Western Howgills

Home   Preamble   Index   Areas   Map   References   Me   Drakkar

Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
If you'd like to give a comment, correction or update (all are very welcome) or to be notified by email when a new item is posted - please send an email to johnselfdrakkar@gmail.com.

146.  A November Day around Grasmere and Rydal Water

It has not occurred to me to wear gloves yet this autumn-cum-winter. I checked that they were safely ensconced at the bottom of my backpack, just in case I might need them on this, the first cold (well, average, really) day for a while. Surely in decades past I would have been wearing gloves in late November? Or is my memory failing me? Has anyone else noticed that we are a wee bit warmer nowadays? I understand that there was some sort of gathering recently in Glasgow to discuss this matter. They even held the event, COP 26, five years early in order to give themselves longer to talk about it.

From Ambleside I headed past the church, over the River Rothay and up onto the open access land of bracken and scrubby knolls to reach Lily Tarn. This charming little tarn is not so little that it hasn’t space for a necessarily littler island. Being near the highest point of this undulating area, it provides good views of Fairfield and, distantly, Crinkle Crags.
lily tarn

Lily Tarn

Taking the bridleway south, I noticed a sign saying that the larch were being felled because a fungus-like pathogen called phytophthora ramorum is spreading a highly contagious disease amongst the trees. I know how they feel. I then reached Loughrigg Tarn which must have one of the most impressive backdrops, when viewed from the north-east, of any Lakeland tarn, with the Langdale Pikes prominent. I sat for a snack to admire it for a while.
loughrigg tarn

Loughrigg Tarn

I then scrambled up Loughrigg Fell (335 metres, although there seemed to be a lot more of them than on previous occasions). This is, of course, one of the most walked up fells in the Lake District and understandably so, since however often one walks up it, one always feels well rewarded by the magnificent views from the top in all directions, including Bowfell, the Langdale Pikes, Helm Crag, Skiddaw, the Fairfield Horseshoe and the Coniston Group. As usual, there were a good number of people about on the fell, most now without winter wear on a windless, sunny day.
loughrigg fell

Langdale from the slopes of Loughrigg Fell

It is not easy to relate specific weather events, such as a mild November here or floods in Canada, to longer-term climate change. My earliest winters were in Norfolk and (according to my memory) it was always frosty on Guy Fawkes night, we always had frost on the inside of windows, every footpath became an icy slide for queues of kids, and teachers took us outside for snowball fights. Perhaps winters were different here in North-West England, basking in the Gulf Stream and not blasted by freezing winds from Siberia, like Norfolk.

I consulted Cumbria’s Weather: Your Complete Guide, written in 2009 by Peter Johnson, a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. He claimed to be on the fence about climate change but his opinion is revealed by comments such as that, in view of the varying predictions, “horoscopes … carry an equal degree of probability”. He thought that even if we were getting warmer that’s no bad thing:
“The effects of a warmer climate would be largely beneficial [for Cumbria], as far less fossil fuel would be required for domestic and industrial heating. The demand for electricity would fall … In addition, a longer growing season would be a boon to farmers [and] a lack of frost would benefit fruit growers” (Johnson 2009).
So that’s all right, then. If there’s drought in Africa, floods in Bangladesh and fires in Greece, then I’ll be able to grow a few more courgettes.

I did, of course, enjoy the view from Loughrigg Fell for some time. One thing could not be not noticed. There was no snow anywhere to be seen, even on the highest peaks, neither recent snow nor remnant of past snow. So far this autumn-winter I have heard no mention of snow in the Lakes and, as far as I can recall, no forecast of snow upon the Lake District hills. Is this normal?

The Cumbria’s Weather book has more opinions than facts but it does include one relevant graph. This shows the average number of days each month that Fairfield has snow cover. There is no suggestion that this may have changed recently. It as though Fairfield has had, and has always had, and will always have, eight days (on average) of snow cover in November. Whatever the precise meteorological definition of ‘snow cover’ is I suspect that Fairfield has had zero days of it this November. There are eight days of November left.

