By Chris Hughes:
I have driven along the small valley of Little Langdale many times. En route for the Wrynose Pass and Hard Knott and then on to Wasdale in the 1960s, over the Blea Tarn road and down into Great Langdale for the climbing on Gimmer, Raven Crag, White Ghyll and Pavey Ark and visiting the hugely impressive Big Hole slate quarry containing the vast and wonderful cathedral hole, but rarely stopping very much back then – just the occasional pint in the tiny back bar of The Three Shires Inn. With our children we often visited the ford on the track to Tilberthwaite to play in the clear waters of the River Brathay but it is many years since we had actually stopped in the valley and spent some time there. So when visit to Grange-over-Sands was necessary it gave us the excuse – unnecessary really – to have a short stay at The Three Shires Inn and revisit the little gem of the south Lakes, Little Langdale. The hotel was excellent and to be recommended – especially their winter offers – but it was the day, a Monday in late November, which made a little gem into a real, and hugely valued jewel of a place.
Waking up to the silence of a valley in the hills is always something special but when the frost has worked it’s magic on the landscape it seems even quieter and rather extraordinary, and so it was on that particular Monday. The fields and trees were white on the far side of the valley and there were streaks of ice running down the centre of the narrow valley road. As the sun rose higher the colour began to return to the fell sides, browns and oranges and even reds of the bracken, greens of the sheep-cropped grass and the slate greys of the crags and ridges. It was definitely going to be one of those special Lake District days.
We set off, the gloves and hats being worn for the first time this year, and walked down to the Slater’s Bridge. Nestled down in the valley bottom in was no wonder that it still lay deep in the frosted and almost totally colourless landscape while only a few metres away the oranges and reds were already glowing brightly.
Although we waited in the hope that the sun would rise high enough to bring the colours to the river side, it soon became obvious that this would not happen today. So I had to content myself with the monochrome world of the bridge and set off in search of the brilliant colours higher up in the valley and especially the tempting possibilities of the view of the Langdale Pikes from Blea Tarn.
We continued through the slate spoils heaps of the Tilberthwaite quarries and then out onto the open fell sides before dropping down to the perfectly named Fell Foot farm.
Crossing over from darkness to light, from monochrome to colour, and working our way through the boggy grounds of Bea Moss – which is apparently home to some rare plants and not to be trodden all over. Keeping carefully to the newly laid stone path we began to short climb to Blea Tarn.
The rise in the land and the woodland to the west of the tarn kept the view completely hidden until we crossed the stile and wooden bridge to bring us to the edge of the water. The surface of the tarn was mirror-like, partially frozen where still in shadow, and almost completely orange, reflected as it did the brilliant colour of the fellside below the well-known skyline of the Langdale Pikes.
The reflection grew more intense and complex as we walked further round and even better – the best view undoubtedly – when we climbed up a small hillock so the highest peaks come into the reflection.
We spent some time walking around the tarn watching as the scene developed and changed, improved and then eventually petered out only to regain its full intensity as we turned and returned to our previous position.
The hats and gloves had long ago been packed away in our rucksacks and the warmth of the sun, even at this late date in November was sufficient to make our meagre lunch of cereal bars and oranges (the breakfast had been large!) a pleasant stopover on a well positioned rock where the magnificent view could be enjoyed as much as the oranges.
A slight breeze got up and stirred the surface of the tarn, making the reflection shimmer and shake. It was time to go, we had enjoyed a very special hour or so enjoying one of the classic views of the Lake District enhanced by being seen twice, the second view reflected in the mirror calm surface of the tarn.
We walked back along the same track, back from the warmth and brightness into the cold and grey of the shadows and, as the daylight began to fade we passed the dark slate spoil heaps returning to the welcoming warmth of the hotel via the old ford on the Tilberthwaite track.
The next day returned to normality, it was grey and overcast, warmer than the previous day but the spark of the frost and the brilliance of the sun on the fellsides was absent.
The colours were muted, even in the woods around Colwith Force, and the view up the valley towards Blea Tarn were was a mix og grey-greens and slate-blues, the brilliant oranges, reds and browns had gone.
But not forgotten.
Even without the photographs this day would not be forgotten.
Words & Pictures: Chris Hughes