W3C Weather GARN YAM

The dampness of the grass was beginning to penetrate through my jacket as we lay looking down into base of the crag and the boulder field below. We had lain there ages quietly moving into position in the darkness. The light was coming up now and you could pick out individual rocks which had fallen from the overhanging crag over the eons of time. Below in the valley bottom hounds were in the lambing field, specks of white against the green grass. Occasional snatches of their music reached us.

I felt a gentle dig in my ribs, and my father pointed down to the base of the crag where a fox was quietly moving down to the base of the crag through the rocks and strands of dead bracken. It selected a sheltered spot and lay down, its attention totally focused on the hounds a thousand feet below.

“Been hunted before,” dad said. We watched the fox for the best part of half an hour as the hounds worked their way in our direction, all the time the attention of the fox was held by the movement of the hounds. As they crossed the wall at the base of the boulder field below the crag, the fox got up and began to move up the ghyll beside the crag at a leisurely pace.

Further down the ridge and below us some fool began to halloo. "The daft bugger has only just seen it," I said, as his strangled cry echoed from the rocks. "He should have kept quiet, good job he didn’t see it when we did." The hounds distracted by the halloo, began to move towards the sound, all except one who stayed on the line. This hound gave tongue and the rest of the pack harked back (returned) to him.

Hounds climbed the ghyll beside the crag, their "music" increasing as they caught the fresh scent of the recently departed fox.... and what happened next...? The mist which had been threatening since the return of the light rolled in carrying with it a damp rain, the type that soaks you through insidiously and we saw nothing but heard it all as hounds got away onto the fell above. Weather always played a great part in the success or failure of hunting in the Lakes, at least from the viewpoint of the foot follower. Besides contributing, or not, to scenting conditions, changes in the weather could as we have seen determine what you saw or more often didn’t. Because of the nature of the terrain it is possible to have a mixture of various types of weather conditions at the same time; for example snow and mist or low cloud on the high tops with rain in the valley bottom

Mist is funny stuff, not to be confused with fog which just sits thick and clammy on a windless day usually in the valley bottom although I have seen it on the high fell.

Mist is wet and fluid, blown by the wind; most of the time there is some visibility, as you move, so does the mist but it doesn’t allow you to see too far. Disorientating you quite easily, I have no recollection of ever seeing anyone out hunting on the fell carrying a map or compass, everyone relied on their knowledge of the fell, obtained by many hours spent on the hill in all weathers. The shepherds of old realised the obvious danger of walking on the fell in mist and built small cairns (or piles of stones) as markers to warn of an approaching drop or track junction. Today there are cairns everywhere, built by off comers as part of some ritual associated with fell walking. The original reason for their construction now a forgotten memory. Normally mist would not bother us, on a hunting morning we would sit in the lee of a rock and try to follow the hunt by the sound, hoping all the while that the wind would get up and blow the mist away, sometimes it did and some times not and we would go home having seen nowt.

I remember going to Kentmere on a wet misty morning. It was so bad that the huntsman took refuge in a large barn, and showed little inclination to leave which was understandable as conditions were that bad. Eventually he was "bolted" into the rain and said he would take hounds around the pasture land. We set off and climbed up the fell a little way, only to be driven off the hill by 30 feet visibility and horizontal rain. Goodness only knows how bad the weather was on the fell tops that day, and the danger of hounds striking the line of a fox which may climb out in that direction an ever present danger.


The flooding of November 2009 gives this section an added poignancy, it will take years for the damage to be put right and for many it never will, and my heart goes out to them.

An ongoing problem in Lakeland Ambleside being only approximately twenty miles in a direct line from Borrowdale which has well over 100 inches of rain a year and is rightly known as the wettest place in England. From an early age I learned that there was little point in complaining about the rain; we would still hunt or go on the fell unless it was really bad. Although the mist usually associated with the rain did not help. There was an expression used which went, ”don’t be so soft it’ll nobbut ga thru t thy skin,” (it will only go through to your skin) which given the fact that our hunting waterproof was an old plastic mac was a saying often tested.

A few years ago I was standing in a group at Lowther Show on a damp morning by the hound ring, a light rain was falling and some soft Southerner joined us and began wingeing about it. He rapidly got on my nerves and I commented about “garn thru t skin”. Pritch Bland, the late Melbreak huntsman, was a member of our little group and he looked me straight in the face and burst out laughing, a happy memory to hold of a great huntsman.

