Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Fell for All Seasons?

As we are fully fledged year round hikers now I thought it an appropriate time to review our first 12 months on the fells and figure out which time of year is best for fell walking. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the seasons so in the best scientific tradition we shall identify a constant and note how it varies throughout the year; in this case our constant will be sheep, so if it's small & bouncy, it's spring; if it looks like a bad advert for Gillette, it's summer; if it's wet & shivering, it's autumn and if it's camouflaged against the landscape traceable only by it's bleating & a trail of yellow snow, then it's winter. Of course the other constant is the rain, in which case the advice is; if the rain feels slightly warmer than normal then it might be summer - but there's no guarantee...

Spring

Just the teeniest bit guilty...
There are a few fabulous things about spring on the fells; bluebells, garlic and lamb - and two of those go rather well together.  We started our first serious walks in the spring and my memories are of amazing spring flowers in the woods and on the hillsides. Rannerdale bluebells are etched into my memory; the stunning blue hillside, bright yellow gauze and deep blue skies reflected in Crummock Water. Early in the spring, especially during term time, the fells are relatively quiet, as are the roads, but the still short days can rule out some of the longer hikes unless you're carrying head torches. The smell of the garlic in the woods meant I was constantly hungry and I did feel a wee twinge of guilt each time I cooed at a gorgeous spring lamb.

Summer

Hidden away - can you name the lake?
Busy season. Oddly enough we found this a great time of year to start late and finish late and thus avoid the crowds. Most people are better at getting out of bed than we are and set off between 9 & 10am, presumably allowing them to be home for their dinners. We found that by setting off at 12 or even 1pm we missed the rush and the very light nights meant we could stroll back to the car at 10 or 11pm.  I suppose some people might advise against walking during the hottest part of the day but c'mon, it's the north of England and, much as I desperately love the place, it's never really going to get that hot, and if it does then there's always a lovely cool lake to walk around or even take a dip into.  It's also wise to avoid the main routes up the fells and study your OS map rather than your Wainwright if you want any peace and quiet.

Autumn

Moonrise from Wetherlam
This is the time of year for early starts and late finishes.  It's the perfect season for taking shots of sunsets; the fells are the most wonderful shades of red and brown and when the evening sun catches them they are truly stunning. But the mornings are not to be missed either; inversion season starts during the late autumn so when the mist is hanging low in the valleys, head for the nearest high spot and have your camera ready.  It's also the time of year for getting caught out by the clocks going back so best to double check you've packed your head torches before you set off.  Not that we'd ever get caught out by anything like that.  Honest...  And lastly it's the best time of year to see the Gills/ Ghylls going at full tilt, of course the reason they're going full tilt is because they're full of rainwater, and all that rain has to come from somewhere so don't leave home without your waterproofs.

Winter

The very worst thing about winter is the short days.  I'm not a fan of intentional night hiking - one of the main reasons I love the fells is the amazing views, and if I can't see those then I'm not so keen.  Of course on a clear night the stars are amazing, but there are plenty of deserted lower lying spots you can see those from.  During December and January it's dark by 4pm so we used the time to visit some of the lower fells; Helm Cragg, Loughrigg etc.  I think the very best thing about the winter is the snow.  No, it's the inversions.  No, it's the snow.  Oh I don't know!  How about "it's the snowy inversions"?  I've learned a lot about walking in snow this year,  I've also learned a lot about sliding in snow and falling in snow - mostly I've learned that the last 2 can be quite painful and should be avoided if at all possible.


So after all that I have to choose my favourite time of year for the fells.  Hmmm, I'm inclined to say early spring when the crocuses & snowdrops are out everywhere and the evenings are getting everso slightly longer, but that's probably because it's early spring right now.  Ask me again in a few months and I'm sure I'll have changed my mind.  Sorry about that but don't blame me, blame the fells.