am sure almost any geologist will agree. And my mapping area was in the hills overlooking Troutbeck, right where today's walk would begin.

So it was with the feeling of meeting up with an old friend that I ascended the path from Church Bridge up onto the hill. Although I have been back to the Lake District many times, this was the first time I have returned to that hill, and I have never seen it in winter. Looking down from the slopes I could see the campsite I stayed on all those years ago was still there, but it looks rather different these days; no tents, and a lot of log chalets now. Further north what I remembered as very boggy ground was now blanketed in deep snow, frozen enough on top that those of us of a more compact nature could often walk on top for many steps at a time without going through.

We left my old stamping ground behind to the south and climbed up onto the ridge of Yoke. As we traversed the ridge, taking in the summits of Ill Bell and Froswick, the wind grew in strength, driving the icy snow against our faces, so that everyone resorted to face masks. In the slight dip at the foot of the ascent to Thornthwaite Crag we had a brief, shouted, exchange against the wind as to whether we should push on up, in spite of what we could see were blizzard conditions up there. We decided to go for it.

Unbelievable is the only word I can use to describe the conditions we encountered on that slope. Against a howling gale like a jet engine, and relentlessly lashed by spindrift, it was all you could do to stay on your feet. We were completely unable to make headway, and visibility was restricted to some 5 metres. After about five minutes fruitlessly battling the screaming blizzard, the figures of Rob and Mark, who had been ahead of me, appeared out of the maelstrom. Unable to make themselves heard over the wind, they made hand signals that said "Let's get down out of this".

So we retreated and made a steep descent into the much more benign, though still snowy, terrain of the valley, where we lunched in the lee of a dry stone wall. We decided to begin our return southwards by tackling an inviting-looking spur which would afford good views along the valley towards Lake Windermere. But we discovered that while much of the snow was frozen on top, a lot wasn't, so our footsteps regularly went through into the tussocky, boggy ground beneath, making progress painfully slow. But we eventually made it to the promontory of The Tongue where we enjoyed the view before being hit by exactly three extraordinarily strong gusts of wind; a final salute from the blizzard we had left on the higher slopes.

A fairly lengthy low level walk took us back to the cars. Here the snow had thawed during the day and there was no trouble getting underway. Back at the hostel, the other walking group had their own tales of waist-deep snowdrifts; I shall leave one of them to recount those.

The majority of the group set off back to Nottingham on the morning of Sunday 3rd, leaving, Rob, Karen, Paul, Mark and your scribe to wring the last bit of walking out of the weekend. On a gloriously clear and sunny morning, we walked from the hostel and headed west out of Kendal into the bright snowscape.

We followed a popular local picnicking and dog-walking route up to Scout Scar. And what a fantastic little gem the summit is. It may not be very high at 235m, but the view is wonderful in all directions. To the east you can see the Howgill Fells, undulating white and brilliant against a deep blue sky on this morning. To the north and west you can see the Lake District's mountains, looking grand and impressive. A small roofed shelter, known locally as 'The Mushroom', has metal plaques around the walls with representations of the surrounding skyline and the notable hills and mountains labelled.

We continued in a wide arc that brought us eventually to the River Kent south of Kendal, and we took the icy and quite treacherous riverside footpath back into the town.

This was the second NOYHAG New Year's weekend I have attended, and it was a great way to round off the old year and get the new one off to a fine start, with good friends in spectacular surroundings. And we made a few stories along the way.

Tim Mc

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