Lake District – Day 3

Kirkstone Pass – Inversion Layer Below

Starting in Ambleside, Day 3 was very grey with none of the local peaks such as Red Screes or Fairfield visible as they were covered in cloud and mist. Down in the town it was damp and misty. The first port of call that morning was to the Apple Pie Shop in Ambleside to sample some of their wares, then to purchase some to take home. 

I’d been unsure what to do with the day. I had considered options such as travelling back via Cartmel and Silverdale. In the end I took a chance and opted to drive up the Kirkstone Pass and head towards Glenridding and Patterdale. 

The Kirkstone Pass is a narrow, twisting, and steep road out of Ambleside. It is very steep in places and it is frequently closed in winter due to snow and ice. If the weather is clear, it has the potential for spectacular views. 

I have not driven up the pass for about 20 years. My current car has more than enough power to handle the very steep road. The difference from 20 years ago is my car is both wider and longer. Typical of English single-track roads, which this is in places, it lacks proper passing places. This makes encountering oncoming traffic challenging.

The journey started in mist and swirling fog. I had hope that we were on the wrong side of an inversion layer and that we would ‘pop out’ above it at some point. I was right: once we had gained enough altitude, we were suddenly in sunlight and blue skies. We were about two thirds of the way up, so around 1,000 feet – the top of the pass is at around 1,500 ft.

Looking across to Kentmere Round

It was a photo opportunity and I parked up. We were right on the boundary edge of the inversion layer. There was still some mist around us, but we could look out over a river of cloud in the valley below as we looked across to the Kentmere Round. Above we had bright blue skies. Behind us Red Screes was coming and going in the mist. 

As we spent the time taking photographs, the remaining mists around the mountain tops cleared leaving crystal clear views and the mist and fog was confined to those down below the inversion layer in the valley.

I’ve experienced this before on Red Screes on my only walk on the Fairfield Horseshoe. That day was similar. As I got to the ridge on Red Screes on that day, the sun was low and behind me, casting my shadow onto the top of the inversion layer below me. That gave me one of only two views I’ve ever had of the ‘Brocken Spectre’ (Spectre in the Brocken). This is an unusual optical phenomenon where your head is surrounded by a rainbow coloured light halo (sometimes called a ‘glory’). It is unique to you – only you can see it. It is caused by a mix of refraction and total internal reflection of light in the water droplets in the fog. Unfortunately, there was no fog on that side, so there wasn’t one that day. 

We continued the remaining 500ft of ascent to the top of the pass and headed to Patterdale and Glenridding. We were in glorious sun with bright blue skies – not the grey and dismal mist and fogs of the start of the day.

After a short break, we started the journey home. We stopped at the top of the Kirkstone Pass for more photos. After that, we stayed on the main road direct to Windermere. As we lost height, we dropped below the inversion layer and returned back into the damp grey world of mist and fog. 

Main Windermere road on the left – Kirkstone Pass on the right


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