Monday, 31 May 2010

Tesla be damned

So last week I went to the Lake District for a few days holiday with my chum Nick, and we had a jolly time. It's a beautiful area, and the weather was mostly nice - with one notable exception...

On Wednesday we went for a walk up Barrow Fell, near Keswick - described in the local blurb as "of modest height at 455 meters, there are excellent 360 views from the summit, a great reward for not too much effort". Just the job.

It had rained earlier in the day but as we made our way up there was a nice bit of sun peeking out from between the clouds. There was even proper bright sunshine just as we got to the top :-)

After about 5 mins at the summit, sharing pleasantries with another walker, taking pics and having a bite to eat, some grey clouds came in from the southwest and it started to rain.

Barrow Fell summit
Grey clouds approaching...

Suddenly there was a BANG and flash of thunder and lightning, and what felt like something hitting my head. Nick had the same sensation hitting her leg (she was sat down). We both saw this as our cue to pack up and begin our descent. Fast.

At first I thought "That can't have been lightning", but Nick was pretty convinced, likening it to being hit by a big hailstone. She had been sat on a backpack/seat made with a metal tube frame, so might've had more of a hit.

We're heading down the fell as quick as we can, saying things like: what was that? were we really just hit by lightning? should we ditch the backpack? and thinking that a full on lightning strike could some serious damage to either/both of us.

The rain is quite heavy by now, and then there's thunder and ZAP! we get hit again. It wasn't painful as such, more alarming - simply a shock, and a strong static shock on my head. An electroshock therapy taster session.

A quick mental check and I figure that I don't have much metal on me, although I'm a little concerned that my new phone might have been fried. Is my head feeling funny, or is it psychosomatic?

ZAP! we're hit again. This is ridiculous - surely we're going to get hit by a real bolt at this rate! Can we move any faster!? The other walker showed us the stability advantage of walking poles, gracefully overtaking us as we scrambled down.

ZAP! we're hit again, and I'm sure I saw a hair-thin arc of lighting just in front of my head. The walker got hit as well, doing that hand shaking thing when you get a static shock.

I double checked my baseball cap and found that actually does have a metal stud at the centre - ideal for a lightning conductor to my brain. I took it off and strapped it to my bag.

By this point we were highly motivated individuals, moving quickly down toward the tree line near the bottom of the fell. The atmosphere feels less close now, and we reach the bottom without further shocks. I feel a bit nervous about going under a tree to cross a stile, but it didn't get struck.

The rain stopped and, once we got over the stile, we began to catch our breath, although it wasn't until we were sat in my van down that we could really relax and think about how it could've become life-threatening - hell, it was life-threatening, just with more emphasis on the threat part.

The scary thing, aside from thinking that we might get fried at any moment, was the speed it changed from a lovely day to a dangerous storm, and there's nothing we could've done to prevent or predict it. A small reminder that in spite of our apparent mastery of our environment, we don't really control anything.

A quick check reveals no burns on our heads, and Nick hasn't suddenly got a streak of white hair. Maybe my head feels a little funny but it's faint enough that I'm not sure if I'm just imagining it, so it's probably not serious...

Next on the day's agenda - kayaking on Derwent Water, where we find ourselves irresistible to polystyrene cups in the reception. I suppose for a minor lightning strike, you only get a minor superpower. The storm cleared away and we went on the water without any more shocks. Which was nice.

Later on via my chum Claire, I find that four people were injured by lightning strikes (none seriously) in the same storm, on three other hills approx 2-4 miles from us. A lucky escape!

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