Sharp Edge: A Naturally Occurring Knife-Edge4 minute read

sharp edge

A thrilling ascent of Sharp Edge and Foule Crag, Blencathra, during early autumn, is the highlight of this piece of my nature writing. Without further ado, please enjoy…

Sharp Edge: A Naturally Occurring Knife-Edge

On a mild, early, mid-September morning, I meander along a minor, country road. The sun, having not long risen, barely hovers above the horizon, and so a pleasant gentleness is felt from its rays, a softness that is increased by a distant haze.

Road-side shrubs laden with wild, red rosehips are home to an abundance of diadem spiders, each spider the owner of an orb web, each web a structural work of art decorated with dew condensed out of the cool, moist air of yesternight. Touched by the sun’s essence, the artists and their art glow evocatively in honeyed incandescence.

A little further along the verge, a lavish mauvish-crimson strikes the eye as I pass it by, the lushness belonging to a dense stand of willowherb whose fuchsia-infused flowers attract nectar-seeking honeybees.

I turn my attention to the nearby trees, the oak’s acorns, the ash’s keys. Despite the green that still resides in the leaves, the seeds browning is a sign that autumn is here, and when I look to the fell-side the transition is clear, for the mountain face is stubbled with great big belts of fox-red ferns.

Following a footpath, I leave the road behind, whereupon I wander through fields, across streams and between trees until I reach the lower slopes of the almighty Blencathra.

But for a far-away buzzard and a distant crow, animal life seems somewhat scarce, until suddenly, small birds are all over the show—a flock of yellowhammers here, a handful of reed buntings there, a lone robin, a little wren, all of them foraging energetically about the autumnal bracken.

When the activity dies down, I move onwards and upwards, hiking higher and higher until I reach a small tarn nestled neatly inside a cirque. I look towards the tarn and then slightly to the right, where a slanting ridge rises to a towering height; it is an arête oh-so narrow, a naturally occurring knife-edge, a colossally-scaled sculpture of the dorsal crest of a newt.

The anticipation of the challenge ahead of me charges every fibre of my being with a sense of excitement and at once I set off to traverse Blencathra’s famous Sharp Edge.

Hands as well as feet soon contact raw, naked rock as I clamber gingerly along the centre of this geological blade, all the while dizzied by the alarming proximity of perpendicular drops.

Slowly but surely, I reach the end of the narrowest stretch, but a steep-sided, weather-beaten crag still stands in my way to the summit. With no obvious route up the outcrop, I cast my eye over its surface, calculating, as best I can, a suitable course of action.

Despite a gradient sheer enough to incite shivers down one’s spine, I figure there are enough furrows and fissures to provide hands with holds and boots with traction, and so, very cautiously, I claw my way up the hunk of rock, all too aware that a slip would result in far worse than a nasty knock.

After countless, carefully-judged hand and foot placements, I am still only part-way up. I can feel my heart beating hard and fast and I am breathing heavier than ever. Adrenaline surging through my veins, I am overcome with an exhilarating sense of wakefulness, of awareness, time seems to disappear as I become one with the hard, slate rock onto which my fingers vehemently clasp.

Suddenly, I don’t quite know why, but I feel it’s time for a break, and so, on the tiniest ledge I ever did see, I turn around and lean with my back against the near-vertical crag-face.

At Sharp Edge I gaze, its profound precipitousness hypnotic. Down below, a deep blue disc—Scales Tarn—reflects a sun now positioned high in the sky. Further afield is the green plain of the Vale of Keswick wherein Great Mell Fell is a prominent protuberance. Beyond that, at the furthest point that I can possibly see, are the Pennine hills, so far away that the sky imparts on them a shade of blue.

Having taken in the to-die-for view, I climb the rest of the so-called Foule Crag until I am, at last, atop its summit. Here I can safely say, I feel far more alive today than I did yesterday.

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