Borrowdale's cloud inversions

Four people view a cloud inversion in Borrowdale

Standing in the sun under a blue sky looking down on the tops of the clouds, knowing that everyone below you is wandering around in a cold dank mist. These are the (slightly smug) joys of getting above a cloud inversion.

Cloud inversions happen when you get that magic combination of cold temperatures and high pressure. It’s not uncommon in winter, and in Borrowdale there are a few places where it’s relatively easy to get above the cloud – the photos in this article were taken by our Borrowdale ranger Roy Henderson while he was out and about from 8am over the last few winters.

Where to see cloud inversions in Borrowdale

The viewpoint at Surprise View is just a few metres from the car park (CA12 5UU) and 220m (720 feet) above sea level. Looking down onto the lake below from a crag where the ice-age glaciers carved the end off, leaving Watendlath valley hanging in mid-air, you can be treated to the sight of a sea of clouds at your feet – Roy took the photo at the top of this article there a few years ago.

Castle Crag, a 5 mile (8km) walk from our car park at Seatoller (CA12 5XN) is a bit more of a trek, but its summit at 290m (950 feet) gives unparalleled views both over Derwent Water to Skiddaw in the distance, and over upper Borrowdale, with Glaramara and Great End rising towards the high central fells of the Scafell Massif. We've created a downloadable walk here.

A cloud inversion at Great End in Borrowdale
Cloud inversion at Great End, Borrowdale
A cloud inversion at Great End in Borrowdale

If Honister Pass isn’t closed because of icy conditions, driving up the pass might bring you to a level above the cloud. If you park at our car park (CA12 5XN) at the top of Honister Pass (350m or 1,150 feet above sea level), an out-and-back walk along the old packhorse route Moses Trod towards Great Gable could reveal cloud-filled valleys of Buttermere, Ennerdale and even Wasdale, depending on how far you go.

How to predict when a cloud inversion will occur

There’s a good description of how cloud inversions work on Terry Abraham’s blog (he of Life of a Mountain film fame). His tips for putting yourself in the best place to see a cloud inversion from above are:

  • Check the weather forecast: you’re looking for high pressure with little or no wind

  • Check the lie of the land: a sheltered valley will collect the cold air better and hold the mist longer. Find a good look-out place where you can be above it, looking down.

  • Set your alarm clock: as soon as the sun’s over the tops, low-lying mist will start to evaporate, so aim to be up high not long after sunrise.

Borrowdale cloud inversion
Cloud inversion in Borrowdale
Borrowdale cloud inversion