Helm Wind

November 9, 2012, by Lucy

A day in the life of a geographer – Lucy Veale

The Helm Wind of Crossfell

For this week’s blog I have decided to write about some of my current research for the Weather Walks, Weather Talks project. The project is focussed on the English climatologist, geographer, and avid long-distance walker Gordon Manley, with the main output a narrated walk for the RGS-IBG initiative Discovering Britain. The walk will be located in the north Pennines, a place where Manley took weather observations for many years. In 1937 he was awarded a grant from the Leverhulme Trust to set up a meteorological recording station (a small wooden hut) near to the summit of Great Dun Fell, the second highest peak in the Pennines. Meteorological observations were kept for a period of three years (1937-40), including a continuous record of temperature. This was the first series of mountain observations to become available in England and remains the longest unbroken mountain record. Manley himself made around 100 visits to the hut, generally driving over the Pennines to and from Durham; “but sometimes sleeping in the hut itself which was equipped for camping and indeed was admirably weatherproof. Occasional small misadventures in the darkness, mist, wind and snow of a December night were offset by the many pleasures.”

Manley's meteorological station at the summit of Great Dun Fell

Manley’s meteorological station at the summit of Great Dun Fell, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 1942

The main aim of Manley’s project was to investigate a curious meteorological phenomenon known as the Helm Wind. The Dictionary of Physical Geography defines the Helm Wind as, “A strong, cold, north-easterly wind that occasionally blows down the western slope of the Cross Fell range into the Vale of Eden in north-west England.” Over the last couple of weeks I have been researching the Helm, England’s only named wind, using Manley’s papers, materials produced during earlier investigations, and the online archive of British newspapers. It seems to have taken its name from ‘helmet’ as a description of the distinctive cloud which forms a covering over the mountain top during the wind.

I thought I would share a couple of the accounts of the Helm Wind I’ve found with you:

  • “…scarce a year elapsed without affording an opportunity of observing its operation, and the formation of that enormous cloud that gathers round their summits and covers them like a helmet, and from which the wind issues with such irresistible fury. We had generally several days notice of its existence before we felt the effects; and distinctly, at the distance of seven miles, heard the loud and incessant roar, and saw the steady, uniform, and level-topped cloud from whence it proceeds”Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Thursday 22nd November 1827
  • “About noon the helm wind was so heavy that it carried up the peats high into the air in all its whirling eddies, scattering them in all directions, the horse became terrified and set off at a gallop, rushing headlong down a precipitous rock, crag, or scar, and was killed dead on the spot” Westmorland Gazette, Saturday 28th May 1831
  • “…stacks and chimney tops have been flying in every direction. One horse and cart, loaden with coals, near Cunrew, was blown over, and the horse killed. In fact, it is dangerous to travel in the localities visited by the Helm” Kendal Mercury, Saturday 17th February 1855

And, my personal favourite:

  • “It sometimes blows the sheep about like so many pieces of wool… it took the entire roof from a man’s house, but lifting it up and carrying it to a distance, as I am told, of fifty years into a field, and leaving it as perfect as if found on the top of the building” Westmorland Gazette, Saturday 25th April 1857

Next Wednesday, Georgina, Gary, Sam and I are off to the north Pennines to test out the proposed route for our walk, and the mobile technology we are hoping to employ. I hope I haven’t terrified them too much with these accounts… we can take perhaps take comfort from the fact that during the first year of observations at Dun Fell, Manley found occurrences of the Helm Wind were, “tantalizingly few.” We’ll post some comments and photos on the blog when we return! In the meantime it would be great to hear from anyone who has stories of the Helm, or perhaps there is someone who has experienced it first-hand? Or other ‘local’ winds around the world?


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