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. Feeling slightly groggy at the early morning rise and shivering in negative temperatures. Listening to the sounds of rasping coughs and squeaking, frozen snow, underneath cold, steel crampon blades. The only vague comparison today, on this early, dark Cumbrian morning, was the sound of frozen snow crunching underneath my boots. Semi-dawn light surrounded me, breaking into the shadows. I had left Fellside and now began to climb along the side of 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 on such a secretive mission. Not many folks had yet risen, it was 6.30 and still dark, although a few lights had come on in the houses that I had passed. The reason I was now breaking through black, skeletal trees below the crag, was because I intended to take a photograph of the winter sunrise over the Lake District. I was certain that the sun’s rays would paint the mountains with a rosy-pink paintbrush, and it would make a great picture. That was why I had got out of bed on this freezing morning at 5am.

The torch picked out a shadow in the undergrowth; then it was gone. I was relieved to reach the wall again and the path. The stile opened onto 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,

A couple walks along Cunswick Fell near Kendal

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 were soft against the dark sky. My camera sat on the tripod, waiting, watching the horizon, ready.

I ate my breakfast under a pastel-blue sky and passed the time naming 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 mountain, and folded up my prayer mat.

Over my shoulder, the sun would soon be out of bed. It may be; I thought, that the picture would not be the one I had anticipated. A brilliant, golden forehead appeared over the horizon, and the golf course instantly turned from darkness into a dreamlike, misty-blue landscape. I watched and knew that this was going to make a great picture. Being me, the Lakeland Fells were refusing to turn a rosy-pink. It would be better to concentrate on what was happening over the golf course.

winter sunrise over scout scar
I started to shoot pictures, over-exposing by one-third – two-thirds of a stop to get some detail into the foreground. I hadn’t time to use the tripod; things were happening too fast. My other camera was forlornly pointing in the wrong direction. I needed a larger lens, and had to sit down on the icy ground to steady myself for slower shutter speeds. In a few minutes, the picture was gone. The glare from the sun had 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, and the beauty of a landscape: being in the right place at the right time.

The snow on the Lake District mountains never did turn rosy-pink as 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. He was a little wary about this stranger standing in the gloom. Then he recognised me. We had talked for a minute before he pointed 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, covered in early-morning frost. My faint shadow appeared on the ground to the side of me, indicating 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.

I was surprised: fell runners kept passing me. Tiny pinpricks of light danced all over the fell. 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 9am; already a few people were out walking. I photographed them coming up the path, before having some more breakfast. 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 by 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 something or someone was suddenly going to jump out of the darkness. Something rustled; I swung my head.

Wrapping myself up against the cold, I looked at the snow on the ground, now covered by early morning frost. I watched the different hues as the sun rose. It felt good to be here, alone, for now. The biting cold, the solitude of the landscape, the lights in the town where people just starting their day, all contributed to the sense of euphoria that the fells can bring. The mountains were emerging from the shadows, awakened 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. I headed down Brigsteer Road back into town. It felt like I had been out all day, which in effect I had, although it was only noon. The incongruity of making an alpine start for a short walk. To climb a hill only 207m, in the dark, over snow and ice, using a head torch, had been surreal in a place like Kendal.

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