To see whether this year’s absence of snow is unusual I consulted Harry Griffin, the doyen of Lake District writers, who wrote about the Lake District for the Guardian for over fifty years. He had been a founder-member of the Lake District Ski Club in 1936 and, being a keen skier, he kept a close watch on snow conditions. In 2003 he wrote
“Where have all the winters gone? … 30 or 40 years ago we could count on up to four months of skiing almost every winter … Everything’s changing – not just the weather but the seasons. Can we really dream this year of a white Christmas?” (Griffin (2003), in Griffin (2005)).
I dropped down from Loughrigg Fell to the north, with the perfect views of Grasmere below, walked through the National Trust’s Deerbolts Wood past Red Bank into the village of Grasmere. It was still moderately busy with people milling about, although much of it was closed. I sat with my sandwiches, wondering whether the sheltered inhabitants of Grasmere experience (or used to experience) harsh winters. Griffin’s observations concerned snow on the mountain tops – has the weather at lower levels changed at all? I turned to Cedric Robinson who was for 56 years the Queen’s Guide to the Sands of Morecambe Bay, which is as low a level as you can get. He led walks across the perilous bay and his life and that of his walkers depended upon him knowing about the bay’s weather. Nobody would be more aware of changes in the bay’s climate. In 2007 he wrote
“We seem to have lost our four seasons. Gone are the hard winters I knew as a child when almost every family in the village of Flookburgh owned a sledge and the snow seemed to lie for ages” (Robinson, 2007).
grasmere

Grasmere

This is all most perplexing. Two locals who had more reason than anyone to be aware of the weather were convinced that the climate had changed in recent decades – but a meteorologist professed to be unsure. Our prime minister says that he was only convinced of the reality of human-caused climate change when he was briefed by scientists when he took office in 2019. But if he had then spoken to his friend Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary 2012-2014 and climate change sceptic, he would no doubt have been persuaded of the opposite.

It is hard now to be sure what I thought when. I can only go by our actions. Ruth and I have not flown anywhere since 2001. I don’t recall this being an explicit, principled decision. We just didn’t feel comfortable polluting unnecessarily. When the Caton Moor windmills were erected in 1994 we were, I think, pleased that our local hill was contributing green energy to help to reduce carbon emissions. I see that I have books on my shelf of that vintage, for example, one by Jonathon Porritt, who wrote in 1990 that
“It’s not the fact that our oil and coal will one day run out that matters most. Rather, it is the fact that the Earth’s capacity to absorb the pollution arising from their combustion will be exhausted long before that distant day … Global warming is the mother and father of environmental problems today. The degree of consensus among international scientists is remarkable: a 1.5°C to 4. 5°C warming by 2050” (Porritt, 1990).
Even the House of Lords – hardly the most progressive of organisations – published a Select Committee Report on the Greenhouse Effect in 1990. It was written in response to a conference held in Toronto in 1988 at which the scientific opinion was that we were on course for a 3°C rise by 2030 and that we should aim to cut CO2 emissions by 20% by 2005. The debate on the report can be read online if you can stomach all the 'noble and gallant Lord' floweriness. Good Lords, I’m sure that 2030 seemed a long way away in 1990!

From Grasmere I followed the ‘coffin route’ to Rydal. This is a rather fine path that contours below Nab Scar, well above the busy A591. There were glimpses of Rydal Water but it was not seen to its best, being largely in shade with the sun now low over Loughrigg Fell. I did not pause in Rydal because I was feeling so weary that I feared that if I stopped then I might not be able to get going again. So as brisk a walk as I could manage through Rydal Park brought me back to Ambleside. Again the gloves were forgotten. Will I need gloves at all in 2030?

    Date: November 22nd 2021
    Start: NY376044, Ambleside  (Map: OL7)
    Route: N, SW, W, SW – Lily Tarn – W, SW, NW, SW, NW past Loughrigg Tarn and The How, NW, NE – Loughrigg Fell – NW through Deerbolts Wood, N, NE – Grasmere – SE – How Top – E on ‘coffin route’ – Rydal – SE through Rydal Park – Ambleside
    Distance: 9 miles;   Ascent: 285 metres



     147.   Snow-Walking in Littledale
     145.   Naturalising the Long Preston Deeps
               A list of all Saunterings so far

Home   Preamble   Index   Areas   Map   References   Me   Drakkar

    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-

Blencathra

Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell