The Lake District National Park’s Fell Top Assessors are celebrating 30 years of the Weatherline service as their season begins today
Often credited as one of the most bizarre jobs in the country, the Fell Top Assessors are tasked with daily climbs of one of England’s highest peaks, Helvellyn, in a bid to report on the weather and walking conditions in the Lake District during the winter months.
As the winter freeze sets in, the National Park’s Fell Top Assessors will be embarking on the 30th winter season since one of the first full-time recruits, Alistair Boston, helped to pioneer the role in 1987. Back then the job was unheard of and it caught the attention of the nation.
Alistair Boston joined the Fell Top Assessors to mark the 30 year anniversary at Helvellyn. He said: “To say the job was unheard of at that time is an understatement! It was a revolutionary way to keep walkers safe in the Lake District.”
“Nowadays the Assessors post their weather reports online and on Twitter, and phone in to the recorded line from their mobiles, but in those days I walked around with a pocket full of 10p’s and had to call mine in from the nearest phone box!”
Top tips for walkers heading out in the winter
- Check Weatherline via the website or via phone on 0844 846 2444 (calls cost 7p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge) for daily reports on walking conditions on the fells
- Ensure you’re wearing warm clothing and appropriate footwear
- Always take a torch, even if you’re planning to be back in daylight
- Take a compass and map, even if you have a GPS as the batteries may run out
- Equip yourself with a whistle in case you require help
- Pack plenty of food and drink
- In snowy conditions you will require crampons and ice axe, plus the skills to use them
- The golden rule: if in doubt, turn back
- If you feel you don’t have enough experience to tackle any challenging conditions consider a course: the Lake District offers Navigation and Winter Skills courses
Today, Weatherline continues to deliver daily on-the-ground reports on the walking conditions of the fells through its phone line, website and Twitter. It’s a service which is vital in keeping walkers safe as the number of perceived ‘avoidable’ callouts to the local mountain rescue teams continues to rise.
The role is currently shared by three mountaineers: Graham Uney, new recruit Zac Poulton, and the longest standing Fell Top Assessor, Jon Bennett who is celebrating a milestone of his own this year seeing in his 10th season.
Jon Bennett, Fell Top Assessor, said: “It’s great to have a part to play in keeping walkers in the Lake District safe, not only through our reports but also the many people we pass on our daily summit trek.
“People are naturally drawn to the peaks of the Lake District to explore the fantastic fells and take in the unbeatable views. However, people can underestimate how quickly walking conditions can change and often aren’t equipped to tackle any treacherous conditions.”
Zac Poulton is the newest Weatherline recruit embarking on his first season this year. He is a specialist in winter safety having tackled the most extreme environments including the South Pole and Everest, and he will support in the delivery of the Lake District Winter Skills courses this year too, teaching people how to use ice axe and crampons.
Zac Poulton said: “We’re urging walkers to check Weatherline each day before they set out on their walk so that they can properly prepare for the conditions of that day. Winter fell walking requires a different set of skills, and sometimes equipment, to that of the summer months and we encourage people to properly plan for their trips.”
Throughout the 30 years the Weatherline team have reached the summit of Helvellyn more than 4,500 times in a bid to keep its walkers safe, and with the Lake District National Park’s recent World Heritage designation the number of walkers visiting the area is set to rise – making this service more important than ever.
Image: Lake District National Park Fell Top Assessors (L-R) Jon Bennett, Graham Uney, Zac Poulton were joined by one of the first Assessors, Alistair Boston (second left), to celebrate 30 years of Weatherline at Red Tarn, Helvellyn.