Scout Scar Surprise

An early morning walk onto Scout Scar to photograph the winter sunrise over the Lake District turned out to be something I hadn’t expected.

It seemed a little incongruous, ethereal even, to be walking out of Kendal early in the morning, my path illuminated only by the dim light from a head torch. Dreamily, I wandered back some years, to the times when I used to set out on alpine climbs at ungodly hours, slightly groggy from the early morning rise and shivering in negative temperatures. The sounds of rasping coughs and squeaking, frozen snow underneath cold, steel crampon blades breaking into the chilled morning air. 

Today, on this early, dark Cumbrian morning, I heard only the sound of frozen snow crunching underneath my boots. Grey, dawn light invaded black shadows. I had left Fellside and was now  climbing by the side of the Serpentine Woods, heading for Kettlewell Crag and Cunswick Scar.

Alpine Start

You might well ask – and you probably should – why on earth was I climbing out of Kendal at such an early hour. Not many folks had risen, it was 6.30 am, still dark, although a few lights had come on in the houses that I passed. The reason I was now walking through the black, skeletal trees below the crag, was because I intended to photograph the winter sunrise over the Lake District. I was certain that the sun’s rays would paint the mountains a rosy-pink; it should make a great picture. That was why I had dragged myself out of bed at 5 am on this freezing December morning.

The torch picked out a shadow in the undergrowth; then it was gone. I was glad to reach the wall again and the path. The path led across the golf course, and I emerged into the light.

Yesterday, the weather forecast had a predicted a morning with clear skies. The perfect dawn. I was agitated,

 

apprehensive about reaching the summit of Cunswick Fell before the sun rose. If I didn’t then my early rise would have been for nothing. I knew the shot I wanted; it had been painting my mind all evening.

Runners in dawn’s light

On the golf course, while studying my map by torchlight, a figure appear over the crest of the green to my left. He was running. I recognised his gait – his brilliant yellow jacket and his dog following.

Their ruggedness now distinct, whereas a few minutes ago they blended against the dark sky. My camera sat on the tripod, waiting, watching the horizon, ready.

 

Under a pastel-blue sky I ate my breakfast and passed the time by trying to name all the mountains. Many I recognised, some I just couldn’t quite identify. Opening my map onto the floor, I knelt down and tried to get a compass bearing to those I couldn’t name.

Mountain bikers and prayer

A couple of mountain bikers appeared in front of me. I think they were slightly amused to see a guy kneeling on the floor on must have resembled a prayer mat, facing north, at dawn. They rode past, glanced, and disappeared down the hill while I stood, satisfied that I now knew the mountains – and folded up my prayer mat.

Over my shoulder, the sun was getting out of bed. It may be, I thought, that the picture would not be the one I had anticipated. Its brilliant, golden-yellow forehead crested the horizon. The golf course turned from darkness into a dreamy, misty-blue landscape. I watched and knew that this was going to make the picture. The Lake District fells were refusing to turn rosy-pink. It would be better to concentrate on what was happening across the golf course.

winter sunrise over scout scar

I started to shoot pictures, over-exposing by one-third to two-thirds of a stop to get some detail into the shadows. I hadn’t time to use the tripod things were happening too fast. My other camera pointed in the wrong direction. I needed a larger lens, and had to sit on the icy ground, steadying myself to use the slower shutter speeds. In a few minutes, the picture was gone. The brilliance of the sun increased the dynamic range too much for the camera’s sensor. Five minutes, that was all I’d had. An hours walk, in the dark, for five minutes of photography, but that is what photography is all about: the beauty of a landscape and being in the right place at the right time.

 

The snow on the Lake District mountains never did turn the rosy-pink that I had expected, as I had been dreaming about all night.

This slightly enthusiastic labour of love had been born the previous day, during my first excursion onto Scout Scar. We had only just moved to Kendal from Windermere, and, with my daughter – after someone’s passionate advice – we decided to explore the area. What I found amazed me. It was a glorious day. A fantastic panorama opened up before our eyes as we reached the summit of Cunswick Fell: the whole of the central Lake District fells were before us, in a continuous line along the horizon. My eyes slowly moved along Coniston Old Man, Bowfell, Scafell, The Langdale Pikes, past Ambleside, over Fairfield, the Kentmere Fells, Longsleddale and finally the Howgill Fells, to name but a few.

 

Alfred Wainwright

I recollect Alfred Wainwright commenting, that it was the view from Orrest Head in Windermere that had given him his love for the Lakeland hills. I wonder how that could have been – as he lived in Kendal, he must have come to this very spot and seen this amazing view.

“Hello Tony,” I whispered. He seemed rather shocked. I couldn’t see his face. Probably he was a little wary about this stranger standing in the gloom. Then he recognised me. We talked for a minute then he directed towards the best path. I followed him as he gained the ground over the footbridge that crossed the dual carriageway.

 

Cunswick Fell rose indistinctively ahead of me, dusted by the early-morning frost. My faint shadow appeared on the ground to the side of me, and indication that the sun was getting up. The race was on; I quickened my pace. I knew there was enough time to reach the summit before it fully awoke and climbed over the horizon.

Tiny pinpricks of light danced all over the fell – lights from head torches. Occasionally, fell runners ran past me. I had only just reached the summit when another runner caught up with me, and, passing by, touched the cairn and shot back down the hill. Home, I suppose, for a change, breakfast, and then off to work.

A family walks along Scout Scar near Kendal

 

In fact, it had done nothing but produce a drab, useless shot for my panoramic camera. The real shot had been unexpected, and exciting.

It was 9 am, already a few people were out walking. I photographed them coming up the path. As I was already up here on this amazing plateau, I might as well make a morning of it and walk the full length of Cunswick Scar and Scout Scar, to see what they had to offer. I was not disappointed. This small ridge and Scout Scar are truly the amazing gems of Kendal. I had heard about them often enough but never

winter sunrise over scout scar

Heading for ‘Middle Earth’

So today, I am emerging from the woodland below Kettlewell Crag. Faint paths, painted in Stygian gloom, lead out of the trees. I must admit, that – in the dark – the place is a little intimidating. I feel like Bilbo entering the poisoned woods of Middle Earth; not sure whether someone or something was suddenly going to jump out of the darkness. Something rustled; I swung my head.

The ground was carpeted by early morning frost, white as snow. The rising sun threw changing hues across the landscape. It felt good to be here, alone, for now. The biting cold, the solitude of the landscape, the lights in the town where people were just starting their day, all contributed to a sense of euphoria that the fells can bring. I wrapped myself up against the cold and waited. The mountains were emerging from the shadows, wakened by the sun’s rays creeping over the horizon.

considered them worth bothering with; how wrong I had been.

The day turned out to be fantastic, with plenty more photo opportunities along the way. At midday I headed down Brigsteer Road and back into town. It felt like I had been out all day, which in effect I had. The incongruity of making an alpine start for a short walk,  climbing a hill only 207m high, in the dark, over snow and ice, using a head torch, had been surreal in a place like Kendal.