‘Come on winter!’ I found myself shouting every morning as I opened the curtain to another day where there wasn’t any snow. My wife as you can imagine found this rather annoying mainly because I tend to get up half an hour before her each day and truthfully, I could have done this charade from the living room. It’s just the best view of Coniston Old Man is from the bedroom.
I started this in about November, admittedly slightly eager, I painstakingly did my little snow dance each morning wishing the rain clouds to bring those little white flakes of joy. But they never did. All the way through Christmas and long into January. I was beginning to think that it was never going to happen.
Then, on Friday the 18th of January, it finally happened. A bit of snow up on the hills. Throughout the day it carried on snowing and before long the snow clouds were so low we lost all sight of the Old Man. My mind went into immediate adventure mode to the eye rolls of my wife.
‘I need to sleep up there tonight. Fancy it?’ I asked.
‘No thanks honey but you have fun.’ She replied in autopilot mode without even looking up from her book. A sentence she has got quite used to saying. It’s not that my wife isn’t adventurous. She is. But she had to get up for work early the next day and didn’t fancy walking down in the dark. Luckily, I had other friends, two in fact, who I was certain would join me. Lee from the village and my cousin Gordon who was staying the night to cut up a long trip to Scotland and back to drop off Granny.
So at 8.30pm, after a couple of ales, the four of us (Shackleton my dog being the fourth) set off for our snowy campout adventure. The aim was to find one of the less damp caves to sleep in. We had contemplated digging a snow hole, something on my bucket list, however, the snow wasn’t quite deep enough.
On and on we pushed, our head torches off because the moon was so bright. Like walking backwards if you’re Chinese or getting covered in mud, the act of walking up a mountain covered in snow I’m certain reverses your age. Eventually, after an hour we reached the tiny entrance into the unknown. It looked dark and cold inside. Shackleton was nervous at first about the gaping dark hole, which I can tell you is quite a relief. Having a terrier that is scared of holes is one less thing to worry about when he’s running around like the lunatic he is. We followed the low ceiling along the old train tracks for about 20 yards before it opened out into a huge 200ft long 50ft high cave. We all stopped for a second and listened to nothing but the fall of water on rocks. It was hypnotic.
We followed the tracks to the end and found a dry spot and piled rocks together to make small seats. Then we opened a bottle of whisky and a bottle of port and talked until 1 am about anything and everything that crossed our adventurous minds. At 1 am Lee finally got up and said he needed to get up early so headed back down. Lee knows Coniston like the back of his hand so we weren’t too worried. Gordon and I then settled down for the night. Shackleton curled up in a ball next to me and I covered him in a down jacket.
The night would have been great had I not inadvertently decided to sleep in the one spot where I had a drip from the ceiling. It was so infrequent it went un-noticed all night, but frequent enough to completely soak the bottom of my bag. It was also strange sleeping in such a dark environment. I’ve never experienced darkness quite like it. Even at 8 am when we eventually got up it felt like midnight. After a cup of hot coffee, we eventually emerged from the cave and began the descent, following Lee’s footprints taking bets to see how long he lasted before he slipped or fell over in the snow. Annoyingly he didn’t fall once and the morning’s bacon and egg butty round was on me.
Winter doesn’t have to be dull and miserable. In fact, winter in the Lakes is amazing. You get the mountains to yourself a lot of the time.
So I urge you. When the weather is bad, when the snow falls, wrap up warm and head out just when most people have decided to stay in. You won’t regret it.