2015 review

The time has come and I can put it off no longer. It’s time to look back at 2015 and choose my 10 favourite images of the last year.

The coming of a new year often heralds thoughts of what we have done, things we could have done differently and the things we hope to do in the year ahead. As a photographer I suppose the obvious question is where is my photography going and where do I hope to take it in 2016? The answer to that is nowhere! My intention is to carry on exactly as I did before and have done since I started this journey 5 years ago when I bought my little Canon G12.

My raison de etre is, and has always been, to go out into the mountains, taking a camera with me in case I come across beautiful light. Things might change for me in the future but now, more than ever I know who I am as a photographer. I’m not trying to create something out of nothing in flat light nor am I trying to be clever; I’m not trying to be original or artistic. I am, however, trying to make a statement, and it’s a simple one…Eryri is special, it is magical and I adore it more than words can say. Perhaps that’s why I started taking photographs in the first place.

One thing I have learned is not to look over my shoulder and worry about what other very talented amateur and semi-pro photographers are doing, however many of them I have come to think of as friends. It’s none of my business what they get up to.

I have no desire to shoot the aurora borealis or star trails, I couldn’t be less interested in capturing airbourne war machines flying through our valleys and I am very sure that there won’t be many photographs from me of climbers, tour of Britain cyclists or anything else that fails to stir my soul. The mountains are my all consuming passion and when bathed in beautiful transient light they offer up once in a lifetime moments that can never be repeated and they are what I hope to experience and record on my wanderings on our hills.

This approach of being true to myself and not trying to second guess what people may like has served me well. Last year I led photowalks, gave talks, I was interviewed by various websites and enjoyed double page spreads and multi-page articles in the two biggest UK hillwalking magazines, something I could only have dreamed of when I first picked up a camera.

Closer to home, with the support of my partners John Rowell, Marion Waine and the Moel Siabod Café our ‘Soul of Snowdonia’ Gallery is going from strength to strength, another thing I could never have predicted!

I’m not a clever man, I work purely on instinct and please myself much of the time. I think being single and living in the mountains promotes this mode of being and has led to me being able to concentrate fully on what I am doing which is, purely and simply, enjoying my time doing what I love and immersing myself in the landscape. Long may it continue…it’s a good life.

Before I go, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who has supported me in the past year, be it on Facebook, Flickr or in ‘real life’ where friends and family have been an invaluable source of comfort and have provided a kick up the arse when needed.

So, without further ado and in chronological order, here are my 10 favourite images of 2015.

For a larger version click on any of the images.

The Stand –Scots pines in Cwm Dulyn – March 3rd 2015 1.50pm

Canon 7D – f/10 – 1/250 – 40mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.9 soft grad – Handheld

A planned walk over Craig Eigiau in the Carneddau was derailed when I caught sight of this isolated stand of pine trees in the distance. I spent the afternoon shooting them from all angles and lighting conditions after having my lunch in a deserted Dulyn Bothy, a spooky place in a menacing setting with just the wild ponies for company.

The Stand - Scots Pine in Cwm Dulyn


Play of light – Cnicht and the Moelwynion – March 24th 2015 4pm

Canon 7d – f/11 – 1/40 – ISO 100 – 17mm – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

On a dull day of drizzle and low cloud I was experiencing cabin fever and sorely needed to get out into the hills. Not wanting to walk around in mist I stayed relatively low and headed for the lakes of Cerrig Myllt, cradled in rock bound hollows on Yr Arddu, a fine rock peak which lies between the Nantmor Valley and Cnicht. It wasn’t long before breaks appeared in the cloud base and wonderful, ever changing storm light illuminated the surrounding mountains. I spent an hour in soaking showers and freezing gale force winds shooting frame after frame, oblivious to any discomfort and ecstatic to be witnessing such a show in complete solitude. Play of light - Cnicht and the Moelwynion



Castell y Gwynt – April 20th 2015 – 8.05pm

Canon 7D – f/11 – 1/10 – 19mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

With April comes daylight hours that are long enough to do a day at work and get out into the mountains in the evening, a joy known only to those who live in mountainous areas. On this particular evening I hadn’t any solid plans but drove into the Ogwen Valley, ten minutes from home. I parked the car and realised it had been many years since I had done Seniors Ridge so that is what I did, arriving at the summit of Glyder Fawr totally alone but strangely dissatisfied, not being inspired by any of the compositional possibilities. I made my way over to Glyder Fach and the gothic architecture of Castell y Gwynt (Castle of the Wind) which I had shot a year ago in similar conditions. There I waited for the most vibrant light to arrive, rejoicing in having such an incredible place all to myself. I took the shot and quietly went on my way, descending the Gribin ridge in the gloaming.

