Snow and ice on Striding Edge, Helvellyn copyright Tony West
Snow and ice on Striding Edge, Helvellyn

Fell top Assessor

Behind the scenes with Jon Bennett

Jon Bennett

Each year, usually from December to March, our Fell top assessors walk up Helvellyn to check conditions, take photos and supply a report to add to the Met Office weather forecast that appears 365 days a year on our Weatherline forecast website (opens in new window).

How did you get into this job? 

I was in the hotel trade for years and regularly used Weatherline for advising guests and for personal use. Five years ago I left hotel life and saw the Fell Top Assessor role advertisement. For the 20 years I have lived in the Lakes, the vast majority of my leisure time has been spent in the fells. I knew I had the skills and ability to do the job, but had no specific outdoor qualifications so almost did not apply. Fortunately I did and was delighted to be offered an interview. This was the best one ever since it involved climbing a hill! The morale of the story is ... always apply for jobs that you really want! 

What do you get out of this job?

Obviously, there is the delight of being out in the best countryside that England has to offer everyday! Something that I find highly motivating are the number of hillwalkers who shake my hand and thank us for the information Weatherline provides. It is a fairly solitary job (especially when the wind's blowing a hoolie and it's raining/snowing/hailing!) so it is great to know that our work is really appreciated.

I was even thanked by a chap in the middle of Ambleside. His advancing years meant he no longer reaches the summits but he said that he loves our daily pictures. There are picture-perfect photos of the Lake District everywhere, but ours often show the fell in a less than flattering light. This old mountaineer said that it reminded him of similar days on the hill!

What has been your best day ever in the job? 

Several days spring to mind! The common component, though, are light winds, blue skies, deep hard snow and that wonderful sound of crampons biting into ice with snow buntings overhead and wonderful wintry views.

Another memorable day happened in January 2012. I was walking in cloud for most of the way up to the summit. Then, suddenly, the cloud cleared on the summit plateau, although there was still mist over Red Tarn. The sun behind me cast my shadow onto this mist and I saw the most wonderful Brocken Spectre. It's an unusual and magical experience having a halo surround your shadow! Here's a link to the Brocken Spectre photo (opens in new window).

What's special about Helvellyn? 

For snow and ice conditions, Helvellyn is special as it has a large east facing headwall. This keeps the wintery conditions from the warming effects of the sun. It is, therefore, not unsual for Helvellyn to keep snow for longer than the higher Scafell Pike.

What is the most magical time of day? 

Something that I never tire of seeing are the shafts of sunlight that can come between the clouds. This is especially magical when they illuminate a specific mountain or snowy top. This is then highlighted against other fells in shadow.