With the rain came slippery rock, and steep grass is always a problem, rubber soled boots are useless in such conditions and many is the hunter who has returned home with grass stains on his trousers caused by an unexpected slip. Rivers and streams swell quite quickly and become difficult to cross, especially following a dry spell where perhaps the land has dried and speeds the run off of the water. One morning in Rydal Park near Ambleside I was out with a distant relative following the hounds, we had occasion to cross the beck which flows almost the length of the valley to get to where the fox had gone to ground high on the face of Fairfield. The beck (by now a river), flowed between two wall ends, with a pole stretched across and wire netting hung to stop the stock straying. I balanced over and jumped onto a shingle beach and got the camera out. “Now me lad,” my friend said, “you think I is garn t fall in for thy picture” and promptly did. Sadly I laughed so much I didn’t take a picture.

In the 1960s waterproof jackets were almost non-existent, a few followers wore the Harris Tweed type of jacket and there was a fair few "Donkey Jackets" in evidence but dampness was always a problem. The jacket may have kept the rain out for a bit but walking would generate sweat within the jacket and you would have a wet shirt either way. Over-trousers caused the same problem and you also had the problem of carrying them when not in use. No one as I recall carried a ruc sac, if it couldn’t fit in your pocket, you didn’t need it, that included waterproofs and food. Occasionally you would see people carrying waterproofs, etc. in ex army webbing but this tended to swing in your way as, for example, you climbed a wall, and thus did not attract many supporters. Gore Tex clothing had not been invented and I have yet to be convinced that it is any better despite the attempts by various purveyors of the stuff over the years.


In the sixties it seemed that there was more snow on the hill than you get today. Despite the obvious dangers hunting continued at times and I have recollections of tramping over snow covered fells, eyes straining to catch a glimpse of white coloured hounds against a white coloured background. I remember standing on the Troutbeck side of the Kirkstone Pass one winter's day, eagerly scanning the snow covered ridge of Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick, with a pair of binoculars someone had given me. “Can’t see out mi lad?” said Chappie. “Nowt,” I replied, putting down my binocular. “Pity t hunds are white isn’t it?“ said Chappie accompanied by a roar of laughter from the little group of hangers on who always seemed to accompany him. "Look at t yon crag and see if out moves in front of it." I spent ages looking at that bloody crag, black against the white of the snow, but all I got was cold and didn’t see a thing. Snow on the high fell did not seem to deter the huntsmen of the early years perhaps as much as it did later where a hard frost was enough to have a meet cancelled. There is a picture of the Coniston on Steel Fell above Grasmere in Clapham's book Foxhunting on the Lakeland Fells and the conditions look pretty bad, indeed Clapham himself graphically records days on the snow covered high fell following hounds where severe cold and the lurking consequences of it were ever present

Even greater care than normal needs to be taken on the hill in snowy conditions. Beside the danger of cornice there is a danger of avalanche on some slopes in certain weather conditions. The most frightening event of all is probably a white out, where sky and ground are as one and navigation impossible. Bright sunlight following a fall of snow can cause eye problems with the bright light reflecting the snow which on one occasion as a child I remember vividly.

One winter’s day I left home after lunch for a walk to the top of a snow covered Red Screes above the Kirkstone Pass. A simple after lunch walk, but, as you do, I stopped to talk to a farmer, the conversation naturally turned to hunting and we chatted for a good half hour. It was turning dark as I reached the summit; just at that moment a storm came in and all of a sudden I was in a world of white, where the ground, sky and horizon all disappear in a white mist. On the Kirkstone Pass side of Red Screes is a rather large crag called Raven Crag, a bad place to be near the top of in bad weather. Whilst on the other gently sloping grass falls away to the Scandale Valley, but I was so disorientated I had no idea where it was, all that I could do was to sit down and wait for the snow flurry, or “whiteout” as it is sometimes called, to clear before descending home in the dark. It took a good 20 minutes before I was able to see the Ordnance Survey trig point nearby and determine my position.

