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Dog in the Mists

Back in 1964 my father wrote a short story for possible publication in England’s Popular Camping magazine. It was rejected by the editor and the original type-written manuscript was all but forgotten. It must have meant something to my dad since he carried it with him when he migrated to Australia a couple of years later. Dad died 11 months ago and as we approach the anniversary of his death I thought it would be fitting to finally publish his story, pretty much exactly as he had written it almost fifty years ago. I think he would have been pleased.

 

Dog in the Mists

by Brian Tempest

Lake District weather has always been a tricky forecasting area for the experts, and proved no exception for us, as we found out when we planned a winter camp on Scafell. The plan was to camp and climb Scafell and any other surrounding peaks we had time for, with snow and ice climbing thrown in as a secondary thought. The patron saint of good winter weather (whoever he is) was not looking our way and towards the weekend of late January the wind drifted to the west and a thaw set in.

Saturday morning saw the four of us leave Shipley in the van and a few hours later pull up at Dungeon Gill Hotel for lunch. The weather was undoubtedly gale force winds and would be “very dodgy” on the tops. We had chosen the Band to ascend from Langsdale but changed it to Rossett Gill which afforded more shelter. After taking photographs of the climbers on Gimmer Crag we made our way up the valley towards Rosset Gill on our left, and Stake Pass winding steeply up the fell to the right. We struck left across the rough wooden bridge and over the glacial deposits of the valley floor, towards the scree slopes and the rugged gorge of Rosset Gill. As the track became steeper so the wind became stronger, until at about five hundred feet above the valley floor we were forced into the gulley which we hoped would afford us better protection from the wind.

The excess amount of water flowing made progress slower and wetter until about three hundred feet higher we climbed out of the gully and onto the frozen shoulder, just away from the worst of the wind. Higher up we were again forced into the gully and after a lot of heavy slogging over ice covered rock we reached the top of the pass and lay down behind some boulders facing the valley. The broad expanse of the Langdale valley was spread out below us with the Pikes shrouded in heavy mist. To our right Bowfell climbed sharply upwards, the top lost in swirling mist and rain. The winter sun broke through above Dungeon Gill and traced a silver pencil-thin line of the stream on the valley floor some eighteen hundred feet below us.

The temperature was still falling (it had dropped twenty degrees on the way up and was already below freezing point) and if the high winds didnt ease soon, we would have difficulty with the tents later. A dark sky in the east made us realise the time and the necessity to pitch camp soon so wepressed on to Angle Tarn and with difficulty found the only piece of unwaterlogged ground in the area. In growing darkness and a howling wind we put up the two tents and crawled inside.

Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp. 1st Feb 64. At Hanging Knott above Angle Tarn.

A long drawn out baying, blown across on dark wind and rain made us look outside. High on the crags above the tarn a large dog, like some spectral hound of the fells, came bounding down the steeprock slopes, the moon lighting its gleaming wet coat, giving it an uncanny and startling appearance. It was obviously lost and hungry so wecooked it a hot meal and gave it oatmeal biscuits, and later it curled up comfortably by my tent. At about 1am we were awakened by a scratching at the tent door, the weather outside was appalling, with driving rain and high winds threatening to blow us any minute into the tarn below.

Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.
Camp at High Knott above Angle Tarn.

The following morning was still windy but thankfully dry as I pushed the sleepy and somewhat smelly dog out of the tent. Before breakfast I climbed the steep fell to the flat plateau of Esk House. To the east, bright early morning sunshine flooded the valley below me, making the ice encrusted peaks flash like diamonds. Behind to the west and south dark clouds were piling behind Bowfell and scudding across the silver grey sky towards me. By the time we had finished a rather later breakfast than anticipated and broke camp, sleet and rain were driving down from the high crags of Hanging Knotts, creating miniature whirlwinds across the surface of Angle Tarn, before throwing itself in a lashing fury against the black wet crags.

After fifteen minutes walk we were in thick mist with visibility down to twenty yards, so we decided against Scafell and struck south east across the track from Ore Gap to Esk House towards the summit of Esk Pike. We had noted heavy snow and ice the day before and as we had brought axes along might as well put them to some use. We negotiated the ridge of Esk Pike and across patches of wet snow and thick ice to the boggy area of Ore Gap. The marker stones to the summit of Bowfell were a great help in the thick fog, and when the stones were hidden in mist the hound had an uncanny knowledge of our direction and plodded steadily forward to the next marker, and up to the steep summit of Bowfell. We huddled together under the summit rocks and munched our mint cake (I’ve heard that somewhere before?) before descending a thousand feet to the plateau below.

Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.
Summit of Bowfell, 2960 ft. 1st Feb 1964.

The area here, to where we were to descend The Band was difficult to find, but by checking the general wind direction and trusting to cannine intelligence made the top of The Band quite easily. By this time the rain had slowed to a mere drizzle, and as the mist cleared below us we could makeout the steep valley of Oxendale with picturesque waterfalls tumbling down its steep fells. Over to our left and across the Langdale valley Pike of Stickle pushed it rugged head into the wet mists above.

Below and along the fertile valley the chimneys of Dungeon Gill called a welcome return to the weary travellers. With the bad weather conditions the whole weekend had, in our minds, been somewhat of a failure, but this unexpected and rewarding view had more than compensated us all. With light hearts and a waggingtail we descended, past Stool End Farm and on to the hotel.

We had intended to take the beagle hound to Ambleside police station, but after changing into dry clothes in the car park at Dungeon Gill the dog had disappeared. After searching the immediate area and enquiring from climbers and hikers of the whereabouts of a stray dog we had brought in, reluctantly left. Although the car park was fairly full of people the funny thing was that no one said they had seen us arrive with a brown and white dog at all.

It seems strange that people so observant as country folk are, should miss a footsore and bedraggled dog. Or is it?

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4 thoughts on “Dog in the Mists

  1. I just came across your father’s story while looking for a multi day walk we haven’t done in Victoria over Cup Weekend. We decided to cancel our intended walk of the Six Foot Track in the Blue Mountains due to the catastrophic fires there. I just came back from the UK and went on a few treks in the Lakes District and your father’s story took me straight back! It is a wonderful story and such a pity the magazine he submitted it to did not use it. As an early trekker/climber of the region he would be amazed to see the never ending array of hiking equipment shops in the towns around the lake. He may have had a whole new kit! I have had many trekking experiences over the years where a stray dog has joined us mysteriously for the length of the walk and disappeared at the end. I think these dogs are very smart and know that you will share your food and kindness so they lap it up and accompany you till the end and disappear into the mist. Recently in Chile a brown mutt stayed with us for days and we were all shocked when he left us as we loved him so much!!

    1. Thanks Robyn, really glad my father’s story awakened a few memories. The Lakes District is a wonderful place although I suspect my father would be very surprised to see how many walkers and climbers are in the hills these days. Cheers.

  2. Glen what a great story your Dad tells I really enjoyed it he must have been a hardy bloke to be out camping in those conditions! I am definetly a fair weather walker. thanks for sharing this story and your experinces in werribee gorge I have only just discovered this fantastic place.
    all the best Maggie

    1. Thanks Maggie. My dad really loved the hills and I think he would have loved to have done more walking in our Victorian alpine areas. As for Werribee Gorge (and the Western Gorges in general), I still think most of the population of Melbourne have no idea what an amazing, spectacular and special place it really is. Have fun out there and stay safe.

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