The car had done most of the climbing, leaving only a steep scamper along an unmarked track that skirts the steepest gradients to reach High Pike Hill. Lapwings practised aerial manoeuvres over waders and grouse that called unseen from ground cover. As I climbed I warmed while cloud let go its grip on the hill, fleeing over the brow, leaving me in dazzling snow, garnished with tiny prints pressed lightly into fresh powder. On top icicles hung like gleaming canines from the dark jaws of the hags, and delicate straws of yellow grass bore implausible burdens of rime ice feathered with snow.
I left the track for the edge that overlooks the Eden Valley, the scoured form of Wild Boar Fell stark alongside delicate folds of rounded Howgill hills, all embellished by glancing sunshine. Icy wind battered the edge, urging me on to High Seat, where the southern outlook unfurled to proclaim the symbolic outline of the Three Peaks of Yorkshire.
My plan was to create a circular route of High Seat and Nine Standards Rigg, so now I faced trackless tussock and heather down into Birk Dale, but with only occasional mire and the heather trim it was easy work and out of the wind. I picked a welcoming spot by a tinkling beck for lunch, a luxurious break with the sun warm on my face.
The direct approach to the Standards climbs via Coldbergh Edge (good name if pronounced: ‘cold brrrrrr’) but I chose the charms of Whitsun Dale. The path tacks alongside the beck, climbing and dropping, sometimes disappearing. Snow had fallen as rain here, cruel ammunition for a number of bogs waiting to welcome half a leg. Each coil of beck gnaws at the flanks of the valley, which tumble in, diverting its course, and so the valley broadens.
I turned and toiled up the longest climb, arriving at the final summit for dusk. Evening curlew melodies couldn’t sweeten the bitter bite of wind. Along the ridge, beneath blushing cloud, the silhouettes of tall standard cairns were set against the greatest of Pennine profiles. I stayed for over an hour, foregoing shelter for fiery sun slipping slowly behind a faraway Old Man. Behind me a rounded moon climbed into deepening blue, lighting my descent in the company of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.