A Treasured Outdoor Moment - Carolyn Barker
Arnside Knott in Cumbria is my favourite place to go trail running, with its wide variety of terrain ranging from narrow coastal paths to dense woodland tracks; steep, rocky ascents to the very top and long, grassy descents back down.
On Sunday the 19th of December, conditions were perfect for trail running. The fog from the previous evening had frozen, creating a hard frost underfoot. Ground fog had risen and the whole of the Kent Estuary was engulfed in an eerie, silent greyness. I ran through the fields and woods of Heathwaite, the cold air puncturing my lungs with every breath. As I approached the top of the hill, a pale disc of sun was barely visible through the fog, struggling to make its presence felt. Continuing my route through the woods, I hoped to see deer silhouetted against the grey mist, but they remained safely hidden in the bracken. I reached the path leading to the top of Arnside Knott and slowly climbed out of the fog into the bright morning sun. The sky was a crystal blue, with not a cloud to be seen. At the viewpoint I looked down onto a sea of fog spreading out across the estuary. The railway viaduct had disappeared; Grange-Over-Sands was nowhere to be seen. Only the distant mountains of the Lake District were visible, poking through the fog like jagged rocks on a seashore. The stillness was intoxicating.
I followed the path to the very top of the Knott, passing the trig point, then through a wooden gate to the vast expanse of open land, stretching all the way down to the edge of Arnside village. Like a child I hurled myself downhill into the freezing fog, arms outstretched and feet flying across the grassy mounds until finally the land flattened out and led me through the gorse bushes alongside the boundary wall until I reached the kissing gate. Through another gate and into smaller field, I looped around through the frost-filled woods and headed back up to the top of the Knott for the second time, wanting to drink in the views once again. By this time, the sun had risen above the hill, its rays spreading through the trees like searchlights. At the wooden gate I exchanged pleasantries with a group of walkers and headed off on my descent across the open land, the warmth of the morning sun causing the fog to retreat downhill, bathing the upper slopes in light and colour.
Halfway down the hill I glanced to my left and saw the most spectacular rainbow, a complete circle of colour in the grey wall of fog, no more than five metres away from me. As I approached, a dark figure appeared in the centre of the circle, seeming to rise up out of the mist, its faceless shape shifting from side to side. I stood mesmerised by this huge, black, ghost-like figure surrounded by a halo of colour, moving but not moving. Slowly, it dawned on me. This was not an evil spirit, or the ghost of a long-dead traveller. It was me. It was my own shadow in that halo of sunlight, trapped between the sun and the fog. As I moved, the shadow moved. As I waved my arms, it waved its arms. It was a Brocken Spectre, a rare weather phenomenon created by the sun shining on to a cloud of fog from above – and I was witnessing one right here on Arnside Knott. I looked around for someone else to share the experience, but I was all alone on the hill, just me and my Brocken Spectre. We stood facing each other for several minutes until the cold started to creep through the layers of my clothing and I knew it was time to move on. I ran down into the ice-cold fog once again, pulling on hat and gloves to keep warm, but I didn’t care about the cold this time. I had experienced a Brocken Spectre on Arnside Knott – a moment I will treasure forever.