Epic Lake District trip report – ‘Life of a Mountain: Blencathra’

Sharp Edge Blencathra Lake District
Lone walker at 04:15 on Sharp Edge, Blencathra the other week.

Since February this year many of you will be aware I’ve been frantically working on my next Lakeland documentary ‘Life of a Mountain: Blencathra’. Needless to say it’s taken up quite a lot of my time. I have a very busy summer ahead and so I’ve been keen to knock all of the spring and some of the summer filming on the head freeing up time for me to focus on bread and butter work.

The good old British weather has more often than not conspired against me too which has had a knock-on effect with my commitments but all said and done I’m thrilled to reveal I’ve completed 30 minutes of the documentary now and I’m absolutely over the moon with how it’s all coming together.

What’s been really rather interesting for me of late is going through my footage and stills and noting how Blencathra’s face has slowly but surely been evolving as winter turned to spring and then summer. It’s fascinating. You may well pick up on it in this blogpost. Below you’ll find a series of photos I’ve captured since February including one where I woke at camp to snow in late May!

Most of the photos you will see features scenes from the documentary’s opening 30 minutes….

Sharp Edge winter Lake District cumbria blencathra
I officially began filming in February and despite some inclement weather, I managed to come away with some very atmospheric and brooding video. Here’s Sharp Edge with the last of the winter snows.

Souther Fell winter Lake District cumbria
I enjoy camping out on Souther Fell (pronounced ‘sowt-her’) which generally affords cracking views from east to west along the A66 corridor.

Halls Fell Ridge scrambling Alan Hinkes Trail Magazine
Here’s mountaineer Alan Hinkes skipping along part of Halls Fell Ridge like it’s a walk in the park!

Blencathra sunset alan hinkes trail magazine
As inferred above, one shoot involved filming both Oil Reed from Trail Magazine and Alan Hinkes ascending Blencathra via what I think is the best route up – Halls Fell. Here we see them atop Gategill Fell before descending to the field studies centre.
Castlerigg stone circle Blencathra lake district cumbria
During a short stay in Keswick in March I set off pre-dawn one morning to capture this cold scene of Castlerigg Stone Circle and Blencathra. Was well worth the effort. I was all alone, the air was crisp (so cold in fact ice kept forming within seconds on my camera lens). This was a morning that still lingers in my mind to this very day. Wonderful!

wild camping backpacking stars night lake district cumbria f10 MTN tent
During the same visit to Keswick I headed out to spend the night on Jenkins Hill by Skiddaw. My intention to capture night timelapse scenes of Blencathra from this location. The heavens above were quite simply incredible.

Blencathra from Skiddaw dawn
The following morning from my camp on Jenkins Hill I enjoyed a lovely sunrise over ‘Saddleback’. Feeling exhausted from a busy week, I ignored the fine weather that was in store for the day and headed back to Keswick for some much needed rest.

Great Mell Fell dawn lake district cumbria
Not much to say here….Great Mell Fell one morning. My wife had joined me for a few days, which enabled her to act as a taxi for me. Despite the early set off I think she enjoyed the developing scenes too! I think….

Skiddaw House youth hostel
Still in March, filming continued this time around the back of Blencathra where I eventually shot some scenes of Skiddaw House hostel.

Marie Skiddaw House hostel
Marie is the manager at Skiddaw House and lives on site for much of the year. You won’t find any modern communications here bar radio. The hostel is the highest in Britain and affords some remote views of Blencathra.

Threlkeld storm lake district blencathra cumbria
More often than not the weather has been poor on my shoots. Yes the photos appear to reveal otherwise, but it’s involved lots of waiting around and patience – ready to pounce at a moments notice. Saying that even on poor weather days one can still enjoy some wonderful views of the area.

pier sunset lake district derwentwater
Occasionally I’ll take a break while filming and have a wander elsewhere to clear my frantic mind. Here’s a scene from Derwentwater after a relaxing evening’s stroll by the lake before heading off to the pub.
F10 Helium wild camping lake district
With April having arrived one trip involved me heading out to camp on Threlkeld Knotts with TV researcher and mountain guide David Powell-Thompson. It was a bit windy at first but all in all conditions were rather benign.

Herdwick sheep sunset lake district cumbria
Me and David got to enjoy a fine sunset. Sadly at this time of year the sun sets too far north to light up Blencathra. Even so it’s always humbling to observe the end of another day on the fells.

