Could this be one of the best walking experiences you'll ever have?

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Catch the most brilliant light with a Red Screes sunrise

At the end of June I had one of the best walking experiences I have ever had. Together with Malcolm, Don, and Bryan we met at 1.30am and drove to Kirkstone Pass car park where we linked up with Andy at around 2.30am. From there once we booted up and checked our torches we walked to the summit of Red Screes so we could watch the sunrise. We attained the trig point at 3.45am giving us a wait of some 45 minutes.

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We had set out in incomplete darkness – incomplete because there was a half moon – a celestial bonus thrown in for good measure. From the end of the car park we located the path in the beam of our torchlight and started our ascent of Red Screes’ steep sided slopes. We had settled on Red Screes for a number of reasons. Firstly it is in the eastern fells of the Lake District so looks towards the rising sun without too many intervening fells in between. Secondly to reach the summit involved a little over half a mile’s walk albeit of a near vertical character. This compared favourably with the 2 ¼ miles needed to climb Helvellyn from its closest access point on Thirlmere. Helvellyn is a justly popular mountain from which to watch the sunrise but it seemed to us it demands a great deal more effort. Thirdly the Kirkstone Pass Inn apart the route did not involve passing any other dwelling at a risk of rousing dogs. Of course the inn is residential but the car park is on the opposite side of the road so we are confident we did not disturb anyone as we made our preparations. Finally we knew the path to be clear and well made so that route finding would not be difficult. Navigation in the dark requires a much higher skill set in that there are no visual clues to assist you in wayfinding. Our purpose was to see the sunrise not undertake a night commando exercise. Finally by starting at the Lake District’s highest motor pass we had reduced the amount of effort needed to get to our chosen viewpoint. Indeed the most difficult part of the outing was to get out of bed after a few hours of snatched sleep.

As we arrived on top the dawn light was strong enough for us to put away our torches and begin to take in the view that was emerging minute by minute. To the populated south neon clusters like the embers of a dying fire marked out Kendal, Windermere Village, Bowness and the settlements in between. Close at hand habitation of a different kind – a backpacker’s tent presumably with a backpacker in it. Poor chap/chapess – there to escape the madding crowd and the madding crowd arrives in earshot at 3.45 in the morning! Soon after Malcolm passed a couple encased in a sleeping bag on the far side of the tiny tarn to the south of the trig point.

While we waited all the grandeur of the Lake District fells came into being. To the west the Coniston Range and Scafell Pikes drew the eye with the dome of Great Gable and the distinctive peak of Pillar to the right. Closer was Fairfield with the massif of Helvellyn as a backdrop. Below our feet Ullswater serpentined northwards between hills covered by a layer of mist.

On that day we had 4.32am as the time of the event. As the moment drew near we fixed our gaze on the eastern horizon a little to the left of High Street. On cue a pinprick of the most brilliant light rewarded all our efforts. Second by second the sun strengthened and grew so that within minutes it became impossible to look at it directly without temporarily blinding oneself though its mesmerising quality kept drawing the eye.

It was an experience difficult to articulate – wondrous but something that occurs every day. We had managed to view the spectacle on a particularly fine morning from a particularly good viewpoint and we were all moved by it. Profoundly elemental it seemed to connect us to the first of our species for whom night-time was dangerous so that the return of the sun was a matter to be welcomed. Later people built monuments to celebrate it.

So my walk of this week is to go out a deliberately view the sunrise rather than by default on the way to an airport for an early flight or on the way home from clubbing. If you choose the right day with weather and a good location it will be something you never forget.

Practicalities

You do not have to go to the top of a mountain to watch a sunrise but it does help. Only attempt this if you are an experienced, fit walker and confident in navigating yourself in the dark. Should you get lost on your chosen route simply stop and wait until the light improves. Here are some other things to consider.

Time of Year. The summer months mean you will have a better chance of good weather but it will also mean you will have to get up at silly O’clock.

Location. Choose a place you know reasonably well. Finding your way in darkness is not easy even when familiar with the route. Also be considerate of residents so pick a place away from human habitation.

Make sure someone knows where you are going. While the time in darkness is not long the element of risk is much greater. I do not recommend this as a solo activity unless you are expert in night navigation.

Take a good torch or head torch and have a spare in case it fails you.

-Walk devised Malcolm McCulloch