Castell Y Gwynt



Morning Mists – Llyn y Caseg Fraith – Sept 7th 2015 – 7.40am

Canon 6D – f/8 – 1/25 – 24mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.9 soft grad – Tripod

After a wildcamp beside Llyn y Caseg Fraith I awoke to mist and seemingly no chance of the shot I had planned, the classic view of Tryfan reflected in the waters of the llyn. With no place to go and time on my hands I decided to stay put and just enjoy being there. Half an hour after sunrise things began to happen but still no sign of Tryfan. That morning was an example of the need to sometimes be flexible and work with the conditions to hand. As it happens, I find this shot of a half concealed Glyder Fach across the llyn more satisfying than the well know view I had come to capture such is its one off nature. Morning mists - Llyn y Caseg Fraith



An evening on Moel Ysgafarnogod – Sept 12th 2015 – 7.27pm

Canon 6D – f/11 – 1/25 – 24mm – ISO 400 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

With little time to spare but a very real need to be in the Rhinogydd I headed over to Eisingrug with a view of getting up Moel Ysgafarnogod for last light. With two hours until sunset I raced off, wondering if I would make it in time. I needn’t have worried as I was stood breathless on the summit an hour after leaving the car! During my vigil the wind was ferocious and I noticed a band of rain heading towards me from Llanbedr. I was caught in two minds. Do I cut my losses and run or endure a soaking in the hope of better things to come? I kept the faith and after the deluge I was gifted with some of the most intense evening light I had seen in a long time. It was a bedraggled but happy Livesey that trudged down the mountain that night.

An evening on Moel Ysgyfarnogod



Lakes, mountains and sea – Moel Eilio from Bwlch Main – Oct 1st 2015 – 6.50pm

Canon 6D – f/11 – 0.5 – 33mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

It was one of those afternoons where I felt little hope of capturing anything decent. It was hazy and the sky was cloudless and devoid of any interest, my least favoured conditions. Nevertheless, I was bent on an ascent of Snowdon and went up via the Rhyd Ddu path, reaching the top in just over an hour and a half. On my way down I decided to sit on Bwlch Main and just take it all in as it’s such a wonderful vantage point. As is so often the case on my days out I was all alone, a real privilege on one of the world’s busiest mountains. 20 minutes before sunset I sensed a change and set up my camera as the light built in intensity and rich saturated colours painted the mountain. I decided on this composition, looking down into Cwm Clogwyn and its lakes, book-ended by Llyn Cwellyn and Llyn Padarn with the Irish Sea beyond. A timely reminder of my friend’s maxim, “If you can’t be with the light you love, then love the light you’re with”! Lakes, mountains and sea - Moel Eilio from Bwlch Main



As far as the eye can see – Southern Snowdonia – Nov 2nd 2015 – 8.13am

Canon 6D – f/8 – 0.5 – 70mm – ISO 100 – Handheld

After capturing Castell y Gwynt in its autumn dawn glory I started my descent of Glyder Fach, resting a while on the Cantilever, a place apart, unlike anywhere else and often crowded in the hours between dawn and dusk. My gaze ranged south through the haze at the ranks of mountain ridges all the way to Cadair Idris, 30 miles away and the southern limit of Snowdonia. It was incredibly satisfying to know that there was barely a mountain in that panorama that I hadn’t climbed at some point in the last two years. Whoever said familiarity breeds contempt had obviously never visited Snowdonia.

As far as the eye can see - Southern Snowdonia



In the Moelwynion – Llyn Conglog and Cnicht – Nov 16th 2015 – 11.55am

Canon 6D – f/11 – 1/50 – 24mm – ISO 100 – LEE 0.6 – 0.9 soft grads – Tripod

Two weeks of rain (little did I know what was to come in December) had left me feeling like a caged animal so it was with relief that a brief weather window allowed me to get into the hills. I sorely needed solitude so chose Allt Fawr in the Moelwynion for dose of sanity restoration. At the top the light was very fine but the wind strong and mind-numbingly cold. For an hour I shot for five minutes at a time before retreating behind the summit escarpment to re-warm, moaning with discomfort before going out for round 1, 2, 3 and 4, by which time I was satisfied I had a good image, allowing me to return to the valley and seek out some warm food and drink. In the Moelwynion



Snowdon – 21st Dec 2015 – 2.24pm

Canon 6D – f/7.1 – 1/125 – 70mm – ISO 100 – Handheld

In December my home village of Capel Curig enjoyed over 1000mm of rain, smashing records as storm after storm rolled in off the Atlantic Ocean. We had 50 consecutive days of rain and for those of us whose joy comes from being in the mountains it’s been a difficult time. The opportunities for getting out to make images have been few and far between but when they have come I have jumped at them. This image was taken from a very quiet hill called Moel y Dyniewyd, the high point of a small mountain group that sits above Beddgelert. Once again it was in a searing wind that I stood for two hours watching the light and shadow over the Snowdon Massif and this picture really encapsulates the atmosphere of the afternoon spent up there. It was a joy to be out again.