F10 Helium tent David Powell-Thompson lake district blencathra
David wrapped up warm by his camp. We’d been discussing the shoot we planned on Threlkeld Knotts despite the chilly winds. It didn’t take long for us both to retreat to our beds for the night mind.

sunset Threlkeld Knotts
Come late summer and into autumn the sun will eventually set further south so hopefully I’ll be able to capture some nice evening scenes of Blencathra then. Fingers crossed eh?

Threlkeld Knotts summit David Powell-Thompson lake district blencathra
The following morning, me and David recorded the opening scenes for ‘Life of a Mountain: Blencathra’. David introduces the fell, it’s history and other details before the film kicks off proper. Thankfully we had some wonderful weather conditions for filming.

National Trust Fix the Fells Wasdale Lake district
Still in April, I made my over to Wasdale to record cutaway scenes of the National Trust and Fix the Fells teams. You may recognise Ian in this pic, who appears in ‘Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike’.

Fix the Fell Wasdale Lake District Cumbria
I was fortunate enough to catch a ride in a helicopter and capture scenes from above before jumping out near Hollow Stones on the Scafells. The backdrop being the work the teams do in sourcing rock and shipping it to relevant areas when dealing with footpath erosion. More of this is explained in the documentary of course.

Tanya Oliver Fix the Fells Life of a mountain Blencathra
Tanya Oliver who’s the project manager for Fix the Fells appears in the documentary talking about the work the teams (including volunteers) do on Blencathra. Work that continues all year round. From clearing drains, seed planting, to repairing traditional old mining routes up and about the fell.

Joss Naylor Steve Birkinshaw Trail Running Magazine
May arrived and I was back in Keswick this time filming scenes featuring legendary fellrunner Joss Naylor (right) who was doing a talk at the Keswick Mountain Festival. The talk was hosted by Claire Maxted from Trail Running Magazine and concerned Steve Birkinshaw’s (left) record breaking Wainwright run last year. A record Joss held for 26 years if memory serves me right. Steve lives near Blencathra and so he features in the documentary covering fellrunning.

Blencathra River Glenderamackin
You won’t just find me out and about on Blencathra or the high ground nearby but also down in the valley too. Here’s Blencathra seen from the River Glenderamackin. A big thanks to the local farmer – who allowed me onto his private land to have a wander and capture scenes here.

Eycott Hill Lake District summit Blencathra cumbria
Recently Cumbria Wildlife Trust purchased a chunk of land facing ‘Saddleback’ which includes Eycott Hill. Thankfully they gave me a permit to film on their land to capture other aspects of  the ‘people’s mountain’ (as I call it now).

BBC Radio Stuart Maconie Life of a Mountain Blencathra
BBC Radio’s Stuart Maconie joined me for a shoot on Eycott Hill. Stuart has a place nearby and regularly walks in the area. He shares his thoughts on Blencathra and overlooked areas such as Mungrisdale Common and Bannerdale Crags which essentially form part of the massif that Blencathra dominates.

Saddleback Blencathra Eycott Hill
There you go! The ‘Saddleback’ profile. Most locals still refer to the fell by this name despite the likes of Wainwright and many others preferring it’s original title. You’ll hear more about this in my documentary.

clough head sunset lake district
I’ve spent quite some time in Threlkeld for obvious reasons. While strolling back from the Horse and Farrier pub one evening, I caught sight of this wonderful light over St John’s in the Vale. It happens quite often at this time of year despite any overcast skies. Keep your eyes peeled. It’s breathtaking!

Blencathra Wescoe Cumbria lake district
Here’s a view I’ve been chomping at the bit to capture for quite some time. It looks better in video form to be honest. Blencathra and the hamlet of Wescoe seen from open access land near the old railway line and A66. The weather had been poor for much of the day, but come the afternoon the cloud broke for a while and the sun managed to force it’s way through and dance it’s golden light on the fells. It’s times like that where I’m in my absolute element.
red squirrel threlkeld cumbria lake district
It wouldn’t surprise you to learn I’ve been making lots of friends in the area too! This cute fella skipped between my legs one morning and darted up a tree to munch away on his breakfast.
blencathra and scales lake district
Do all signs lead to Blencathra? Perhaps they do. Go have a wander and find out for yourself.
blencathra summit wild camping hilleberg soulo lake district
Now to late May. In fact the very end of May and only now the fells are beginning to turn green of sorts. Ignoring the horrendous winds I slogged my way up and camped on the summit of Blencathra one evening. I was thankful I took the Hilleberg Soulo with me. A strong one person tent which dealt with the gales really rather well.

