We have been blanketed in cloud, wetted through, walking within a multi-directional wetting. We headed downhill to seek a ghyll with a fresh flow of water, and all of a sudden the clouds lifted, danced in front of us, dressed and undressed the hills, rolled up from the valley and then back down again.
Now the sun is on its westward journey and has just, for a few minutes, sent the slow-whirling clouds a gold-pink. I am above the valley and can see misted fell tops further west – Red Screes I think, and Hart Crag beyond – coming in and out of view.
As ever, it has been worth the walk, the dedication of time, the bringing ourselves here, to this point. We are as close as we felt we could be to the 90 degree line, a short walk from the summit of Harter Fell, at around 760 metres above sea level. Not a bad place to be for a cloudy sunset.
1 am: Raining
The rent is flapping like a flock of tethered pigeons trying, but unable, to take off. Wind on a night forecasted to be almost windless whips up our un-feathered cacophony. I am caterpillar-warm inside. The rain passes and we venture out: no moon, and stars pin-pricking a velvet-black sky; only to the south the skirt of night is hemmed with the lights of Windermere Ambleside, Heysham, Lancaster in a human jewelling of night. When I return to the tent I see it is sparkling and crisp with ice.
Dawn is a smoke of light. Crescent moon, back to the north, winks and then hides behind the spead of white that veils the hills and the valley.
For a thin minute there’s a clearing. Ill Bell rises brown and certain and Kentmere Reservoir shows its pewter sheen. Then white rolls in again from either side and all distance is lost.
The smell of blood and raw flesh – a headless corpse, plucked and cleaned. We are curious, and we will of course be under scrutiny by the guardian of this breakfast disturbed.
Imagine what happened in the past hour : maybe a sky fight / diving, attack with claws out / tumbling, tumbling / the final kill / the quick dismemberment and de-feathering / the winning bird all the while keeping eyes up for danger / and now from crags that are its own colour / watching us
down by the reservoir
Back at the Haweswater car park. Children are running after one another, a kid on a bike, lots of chatter, and we’ve passed a few families going up towards the cloud that’s skimming the tops. We are back in the gentle realm where it’s spring-warm and calm. The ice clouds of the heights left well behind.
after thoughts: on clouds
After a wonderful and mesmerising cloud-show, we became curious about whether we had been in fog, or mist, or cloud. Strictly speaking, according to meteorologist Richard Hamblyn, fog is not cloud, nor is mist cloud – a cloud, in theory, does not touch the ground. But when you’re almost 800 metres above sea level, and you can watch the clouds play below you, and then find yourself engulfed in grey, surely the cloud is on the ground, and you are in it? At times the vapour was a 360-degree drizzle, so fine that we didn’t realise we were becoming wet until, well, we were really very damp; overnight the noise on the tent sounded like falling rain.
Although Aristotle, back in the fifth century BC, talked of clouds as ‘atmospheric exhalations’ and classified them according to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that a more formal classification came about, thanks to Londoner Luke Howard. From his system, we now have an understanding of species of clouds, classified under three families: cirrus, meaning fibre or hair; cumulus, meaning heap or pile; and stratus, meaning sheet or layer. His ideas were taken up by others and the first ‘International Cloud Atlas’ was written in 1896. Today there is an agreed set of labels for clouds, which encompasses the most common forms and a wide variety of shapes and behaviours.
It seems that the delicate shreds of white vapour, rising and falling, would be classified as stratus fractus, coming together on the higher part of the fell in one edgeless grey that might be called nimbostratus. Of course we found no such names for the grey and white around us; rather in this visible play of sky’s breath we found an intake of our own breath at the scene changing before our eyes. And despite the chill, and the damp, we were delighted that we were out there, sensing the elements from the centre of a play of shifting sky.