Snowdonian Ridge Wandering – 24th Dec 2015 – 2.43pm

Canon 6D – f/8 – 1/100 – 24mm – ISO 100 – Handheld

As with the last image, this is a recent one where the weather gods allowed me to play. For the last 2 years at about this time of year and quite unplanned, me and my friend Dave Dear have headed over to Moel Eilio to walk the ridge in various directions. The weather always seems to be changeable and the wind is always strong to gale force. Perhaps that’s why we choose to do this walk along broad ridges where it would be very difficult to fall off! This image was taken on such a day when the light played tricks and the wind howled across the heights. I have included this one in my top ten as on all the other occasions we have walked here I have never had the light I wanted. I could have chosen a dozen images from this day alone and many more spectacular than this one, but to me it captures the atmosphere of one of our wonderful windswept battles on Eilio. Snowdonian ridge wandering



















Snowdonia through the lens

The land of my fathers
Followers of Livesey on Britain’s mountains may well be wondering where I have been the last few months as these pages have been sorely neglected. It’s not that I’ve been inactive, far from it in fact! It’s just that my focus has changed this year and I’ve been working on my photography.

As much as I love writing about the mountains, it’s very difficult coming up with an original slant, especially if one is a hopeless romantic such as I. It’s possible I’ve run out of ways to describe the joy of walking alone on the ancient bones of the earth, the heady thrill of climbing towering buttresses or the sublime experience of greeting a new born day from above a sea of cloud. There are only so many words in the English language and my pen isn’t powerful enough to achieve my ends, which are and have always been to show anyone willing to look how special the natural heritage of Great Britain is.
Tryfan dawn

Phantasmagoria - Y Glyderau at dawn
Photography’s a different matter. Through my camera I can speak without words, my message is delivered unambiguously and the viewer is left in no doubt as to what these mountains mean to me. My passion is distilled into images of beautiful moments, frozen in time and unencumbered by clichés or fumbled attempts to describe the indescribable.
Many of us take a camera into the hills to record our days out and since I started out ten years ago I have amassed many thousands of snaps which strongly evoke memories of happy days gone by. Among these ‘snaps’ there are small a number of images that transcend the snapshot. All of them were captured by luck, by being in the right place at the right time. Flukes if you like.
Carnedd Llewelyn from Ffynnon Llugwy

These days, I actively hunt down these special images and in turns, it’s hugely rewarding and painfully frustrating but always damn hard work. The capricious nature of our weather conspires against the mountain photographer so I am constantly looking at forecasts and keeping track of where the sun will rise and set on any particular day. In the summer months it’s usual for me to rise at 2am and return to the valley after dark, the whole business can be exhausting.

This summer, though not over yet, has been disappointing and I’m looking forward now to autumn and winter. The thought of lounging in bed until 5am really appeals to me after so many early starts in the last few months!

Clogwyn du'r Arddu

Llyn Padarn

The Rhyd Ddu path

The Pass

God's country

Peeping through the bwlch - Moel Hebog

Wild Wales – The Arans

Cywarch or bust
For the past ten years I’ve been roaming the mountains of northern Snowdonia and during that time I’ve come to think of the area as my spiritual home. Eryri has captured my heart and one day I hope there to live out my days as an old mountain goat with the hills I love peering down on my home.  Those hills have become firm friends and I would need the fingers and toes of many a Wisbechian to count the times I have clambered onto Tryfan’s rocky skull, watched the sun set from Y Glyderau or traversed the lofty ridges which lead inexorably up to Yr Wyddfa, the very roof of Wales.

However, there’s more to Snowdonia than the 3000ft peaks which sit at the north western end of the National Park, much more in fact, and save a couple of forays down south to Cadair Idris there is a wealth of fine mountains which I have yet to feel beneath my boots.

A recent trip to trip to Mid Wales brought this fact home to me and on the return journey I realised that I had been missing out some superb and relatively wild country. Back at home one range in particular called out over the gulf of distance; I decided that an exploration of The Arans needed to happen sooner rather than later so when two weeks later an opportunity arose I grabbed it with both hands and boarded a train to meet my mate Tom, an award winning writer/photographer who needed some routes checking while he recovered from ankle surgery…it would have been rude not to!

So, to get the ball rolling I was dumped on a humid March morning at Dinas Mawddwy with instructions to find a way onto Foel Benddin via its South West Ridge which proved easier said than done. My first attempt was aborted after a ridiculous bout of steep bushwhacking had me turning the air blue and collapsing in a sweaty heap. From my vantage point I spied what looked like a good alternative and reluctantly turned tail, losing all the height I had laboriously gained. My new route which headed off over a delightful grassy track near Dolobran quickly saw me on the ridge and all was well with the world; all that is but a thick haze that made any attempt at photography an exercise in futility, which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been eager to crack on with my brand new 7D!