Hilleberg Soulo snow blencathra may wild camping lake district
During the night of my camp on the summit, I did stir a couple of times as I got chilly feet within my summer rated Rab down sleeping bag. And you can see why here! I woke at 4am hoping to capture dawn scenes but instead woke to snow!

The winds were now light and huge snow flakes mixed with sleet descended upon the fell. I shared my experience on Twitter and Facebook – and soon my social network feeds went into meltdown as news spread there was snow on the tops in the Lake District. As it happens, once I began my descent via Doddick Fell the snow quickly thawed. The clouds parted, temperatures increased and the sun shone down.

The Times Hilleberg Soulo wild camping lake district
Over the next few days I became aware that a number of the national media had been reporting on my experience camping up Blencathra – as seen here in The Times. I was told by folks online that even radio had been discussing it too, with one member of the public calling to say I was irresponsible to have been camped out in such conditions! Well…..little did they know eh?! Typically our south-eastern England biased media reported on it with aplomb. Bizarre given at the time there was still plenty of snow up in Scotland!

The other week I posted several stormy scenes to Twitter which caused some considerable interest. Here’s one of my photos being featured on BBC Breakfast a week or so later.

Skiddaw lake district cumbria storm
I planned to camp on Threlkeld Common the other week and for the first time in my life, I bailed out on camp. The weather less than ideal and the winds were quite severe. I had the Hilleberg Soulo with me anticipating the conditions but even so at times the tent began to lift off the ground despite my kit inside etc. I figured I wouldn’t get much sleep so I made the decision to retreat back to Threlkeld where I had a warm bed and decent food on standby. I still managed to capture some nice scenes on video though but that was about the best of it really.

Tewet Tarn and storm from Threlkeld Knotts
Here’s another still from my bailed out camp trip. It was from this collection that BBC Breakfast asked to use on TV. Here’s some of that heavenly light beaming down on Tewet Tarn.

wild camping backpacking lake district
A couple of days later and conditions turned relatively benign again. This meant I could head out and camp the night with the new Hilleberg Enan – a lightweight fair weather shelter. Hilleberg have sent me kit to test and review while working on my documentary.

hilleberg enan tent wild camping lake district
After a tiring hike from Mungrisdale, via Bannerdale Crags, back to Bowscale Tarn and an about turn to Atkinson Pike, I made camp again on Blencathra. I was pretty shattered at this point so was quietly pleased the setting sun wasn’t offering anything spectacular.

gategill fell st john's in the vale lake district blencathra
On another windy camp up Blencathra I was again fortunate enough to savour and capture yet more dramatic moody scenes. Here you can see Gategill Fell and the view south from Halls Fell ridge.

Gategill Fell lake district blencathra
Once again, the distant setting sun peeped below the cloud in the north west and began to produce some magic about the area. It was still rather windy though! Often I had to lie on the ground and hug my cameras to capture these scenes as they were being bashed about too much.

Sharp Edge Scales Tarn dawn Blencathra lake district
My last camp of late. I was hoping to grab scenes of Sharp Edge at dawn. And thankfully the weather gods decided to smile down on my perseverance. Not for long though. Clag, followed by more winds and rain came in later.

Sharp Edge dawn Blencathra Lake District
I was up and about Sharp Edge at 4am and while filming I noted this young man strolling along the arete. Fair play to him! James an outdoor instructor had popped down from Scotland in the night to set off early doors and tackle this famous ridge for the first time.
The days, weeks and months are rapidly rolling on by for me. I don’t know which day or date and sometimes year it is at times! I’m so driven and focused on the work in hand and of course much of what I set out to achieve is at the mercy of the weather. Everything becomes a blur.
All said and done I’m absolutely thrilled with how my Blencathra documentary is shaping up. I’m confident it will exceed everyone’s expectations and then some – well it is in my opinion. I have some big shoots still to come this summer a couple of which I hope will prove to be big emotional sucker punches for viewers. Until then I’ll be visiting the Lakes much less for the next month or so as I’ve got other commissions to work on. But Blencathra and the northern fells is always there in the back of my mind.
The area has captivated me and gripped my heart with a vice. And if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few months – it truly is the ‘people’s mountain’. This iconic fell receives so much affection from locals and tourists alike it’s actually rather compelling for me and consequently I’ve redrawn many plans to emphasise this emotion.
Either way, I’m very much looking forward to my return. 

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