#132 – “A hard day’s night”? – or – A fun night out with a search dog

Grains Gill, Borrowdale  © Bill Boaden

Grains Gill, Borrowdale © Bill Boaden

Some people might have wondered why I recently returned to mountain rescue after a break of 15 years.  It’s quite simple really – it’s fun!  It’s not always easy to remember that when the phone rings in the early hours of the morning, and the weather outside is foul, but after a few years the bad times are forgotten, and only the good times are remembered….

Map of the area searched by the Penrith MRT search dogs on the April 1985 callout.  (The search route is shown in red, and my subsequent wanderings from Great End to Lingmell Col in blue)

Map of the area searched by the Penrith MRT search dogs on the April 1985 callout.
(The search route is shown in red, and my subsequent wanderings from Great End to Lingmell Col in blue)

In April 1985, a man aged 20 set off to walk from Wasdale to Thirlmere, but did not arrive at his pre-arranged rendezvous.  At 11pm Keswick Mountain Rescue Team responded with a mass callout of all the search dogs in the Lake District.  Two Penrith MRT dogs were available, John with ‘Sam’ and me with ‘Matt’ – we were tasked to clear the valley of Grains Gill from Stockley Bridge to the cliffs of Great End.

Stockley Bridge with Grains Gill beyond, showing the start of John’s search area  © Graham Robson

Stockley Bridge with Grains Gill beyond, showing the start of John’s search area © Graham Robson

Someone clearly had a sense of humour, because ‘Sam’ and ‘Matt’ detested each other and would fight at every opportunity – the answer was that John would search the west bank of the stream with ‘Sam’, and I would take the other side.  John must have won the toss of the coin, because his area was like a manicured lawn compared with mine, though in the dark it was hard to tell.

Looking down from John’s search area to my area on the opposite bank  © Mick Garratt

Looking down from John’s search area to my area on the opposite bank © Mick Garratt

At the time, ‘Sam’ and John were one of the most experienced dog and handler teams in the Lake District, and Golden Labrador ‘Sam’ had won the Novice Shield the year that he qualified, but he was now approaching retirement age – on the other hand, Border Collie ‘Matt’ was 3 years old, and ready for a bonus night walk, so despite having the worst of the ground, ‘Matt’ and I were soon in the lead.

The upper part of Grains Gill, where it becomes Ruddy Gill  © KA

The upper part of Grains Gill, where it becomes Ruddy Gill © KA

1½ kilometres from the start point the valley began to narrow to a point where one dog could cover the ground.  Rather than waiting for John to catch up (with the inevitable dog fight) I radioed him to suggest that he finished off his area and that I would carry on alone to Great End to complete our search task.  John agreed, and shortly afterwards I watched the green ‘glow-stick’ on ‘Sam’s’ search jacket bobbing in the dark, heading down towards Borrowdale and civilisation.

The cliffs of Great End, the end of the search task  © Michael Graham

The cliffs of Great End, the end of the search task © Michael Graham

It didn’t take long to clear the remainder of the now narrow valley, and at about 3.30am I was sat below the brooding crags of Great End.  As ‘Matt’ curled up in a hollow for a nap, I had a coffee break, and started working out how I was going to return to Borrowdale to get a lift back to my car.  I was working as a police officer at the time, and was due to start work at 9am – as I formulated a few weak excuses for being late on duty, the radio came to life.

Great End from Styhead Tarn  © Michael Ely

Great End from Styhead Tarn © Michael Ely

“Search Dog Paul, this is Keswick Base, can you be at Lingmell Col by 6.30, over”.

I replied that I could.  It looked as though they had another job for me, but if I was going to get a bollocking at work I might as well earn it!

“Search Dog Paul go to Lingmell Col, a helicopter will pick you up there at 6.30”.

The potential bollocking was forgotten.  I was being offered a great night walk followed by a ‘heli’ ride – Result!

The start of the Corridor Route near Styhead Tarn  © Shaun Ferguson

The start of the Corridor Route near Styhead Tarn © Shaun Ferguson

The Corridor Route clinging to the hillside  © Philip Halling

The Corridor Route clinging to the hillside © Philip Halling

I made good speed down towards Styhead Tarn, trying to keep up with a now wide-awake Border Collie.  From there we took the Corridor Route heading for Lingmell Col – the path starts on gentle slopes, but ends up clinging to the hillside in places.  The dark night was starting to give way to a steel-grey dawn as the dog and I arrived at the col with time to spare – time for another coffee break for me, and another snooze for ‘Matt’.