Still, it’s not all about photography and getting out alone on quiet hills is always a balm for the soul. That and the wonderful surroundings of smooth hills and placid valleys instilled a spring in my step and I was soon striding up Y Gribin, excellent ridge walking that wouldn’t be out of place in the northern fells of Lakeland. Ahead was Glasgwm, my first real peak of the day and in the blue distance across Cwm Cywarch was Aran Fawddwy, the highest mountain south of Snowdon and one I was eager to bag now my work for Tom was done; it looked a long way away.
Llyn y Fign and Glasgwm
On my way up Glasgwm I stepped into another world, a world with a remote ambience quite at odds with the fertile valley I’d left behind. It felt out on a limb, barren and wonderfully wild. At Llyn y Fign which sits just below the summit I halted a while and sat by the lapping water, now fully tuned into the frequency that affects the thoughts and feelings of the solo hillwalker. I felt like the last man on earth. Between me and Fawddwy lay a tract of desolate Cymric badlands, the crossing of which was made dry shod with thanks to extensive duck boarding, an incongruous intervention but perhaps necessary. Indeed, one can only imagine how difficult this ground would be without them, especially after a spell of wet weather.
Glasgwm from Aran Fawddwy
As it was I made relatively good progress and as I started my ascent of Fawddwy the light started to change. The haze was still maddeningly present but warm light began to fill the scene and with a quickening pulse and eagerness to reach the summit I dug deep until the trig point came into view. Minutes later I standing beside it and imagining how the view might look on a crisp winter’s eve or at the start of a new born day. I’d spent a fair bit of energy throughout my day so far and spent a while debating whether or not I would make the out and back visit to Aran Benllyn at the other end of the ridge. In the end summit fever won out and I strode out, all the while marvelling at Benllyn’s craggy South East face.

It was on Benllyn when I received a message from Tom; could I be down in Cwm Cywarch for 6.20 as he had a table booked for 8 and we still had a fair drive back. No problem was my reply and with reluctance I gathered myself for a quick descent but first I had to climb over Fawddwy again with the aid of my tried and trusted secret weapon, a bag jelly babies – for emergency use only! I made it with ten minutes to spare and sitting beneath Craig Cywarch vowed to come back to these hills again and wildcamp beside Craiglyn Dyfi.

I’d been impressed by all I saw, the Arans are wonderful mountains and the walk could only have been better had the visibility been a little more kind, however the steak and beer that washed it down more than made up for it!

Early evening on the Arans

Aran Benllyn

To steal a mountain

To steal a mountain - Penrhyn Quarry
I rose to the sound of wind and rain thrashing the thick walls of our hut, an old quarryman’s cottage in Mynydd Llandegai, a village originally founded in the mid 19th century to house workers from the nearby Penrhyn Quarry. It sits at around 1000ft above sea level on the edge of an austere moorland tract and, in inclement weather it can be a grim place where echoes of the hardships endured by the quarrymen reverberate to this day. The very fabric of the village speaks of their industry; from the fences that enclose the fields and gardens to the huge heaps of spoil it is slate which dominates hereabouts.

Alone and in reflective mood –my friends had ventured out in search of adventure-I communed with ghosts of the past and allowed a creeping melancholy to invade my psyche while pondering on an old quote, the origin of which escapes me; “Steal a sheep from the mountain, and they hang you. Steal a mountain, and they make you a lord”.

I had been biding my time, waiting for a promised break in the weather which would allow me an opportunity to capture the spirit of Y Glyderau’s ravaged northern extremities; when it eventually came I walked out of the village towards the miniature mountains of spoil beyond. The musical tinkling of slate beneath my feet lead me to a vantage point from which I could wallow deeper into my reverie. For the next hour I experienced every kind of light a photographer could wish for. I dodged showers of hail and hid behind boulders as modern day quarrymen passed by in landrovers and huge dumper trucks until hunger and cold overtook me. It had been a very interesting morning and with a good collection of images I made my way back to the hut where I met Peter.
Yr Elen

I told him of my plans for the afternoon which centred around a visit to the summit of Elidir Fawr, the most hideously scarred and exploited mountain in all Eryri. There I would stay until the sun sank into the Irish Sea in the hope of a photographic bonanza. Peter is an artist and has recently been working on a series of sunsets so naturally he thought my plan a winner and happily agreed to accompany me.
Elidir Fawr and Elidir Fach
At 3 O’clock we set off for Marchlyn Mawr reservoir and Elidir’s North Ridge which led us breathlessly onto the rocky summit ridge. If I had been pleased with the light earlier in the day then the time we spent on that marvellous mountain top left us ecstatic as scene after scene of unimaginable beauty unveiled itself in a series of incredible light events.

Our descent over Elidir Fach was a quiet one, words seeming superfluous and somewhat banal. I thought of quarrymen past and present; I thought of the hydro electric power station housed in the bowels of Elidir but most of all I thought of man’s arrogance despite his fragility and transience. Steal a mountain? I don’t think so…
Ridge - Elidir Fawr

Ogwen triptych from Elidir Fawr

Phantasmagoric light on the Snowdon Range

Evening fire on Y Glyderau

A date with dawn on the Great Ridge

Back Tor
With the country set to descend into chaos within hours a spur of the moment decision was made to pre-empt the madness and head on up to Peakland. Our destination was the Edale YHA and our mission an early morning assault on the great ridge to take in the sunrise.

