It’s a 5 a.m. start to reach the summit of Scafell Pike from the sea at Ravenglass. Misty bands of cloud and light play over the peaks as I wrap up warm and wait on the summit of Muncaster fell while photographic feasts of wispy changing vistas unfold. Welcome to the Isle of Man my mobile informs me erroneously. The ground here is a peaty boggy slime, and I regularly sink half way up the calf. It’s slow going, and I’m weary before I’m a quarter of the way to the summit.
Low Farm is the last structure before open ground where every outbuilding contains a howling of dogs. A barn floor is entirely covered with a mound of freshly sheared wool. The last field before the fells proper is populated with dozens of rams with improbably enormously testicles swaying as they strut proudly.
On crossing over the watershed, heavy cloud hangs at 600m slicing the visible mountains in half and capping an exhilarating view down into Wasdale. I haven’t seen many people for a few days so it’s a surprise just how busy England’s highest mountain can be on the weekend. My first introduction to the circus atmosphere is passing a lady with a sensible daypack paired with suspenders, bunny ears, a corset and hiking boots.
On the mountain path, I pass mums telling teenage sons (who completely ignore them) to “be careful, or you’ll break your neck”. Well equipped husbands are patronising overweight wives how they should walk without slipping. Halfway up and off to one side, a Muslim man bows his head in prayer – he seems to be facing Greenland rather than Mecca.
I chat to a cheerful chap with the sole of his boot flapping like a crocodile. Moments later “Why are you stopping” half of a large group shouts impatiently to the another. At length, I check the map to see I’m a few metres from the top “you’re halfway up mate!” a descending group of lads shouts to me. The summit is a slippery jumble of jagged rocks, white mist and fierce wind, thoroughly unpleasant just like all the other times I’ve been up here!
On the descent, I pass armies of minibused three peakers unsmiling, clad in fashionable gym attire who march past smelling of deodorant. The best light of the day photographically occurs as I break through the clouds, the slope of Scafell inky black in the foreground as the gusts of wind and the last light bring the surface of Wast Water alive. I make it down to the valley floor by 7.30 p.m. while above me a procession of three peakers’ head torches trace the zig-zag path into the darkness.