Winter in the Fells – Julie Lane

All photos © Julie Lane

I have been here for nearly six months now and I still have to pinch myself that I am actually living in this beautiful, dramatic part of the country.

As I am writing the cold weather has returned and the snow is falling outside. But overall we haven’t had a bad winter up here: one wet windy couple of weeks and that lovely cold icy period before Christmas with snow on the tops.

I walk nearly every day either down in the valley and along the Lowther river or up onto the fell behind where half an hours trek up hill on good paths and you reach the wonderful view down along Ullswater to the mountains at the end, the highest being Helvellyn. Looking north you can also see my favourite local mountain Blencathra with its twin peaks and east across to Cross fell and the Pennines.

Autumn saw the beautiful colours in the local woods which are a mix of parkland trees of lime, beech and oak and the native woodlands of ash, oak, scots pine and hazel with alders and willow along the rivers. The woods are full of roe deer which are regularly seen as well as the beautiful red squirrels. We seem to be on a dividing line here where red squirrels predominate but there are the occasional greys around which are shot by the local ranger – sad but necessary.

I completely missed the salmon going up the river to spawn but did see them as they came back down afterwards, sad fungal-covered monsters lurking in the side eddies of the river waiting to die. But they had accomplished their mission and hopefully the tiny fry up in the headwaters will continue their lineage for many years to come.

When the rains came Haweswater reservoir gradually filled up and during one particularly torrential storm it topped the dam and the river below became a raging torrent for a few days. The local dippers must retreat to the side streams when this happens.

The valley is full of geese in the winter, mainly noisy greylags flying around in the fields near the river but occasionally the pink footed geese fly overhead in their V shaped skeins calling out with that lovely wild musical song. Lets hope most escape the bird flu which is in the local poultry flocks up here and has been seen in the wild birds at Ullswater recently.

The other sound of winter is the local jackdaw roost which is huge! Every evening they congregate in black clouds of noise cackling settling in nearby trees until they dive down en masse into the conifer belt just above the village. Then all goes quiet for the night until early the next morning when they are up and off to the local fields to forage for breakfast.

The snow when it came was so exhilarating – not enough to make travelling impossible but enough to entice me up onto the fells behind to crunch through the icy crust and breathe in the cold crisp air. The jagged outlines of the distant mountain were breathtaking in the silence of the morning and when the local fell ponies came over for a nose rub I was in heaven!

One of the moorland ponds was fascinating in that it had iced over just after a very wet spell when the ponds were brim full, however as the snow and ice lay there for a few days the level in the pond slowly dropped causing the ice to sink almost two meters and crack along the fault lines.

Spring is not far away now the snowdrops are up and over and it’s the turn of wild daffodils and pungent wild garlic now.

Best wishes to all my MKNHS friends.

Julie Lane
March 2023