All was going well until we arrived in Edale and realised that getting the car up to the youth hostel would be impossible without snow chains. Not a problem though; we are a hardy pair and happily carried our bits and bobs up and checked in before heading off to the pub for some much needed nosebag. With a couple of pints of Old Rosie, good grub and the snow piling up on the windowsills it was quite simply a wonderful way to spend a cold winter evening.

There were others too enjoying their stay in Peakland and we got talking to a couple of them on the walk back. Our conversation with Jason and Izabela continued in the YHA bar and later in the communal kitchen where we sang and played guitars while drinking wine, beer and vodka late into the night. Splendid stuff indeed.

It’ll come as no surprise that when my alarm went off at 6am my spirits had dipped somewhat and with a sore head and arid gob I staggered downstairs to meet the bouncing Czech who was also feeling fragile as a result of her nocturnal libations! Still, if there is a better cure for a hangover than winter peaks I have yet to hear about it.

So out into the cold morning went we and soon the white hills started to glow in the pre dawn. If we were to make it up there for sunrise we would have to be quick. The plan had been to traverse the high ridge that separates Edale and the Hope Valley in its entirety but that would mean we would almost certainly miss sun up. I took the executive decision to alter our route and we set about a direct course up to the col betwixt Back Tor and Hollins Cross. In our delicate state breaking trail through the fresh snow was sheer purgatory but as a pink glow filled the sky I upped the pace until at last we hit the ridge with but seconds to spare.
Peakland sunrise
There we stood, gasping for breath as the sun rose in a spectacular show of golden light. The snow on the ridge was virgin, the valley silent below, a stunning scene of pristine beauty and we shared it with no one but each other.

Such moments are bitter sweet for they are so fleeting, not unlike life for those that love the hills; so many places to go, so little time. Today though, time was something that we had in abundance and rejoicing in every step we slowly made our way over the ups and downs of the ridge before finally coming to rest on Mam Tor, the shivering mountain.
Heading off to Mam Tor
We peered down the gully that splits its precipitous face. Stone fall raked the gully which showed signs of a recent ascent, no doubt a pre dawn climb while the icy cold of night bonded together the crumbling bastion above.
Classic choss
Before long a chill wind was upon us followed by a curtain of low cloud, blinding us to all but the ground beneath our feet. The show was over, it was time to go and we retraced our steps, smug in the knowledge that while those in valleys slept we had witnessed the miracle birth of a new born day, a gift that so many take for granted.
The Great Ridge wall

Looking to Back Tor and Lose HIll

Attention – New photography blog

Greetings folks, a shameless plug I’m afraid!
Logo copy
As I have become more serious about my photography in the last 12 months I have started a new blog to showcase some of my images and share the odd musing on the very same. I’d be really pleased if any of my followers could have a look and maybe follow the new Nick Livesey Mountain Images Blog too.
The Bleak District
The appearance of the NLMI blog doesn’t mean that I will be neglecting ‘Livesey on Britain’s Mountains’ though. I’ll still be sharing tales of my adventures (and misadventures) on the UK hills here so you’ll have to put up with it for the foreseeable future!
Many thanks,

On the Carneddau with a grumbling appendage

Y Garn from Pen yr Ole Wen
It’s funny how things go sometimes. Of all the occasions I’ve been up Pen yr Ole Wen I’ve always gone up the East Ridge. Of course I have. Why wouldn’t I? The direct ascent from Ogwen is too steep to be a comfortable walk, not steep enough to be a real scramble and everyone I know who’s been foolish enough to do it has come back to me spouting unutterable oaths so naturally I vowed never to tread its evil side. Strange then that in the space of a month I’ve done it twice!

In December I dragged myself up there in the name of adventure and completion. The rocks were covered in verglas and the snow cover was unconsolidated making for an exciting and insecure venture made all the more invigorating by a gale force arctic blast once on the summit. Never again I said!

A couple of weeks later on a perfect blue sky day I decided that Lucie should experience its dubious pleasures too and surprisingly she was in agreement. Unfortunately in the name of honest reportage I am duty bound to divulge that within an hour there were tears and recriminations. Ok, it was hard work but I saw no reason for such a melodramatic exhibition. The air was still and very cold, the mountain deserted and ten feet below us a big ginger fox had arrived on the scene, eyeing us with suspicion before darting headlong down the mountain. How could anyone not be enjoying themselves?

Things improved when onto the summit we crawled; the hard work was over, for a while at least. Onwards to Carnedd Dafydd then where the boss would decide whether or not she wanted to continue on over to Llewelyn which as it happens she did.
Procession on Pen yr Ole Wen

In the shadows -Tryfan
It’s a lovely walk along the rim of Cwm Llafar and Lucie seemed to be enjoying it too. Happy days indeed and I would have been jumping for joy were it not for the clear blue sky. It’s not good for photography you see. Worse still, our original plan had been to traverse the Snowdon Horseshoe which come the morning we decided against. Guess what? Over on the Snowdon Massif great dramas were being played out as swirling clouds came hither and thither before being torn to shreds by the sharp peak of Yr Wyddfa; oh how I wished I was there but of course I wasn’t.

