The February Camp

Making notes outside the tent after dark

A camp just for one night takes us a long way out of the normal counting of days. Each camp is a journey – the settling into a rhythm, the tug of walking up hill, the sensation of looking down across the path we’ve ascended, the moment of awe at the highest points, and the changing view as light shifts. We witness threshold times: dusk and dawn, and the depths of night, dark window onto the universe of which we are such a tiny, tiny part.

Each camp is a journey through sound as well, the almost-silence of the fells, or the relentless roar of wind, and the birdsong that changes depending on the habitat – a symphony in woodland, or, up high, the solo performance of a lark, or a raven. And one of the joys of camping is a sense of passing through: we stay, just for a while, get a feel for the elements, and then depart, leaving no trace.  

Putting up the tent on the 60 degree line near Angle Tarn

For February’s camp on a point precisely 60 degrees from the Under Helm Sycamore, we decided the best place to find a pitch would be just southwest of Angle Tarn. The suitably flat bit of ground that we opted for turned out to be within ten metres of the line; and in terms of a viewpoint, well, you couldn’t have found anywhere better. To witness the sun setting we wandered away from the tent and found a perch high on Angle Tarn Crags from where we overlooked the tarn and the hillscape to the west – the entire Helvellyn range spread out against a rose sky. 

After sunset on Angle Tarn

Notes / 1700, Feb 25
I count nineteen rowan trees on the island in the middle of the tarn – skeletal figures set against rock and pale grass. They don’t seem to move at all, so light is the wind, and hold their form against the moving water that ripples and edges away from the sun, as if sun and wind are working together to nudge the water on to the nearby shore, where it laps and echoes and licks the rocks and peaty earth. Another day the wind will urge it in another direction, and its song will change. Later, we wonder about the trees here, and whether there could be more stands: birch trees, for instance, to add to the couple that cling to the rocks, or a stand of Scots pines. Where there are trees, birds come, and the soil benefits – there is a great deal of planting going on in the central lakes at the moment and we’ll be exploring the option of reintroducing small copses in places like Angle Tarn when we talk to land managers over the coming year.  

The tent bathed in moonlight and beneath the stars
time is stretched across a silver tarn
tugged across the sky with multiplying stars
the half-moon drifts with this slow passing of lights 
above the high horizon of hills

During the night the half-moon silvered the tarn and the stars seemed to multiply. And in the morning, we watched this small crinkly part of the world light up, section by section, to the accompaniment of skylarks singing. 

Harriet pointing out a skylark calling the start of the day

Standing with the dawn

the dawn sky has found a pale to reflect 
the last blue-white of yesterday evening 
night has been a starred mirror 
for this repeat of winter days

the morning counts itself in with lines of light 
knows nothing of the digital
paints the land a gold-rose-brown 
here by the tarn, the water holds sunlit hills

two goosanders float in silhouette,
dive, disappear

water spreads before me / shifting ripples
imagine I could hang this scene, like a painting
in my mind, this shimmer of gold on grey
and the morning slowly breathing

light on stones, lichen shining, 
not a single blade of grass moves
no clouds to catch the wind
no voices – there are no people

but there, by the birch 
burnished by the rising sun 
singing into the morning air

Birch on the edge of Cat Crag lit before dawn

Notes: 0817, Feb 26
It’s warm, unusually warm, and the sun has found me. The extra warmth is instant. I am aglow and my weariness from lack of sleep is lifted. The Tarn has turned azure and reflects the rock face like a textured shawl of greens and browns, blowing in the wind.

I am standing, stone-still, mesmerised by two skylarks just three metres away from me. One is standing on a small rock, singing and singing and singing, and the other is playing with tufts of grass. I am in a kind of reverie, in awe of this song, and the warmth and clarity of the morning. I have never been so close to skylarks before.

Writing in the gold of a new day

Now there’s a thing – the warmth. Uncanny. February 26th and we were standing in the sun, bare-footed and in t-shirts. We were really, really hot walking down – thirsty for spots of shade to take away the burn of the sun. My black trousers felt too black. Robs thick socks, too thick. Neither of us wore a fleece and at one point I rolled my top up.Our temperature reading is 17.5 degrees. When we switch the news on later we find that the record temperature for a winter day has been set in Wales at midday, at 20.5 degrees

Tidying up the tent before breaking camp
Shaking out our home has become something of a ritual, letting strands of grass and dust fly out to the land we settled on for just one night.

For a few days afterwards, the heat was on everyone’s minds – it’s not just that British conversation is typically dominated by weather, it’s that we’re all concerned about what’s happening. Here’s one of many opinions on shared during the hot spell. These words are from Professor Joanna Haigh, co-director, Grantham Research Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, interviewed on BBC’s News at Ten

“As global temperatures rise, then we’re going to get more extreme heat events. So this is just one example that’s happening today. And as we go into the future, this sort of thing is going to get more common. So something that is perhaps a one-in-a-1,000 [year] event in the 1950s is now a one-in-15 [year] event.”

Global temperature rise and shifts in weather patterns are matters of grave concern, and like many people we are keenly watching environmental change both locally and around the world. We are monitoring the temperature on each one of our monthly camps, and we have placed temperature monitors at the four cardinal points of the Lake District – in 2020 we’ll look at the data with the help of statisticians from the Ensemble group and see what the analysis shows in the context of a changing climate.

Bannerdale Beck in the late afternoon sun
Bannerdale Beck

*A last word … We decided to head out for the February camp on these days because the weather was set to be fair. It was a happy coincidence that the 25thwas our wedding anniversary (our 7th) and the 26thwas my (Harriet’s) birthday. We think we had the best accommodation going, superb weather, superb views … and the special gift of watching two yellow-hammers playing in the hawthorns down in the valley. We stopped to talk to a local farmer while she was hanging out her washing, and discovered that the yellow-hammers had arrived back in the valley just two days ago. It’s a marker of the cyclical change of seasons, like the arrival of the curlews in our back field. We wait with concern to see whether the birds breed successfully, and the chicks fledge.

Red deer watching us from below Brock Crags

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