However the best description of being out on the hill in snow (for me) was by Dorothy Wordsworth who wrote of a journey over Grisedale Hause in late January in the early 1800s using the old packhorse route from Ullswater to Grasmere … “We struggled with the wind, and often rested as we went along. A hail shower met us before we reached the Tarn, and the way often was difficult over the snow; but at the Tarn the view closed in. We saw nothing but mists and snow; and at first the ice on the Tarn below us cracked and split, yet without water, a dull grey white. We lost our path, and could see the Tarn no longer. We made our way out with difficulty, guided by a heap of stones which we well remembered. We were afraid of being bewildered by the mists, til the darkness should overtake us. We were long before we knew that we were in the right track, but thanks to William’s skill we knew it long before we could see our way before us. There was no footmark upon the snow of either man or beast. We saw four sheep before we had left the snow region.” Hard snow with an overlay of ice is dangerous to stand on and the old nailed boots of yesteryear were not much better than the rubber sole of today, as the snow "balls up" under the nail, but hounds hunted on the fell in these kinds of condition although there was a school of thought against it. I remember one morning sitting on the bus station in Ambleside awaiting the bus to that winter playground known as Great Langdale. A guy called Tommy Armer walked past, a follower of hounds all his life, he viewed my ropes and ice axe for a moment. "If it’s not fit up there for a hound," he said, "it’s not fit for you!"

With snow comes ice, and the tarns and dubs (pools) of water froze. One year I remember being towed the length of Tarn Hows by Ted Dunglinson who at that time was World Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling champion and a family friend, using a walking stick. I’m pretty sure it was the great freeze of 1963, when sheep died by the hundred on the high tops, starved to death as they lay buried under a depth of snow, even trying to eat the fleece not saving them from the unending effect of cold. Hunting was suspended for weeks and I saw Red Deer huddled under a lamp post in the streets of Ambleside trying to find warmth, driven off the fell starving, looking for warmth and food. We kids thought that sliding on the ice and sledging in the fields was great fun but the snow stayed so long but even we tired of it.

My father came in one cold night and beckoned me to follow him outside; just at the top of North Road was a grocer's shop with very large window sills which stuck out (and still do) into the road. Sitting on one of the sills was a mountain hare, shivering and emaciated. When you picked it up, you could feel its heart beating. We took it in for a couple of days till the thaw began, couldn’t keep it long, they get used to humans. We let it go up Sweden Bridge and my lasting memory is of it turning up the field to briefly look back at us before it disappeared into the wood.


Not really much of a problem as I write this in September 08, and not really much of a problem in the Lakeland hunting seasons of my childhood which began September-ish and went through to mid or the end of May. It is surprising how much water there was on the high fell, although a run of dry weather tends to evaporate it quite quickly. Today with the increase in "high camping" I wouldn’t touch it, because of the pollution caused by human waste, but then it seemed OK. It had to be, there was nothing else, and the effect of dehydration wasn’t really a concern although people were aware of it. When I began hunting the war had only been over 10 years. My father and several of his friends had fought in it, some of them in the desert, and were well aware of the problems caused by dehydration, which, if you’re walking hard and sweating can become a problem even on a cold morning. I recall one warm spring morning complaining of thirst whilst sitting above a borran; the craving for a drink increased as time wore on until one of my father’s friends gave me a pebble to suck, telling me that it would help. To my surprise it didn’t and the bolt of the fox soon after and the subsequent descent into the valley bottom with its meandering stream where I slaked my thirst with the cold water is a memory I treasure.

On days of hot sunshine the exertion of walking and the stillness of the air can dehydrate very quickly, in a rocky area the heat bounces back off the rock, and even a slight breeze is welcome, and it’s on days like these when your destination never gets any nearer! You look up the fell and the top or where ever is just as far away as it was 10 minutes ago! When I became an Intensive Care Nurse some years later, I realized with hindsight that on more than a few occasions I had become dehydrated, but at the time knowledge was rudimentary to say the least. There is, as I said, water on the high fell and surprisingly enough springs; for example, one on the Climbers Travers on Bowfell and one on the summit plateau of Helvellyn. It's called Brownrigg well and is on the OS map - see if you can find it next time you’re up, and don’t use the GPS, be a real walker and just use the map.

Most of my childhood was spent drinking from the beck or any small "dub of watter". You spat into it and if there was a current it was OK to drink. Again, with hindsight, a load of rubbish but at the time it worked! Even on the memorable day I had a long drink from a stream in a deep ghyll, walked up the ghyll for about 50 yards and came across a decaying sheep in the beck.

Things improved greatly though the day my father arrived home with a Thermos flask. This flask had a hard life, being taken to work five days a week and used on the fell whether hunting or walking on the Saturday. It survived being dropped out of a pocket as we climbed walls a couple of times and provided hot drinks in winter and cool ones in Summer. The day it fell from my hand on the top of Dove Crag as I leaned over and it fell to the bottom, has gone down in family history, especially the playing hell with I got from my father, done more for sentimental reasons than anything else, as we soon replaced it but he took it like the loss of an old friend, which I suppose it was.

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