Anyhow, I decided that it wasn’t all about photographs and resolved to forget about Snowdon and enjoy the beautiful weather, the like of which I haven’t seen for months in these parts. This enjoyment came easy until the final slog up onto Llewelyn’s balding pate where the recriminations resumed in earnest, “You and your shitty mountains, I’m sick of you” being one of the milder offerings!

As my beloved disappeared into the blue distance I realised that you can’t please everyone all the time and so decided to please myself for the time being and go on a charm offensive later. However, once down in Cwm Ffynnon something happened that made an exercise in damage limitation the last thing on my mind. Oh yes, from the south the clouds did roll in and what wonderful light was it that filled the hoary cwm?
Wall and Llewelyn
In paroxysms I flew across the bog almost walking on water as I went searching for the perfect composition, quite oblivious to anything or anyone before returning to Lucie who had been waiting patiently on a large boulder. I was a very happy man and Lucie had cheered up a bit too, that is until she discovered that there was two and a half miles of tarmac bashing between us and the car, a mistake I promised both Lucie and myself I wouldn’t make again.

Who was it that said promises are made to be broken? The very next day we went for a great walk up the Rhyd Ddu and down the Snowdon Ranger and guess how that day ended; a tale for another time maybe!
Ffynnon Llugwy

The mighty Tryfan from Cwm Llugwy

The long walk out

The Fairfield Horseshoe

The Fairfield Horseshoe

Another day with the doctor
Looking to the Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike
When the call comes from Dr Robert Pontefract, one instinctively knows that an unusual outing is on the cards. Be it spending a night out on Tower Ridge or Great Gully on Craig yr Ysfa or even just dragging a rope and rack around the Yorkshire three peaks to climb a very green ‘Red pencil direct’ you can be sure that returning before nightfall won’t be part of the plan. That is if there is a plan at all!

It went a bit like this…”The weather looks better in the west so we’ll head over towards the Roaches. Bring walking gear too. I’ll pick you up at 8am”. Well, it was 9 before I finally clapped eyes on that bean pole lunatic and west we went…then north a bit until at 1pm we found ourselves in Ambleside where coincidentally were bumped into Peter ‘The Machine’ Machin. It’s a small world.

I wanted a hill, just one and that hill was Pike O’Blisco. Sadly the Langdale fells were smothered in cloud and one hill was never going to satisfy Dr Bob so it was decided that the Fairfield Horseshoe looked like a good bet. Having never done it before I would have been chomping at the bit were it not for one small detail, I had forgotten to bring my head torch. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll  just get a move on” offered the epicure of epics, seemingly oblivious to the fact that we had around 4 hours of daylight to play with and the Fairfield Horseshoe is about 11 miles long! Oh well, what did I expect?
Heron Pike and Windermere
We parked up beside Rydal Hall and trudged up Nab Scar, weary and stiff after four hours sat in the car. In the west the view was obliterated by a stubborn cloud cap but everywhere north and east was bathed in golden light which was only going to get better. This realisation blew away any feelings of fatigue and instilled in us an excitement difficult to contain; for us two photographers that kind of light is an instant cure all so we blasted off over Heron Pike and Great Rigg past bemused looking walkers, reaching Fairfield’s stony dome two hours after leaving Rydal. There we remained for an hour, aware that precious time was being lost but unable to tear ourselves away and milking the golden hour for all its worth.
Next stop Great Rigg

Enjoying a wee dram of Glenfiddich on Fairfield
As the sun disappeared behind the cloud bank we scooted off over Hart Crag, slipping as we went on greasy boulders. On Dove crag we picked up the wall that becomes your companion on the southern arm of the horseshoe and serves as a useful guide in mist, or, as it happens, failing light!

The darkness has slowed us down on our descent but we figured that for two slightly unfit blokes five and a half hours up and down was pretty good going. What a day it had been, but it wasn’t quite over. Of course not, a four hour drive awaited us though not before a fish supper from the Old Smithy. All in all, quite mild for a day with the Dr.
Sunset on Fairfield

Lakeland’s boring giant

Lakeland’s boring giant?
Making acquaintance with Skiddaw
Skiddaw from Skiddaw Little Man
Through a decade of hill wanderings I’d managed to avoid hoary old Skiddaw, and Peter, having started his mountain journey in his teens had successfully got away with it for almost twice as long. It’s a well known fact that Skiddaw is a yawnsome lump; a mountain for ambitious pensioners, not serious hill folk like us!

