A unique job on England’s most dangerous peak

For those who have never even hiked a mountain before, Helvellyn, with its rich history, exerts an atavistic pull. It is a summit romanticised in haunting poetry by Walter Scott, and by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, both of whom lived in the shadow of the broad-topped fell. The massif is also a place where elements of wider Lake District heritage come to life. Below Helvellyn’s dark brow, pastures are quartered by characteristic slate stone walls, while Herdwick sheep – hardy, bristly and storm grey – are cottonwool dots. In the spaces between are sheep folds, packhorse bridges and whitewashed cottages.

By the time we’d reached the top, the summit plateau was busy with late afternoon hikers, couples holding hands and a group of lads in shorts sinking cans of lager and grilling sausages on a disposable barbecue. Among the day-trippers were tiny rock cairns, piles of scree and a stone memorial to Charles Gough, an aspiring 21-year-old artist of the Romantic-era who disappeared in 1805.

The wind whipped at our layers as we stared abruptly down into Red Tarn, a cradled lake where axe-wielding wild swimmers can regularly be seen breaking thick ice to create the ultimate winter lido. Little do most know that the wreckage of a twin-engine Mosquito bomber also lurks there, unrecovered after it crashed in 1945.

As well as the odd swimmer and usual jumble of hikers and climbers, the Fell Top Assessors also assist mountain bike riders, trail runners, paragliders, off-piste ski-tourers and horse riders, who use the historical bridal pathway that threads over Helvellyn’s crest. Poulton once even saw an amateur radio enthusiast, sheltered in a red bothy bag, talking to someone in the Caribbean.

Finally, along the mountaintop’s shoulder, we stopped before our descent at Brown Cove, historically the last patch of winter snow in England every summer. It was an appropriate end to our micro-adventure on the country’s most magnificent mountain. As with the light falling pure and still, the Fell Top Assessor now had his latest report to write.

Hidden Britain is a BBC Travel series that uncovers the most wonderful and curious of what Britain has to offer, by exploring quirky customs, feasting on unusual foods and unearthing mysteries from the past and present.

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