Looking down on Lingmell Col from the slopes of Scafell Pike  © Ian Taylor

Looking down on Lingmell Col from the slopes of Scafell Pike © Ian Taylor

Looking back towards the Corridor Route from Lingmell Col  © Michael Graham

Looking back towards the Corridor Route from Lingmell Col © Michael Graham

Dead on time the yellow RAF Sea King came into view, and in minutes we were back in Borrowdale – walking would have taken a good deal longer, but I love flying and ‘Matt’ had no fear of the clattering, chattering machine that whisked us down to the valley.  There was a phone box near the landing site, so I thought it might be a good idea to contact the duty inspector and let him know that I was going to be late in to work.

RAF Sea King in rescue livery © John Bamber

RAF Sea King in rescue livery © John Bamber

 “Sorry about this, boss, but I’m just down in Borrowdale after a night search with the dog – I’ll get home as soon as I can, but I’ll be late in for ….”

“Paul” the inspector interrupted, “You’ve been out all night working for us in your own time – we have enough staff on duty, take the day off”.

I could have kissed him!

Looking up Grains Gill, our search task for the night  © Michael Graham

Looking up Grains Gill, our search task for the night © Michael Graham

Text © Paul Shorrock – Image tagged (JB) © John Bamber

All other images are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence – copyright holders are shown on each individual image.

p.s.  As it was dark at the time of the events described, and I didn’t have time anyway to be taking pictures on an operational search, the fine images shown are obviously not my handiwork.

p.p.s.  The young man who unwittingly won me a night walk, a heli ride and a day off work turned up soon after I made my phone call.  He was cold, wet and tired but otherwise well.

About Paul Shorrock

I've been mucking about in the mountains for longer than I care to mention. I started out by walking my local hills, then went on to rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing. Still doing it, and still getting a buzz. I'm now sharing the fun, through my guided walking business (Hillcraft Guided Walking) and by writing routes for other publishers, mainly Walking World and Discovery Walking Guides. Just to make sure I keep really busy, I am also currently a member of my local mountain rescue team.
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11 Responses to #132 – “A hard day’s night”? – or – A fun night out with a search dog

  1. Great story Paul 🙂

  2. Fantastic story Paul. I know exactly what you mean about being fun. I was in the cave rescue for awhile and there is a big adrenaline rush when you get the call out. Mind, nothing like walking the fells in a blizzard at night trying to find a flooded cave entrance (Cherry Tree Hole is particularly hard to find).

  3. I wasn’t a CRO member, but a mate of mine developed the ‘molephone’ radio that could talk through rock by induction. He got called out one night from a New Year’s Eve party to set up his radio at an incident on Pen y Ghent. As the radio was quite bulky in those days, he talked me into going along to help carry and set it up.

    The thing was, the party was a fancy dress do, and I can still remember the look on the face of one of the guys helped out of the cave by the CRO lads – sat by the hole entrance and tending a funny looking radio were two blokes dressed as clowns!! You couldn’t make it up 😀

  4. LensScaper says:

    Great story well told, Paul. Nice to see the pics from a good day out too.

  5. Definitely ‘a fun night out with a search dog’!

    I remember when our collie Ragga earned her ‘flying certificate’. She always wanted to attack the big, yellow monster!

  6. Wasdale to Thirlmere?? I’ve been sat for a while staring into space trying to work out a sensible route – but it just seems such a silly walk to want to do? Messy to say the least. I think it’s something I’d tackle given a couple of days rather than in one walk.

    I can’t imagine a collie and a labrador fighting somehow – I always thought labs were pretty much above that sort of thing.

    And, while I love flying, I don’t like flying in helicopters – I just don’t trust them…

    • I’d never thought about where the lad was walking Carol, but the Lakeland 3,000’s route goes from Scafell Pike to Wythburn (for Helvellyn) via Angle Tarn and High Raise, so I would guess he was following that, possibly as a recce.

      Haha … Yes, Labs are usually chilled out, but ‘Sam’ would fight any other males within biting distance – my ‘Matt’ had always been fairly chill as well, but after his first run-in with ‘Sam’ he worked on the principle of ‘get your retribution in first’ – Both were fine with bitches, humans, cats ….. in fact anything but other male canines!

      As for helicopters, I have this (unreasonable) faith that they won’t break down, and that the driver doesn’t want to die any more than I do. Having said that, I was involved in a helicopter accident when I was in the Royal Marines, fortunately without any casualties. Twelve of us plus skis, etc had been dropped off on a mountain in Norway on a winter exercise. As the aircraft took off the engine took about a ton of powder snow in the air intake, and dropped out of the ski. Fortunately it wasn’t very high, and its forward momentum carried it clear of my blokes, but the tail rotor was rather close for comfort 🙂

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