That was our confirmed opinion but last October I remember coming along the A66 from Cockermouth and seeing it in a completely different light. Gone were the sleek lines and bracken clad prettiness, replaced by a massive grey scree covered hump which somehow caught my imagination. Furthermore, we’ve set up camp beneath the old bugger on several occasions this year and slowly but surely that huge heap has infiltrated our psyche and become an object of desire. Though we were, for a period unwilling to admit it to ourselves let alone each other the truth always has a habit of coming out in the end so when it did we both felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from our shoulders; but if we were to tackle the blighter then by what route? Silly question really, for any Wainwright aficionado there can be only one…these photographs will help tell the story…
On a hot day...late September
As I write this the rain is beating upon my window and I am sat beside the fire with a good single malt (Ledaig if you really must know) which is in total contrast to how it was last week! Here we see Peter toiling up from Dodd Wood in the grip of an Indian summer. We were leaking fluid faster than we could get it on board such was the heat of the afternoon.
On Ullock Pike
And here’s Peter on Ullock Pike. The ridge below is known as ‘The Edge’ and provides some classic fellwalking en route to our first ‘Wainwright’ of the day. It’s also a good place for budding geologists to study outcroppings of Skiddaw slate, the very fabric of the mountain and completely different to the volcanic material of the fells further south, accounting for the smooth outlines of these northern hills.
Longside Edge

Peter on Longside
These two shots illustrate ‘Longside Edge’, a lovely glacial arête giving a safe but airy perambulation for even the most timid of walkers which is pure joy to tread. I sent Peter on his way to the top of Longside to add scale to the photographs, the second of which is a close up. Indeed, you have to look really closely to spot him on the first one!
On Longside Edge with Bassenthwaite Lake and the North Western Fells beyond
Oh, and did I say that the view over Bassenthwaite Lake to the North Western Fells is rather good?
Heading up to the summit of Skiddaw
After the delights of Ullock Pike and Longside Edge (which can be seen behind Peter) we reach Carlside Col and its tiny tarn which we’ll stop to look at later, right now we’ve got work to do with a lung buster up to Skiddaw’s lofty summit.
On Skiddaw Summit

Blencathra and Skiddaw Forest from Skiddaw Summit

Skiddaw sunbeams
And at the summit we can confirm that the views are extraordinary. Peter has a saying which goes a bit like this…”Better to be on the ugly mountain looking at the handsome ones than the other way round”. Please don’t let the fact that Skiddaw isn’t that ugly spoil the sentiment; you know what he means!
Carlside Tarn
On our return to the vale we had time to look at Carlside Tarn, surely one of the smallest named tarns in Lakeland. We found Foxes Tarn to be smaller but if you know of any others then don’t be shy, let me know.
Derwent Water and Keswick in the gloaming
Beyond Carlside we came upon a rash of white stones possibly quartzite, a very strange discovery amidst the profusion of sedimentary rock thereabouts. We sat there for quite some time as it’s a splendid perch on which to view the Keswick illuminations. As always we are loath to leave the hill those lights below serve only to remind us of the food and drink waiting to make its way into our bellies. So, what about Skiddaw then? Well put it this way, we’ll be back!

Navigationally challenged

Navigationally challenged
A very long day on the Scafell Massif
The Coniston Fells and Harter Fell from Broad Crag
That unknown mountaineering duo Machin and Livesey were back in Lakeland for a big day out. Machin wanted to bag a load of peaks and walk down in the dark; Livesey wanted to get some dramatic photographs during the golden hour, bag a load of peaks and walk down in the dark. This is the usual recipe for an M and L day out with only the multi-pitch rock climb absent; it would appear the boys are getting lazy with age!

Anyway, if I can revert to the first person I’ll start by saying there was one mountain firmly on our wish list. A sin of omission had seen us inexplicably fail to put Scafell beneath our boots and it was high time we bagged the bastard, preferably via the infamous ‘Broad Stand’, though not before lobbing a few other tops into our bag first.

We left Seathwaite in Borrowdale relatively late for a big day and neglected to rush, enjoying as we were the wonderful walk up Grains Gill with Great End towering above at the valley head. And what a grand sight it is, its north east face a winter crag if ever we saw one. Rather than walk around it we went for a closer look and an ascent of Cust’s Gully which we found to be utterly minging. Still, there’s a lot of good scrambling on that face so we found an entertaining route to the summit where a good view of the Scafell Massif unfolded. Time for some peak bagging!
High above Sprinkling Tarn

Scrambling on Great End
Ill Crag came and went, then Broad Crag followed by the roof of England itself where perversely we didn’t even stop to touch the trig point. No, we had other fish to fry. Now then, Scafell Pike is undoubtedly the highest peak in Lakeland but in no way is it the finest. It’s a contestable point but that accolade may just go to Scafell, our next port of call.
We had three options; one, a big descent and re-ascent via Foxes Tarn; Two, a descent from Mickledore to Lords Rake which for the last few years has been regarded as risky due to a detached pinnacle that threatens to collapse just when you are underneath it; our third option was Broad Stand, a notorious accident black spot and a place I had retreated from 7 years ago with my good friend Juggs. Broad Stand it is then!
Mickledore and Scafell from Scafell Pike

Broad Stand

On Broad Stand
I’ll admit that I was feeling a little apprehensive as we stood at the foot of our ‘scramble’ so before I lost my nerve I squeezed through ‘Fat man’s agony’ and scooted left, then up the delicate slab to the crux step, a 7ft high corner which has been polished to a high sheen. It was leaning past the vertical, slippery and on getting to grips with it I didn’t like it. The thing is, if you come off it then bad things will happen. Maybe we should have brought a rope! Peter joined me and threw himself at it, almost pulling over the top before coming to the conclusion that he was about to fall to his death. Fortunately a bit of combined tactics proved effective in preserving Peter as we all know and love him.
Taking stock we were both surprised at how this short piece of moderate climbing had proved to be a real stopper. I related a line I’d read in a book which stated that “Broad Stand is not to be attempted by walkers and can sometimes be an insuperable obstacle even to experienced climbers”.

Carefully we descended back to Mickledore and considered our remaining options. In the end we plumped for Lord’s Rake, affording the pinnacle great respect until we were safely above it. Half an hour later we were on the summit of Scafell and rather than enjoying a wonderful sunset we were putting waterproof jackets on and speculating on our future. The plan was as thus; we would descend the Foxes Tarn path (which in hindsight we were glad we hadn’t ascended), climb up to the pike again and go down the Corridor Route back to Borrowdale via Sty Head. Simples!
Pike's Crag with Kirk Fell Beyond

Lord's Rake
Back on Scafell Pike it was almost dark but there was nothing to be gained from rushing around so we had a short break , revelling in having the place to ourselves before setting off again. The well cairned path took us down to Lingmell col past an endless stream of three peakers, most of which seemed to be in as good a mood as we were. However, unbeknown to us our mood was soon to change. Try as we might we just couldn’t get established on the Corridor Route. For a good hour we floundered, following bearings that led into blind alleys, climbed low crags, finding cairns on nonexistent paths. With every passing minute the prospect of a fish supper and a few pints was growing more remote until we had to admit to ourselves that blundering around in the vicinity of Pier’s Gill was not the best thing to be doing in the dark.

We had two options. We could go to the summit of the pike for the third time and return to Borrowdale over the tops or descend to Wasdale and with a bit of luck get to the pub for some refreshment. The thought of a pint and maybe some food won out but we would have to be quick.

With five minutes to spare we stumbled into Ritson’s bar, ordering a pint of lemonade each and a packet of delicious crisps to share. I’ve never been a fan of the Wasdale Head Inn but this night I would happily have stayed there for hours. Sadly, it couldn’t be. Though wet and weary we were unceremoniously booted out into the night and commenced our return journey, in turn startling and startled by sheep and cattle as we stumbled through the fields of Wasdale Head.

Soon we would come upon the motorway to Sty Head; some time passed until we realised we had somehow missed it and were still on the lower path beside the beck. The map suggested that further on we would find some zigzags that would take us up to Sty Head. We searched and searched in vain. Dejected we collapsed onto the boulders, switched off our head torches and sat quietly as into the profound darkness we were enveloped. So black was the night that each to the other was invisible; only the sound of laboured breaths giving reassurance that we were not alone in our ordeal and, as mellow dramatic as that must sound, it is truly how we felt.

It was during this time that I began to feel at one with everything around, above and below me. Peter did too, and were it not for the rain we would have remained on that lonely hillside until the break of day. Far, almost impossibly high above us on the summit of the pike we observed tiny lights and camera flashes but no sound did we hear. Higher still the international space station (or maybe just a satellite) floated silently across the sky, a juxtaposition exhibiting tremendous perspective, speaking eloquently of that part of the human condition which reaches out to the unknown, be it the universe, a mountain top or just some lowly wrinkle in the earth’s surface.

Our reverie was unfortunately broken by the realisation that we were still a long way from our tents and no amount of philosophising would bring us closer to them. We decided to “stop fucking about” and give up on our fruitless search for the zigzags. We struck a course straight uphill with a painful slog and some scrambling on greasy rock putting us within spitting distance of Sty Head. I don’t mind admitting that when we hit that path I felt a lump in my throat. Peter and I had planned to come down in the dark, indeed it is part and parcel of our days out but after such a monumental error in our route finding I’d had more than enough and felt incredibly relieved.

At last we knew with certainty where we were and though we still had a few more miles to endure it would be a straightforward walk requiring us to put one sore foot in front of the other and nothing more. On those last miles we spoke little but both knew that our day had been a little bit special and come the morning we would laugh about it.

When our journey finally came to an end it was 3.30am and we had been on the go for 17 hours. There’s a moral in this story somewhere, but please dear reader, if you find it then spare us your wisdom, for it would be casting pearls before swine!
Looking to the Scafells from Great End

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