The Helm Wind

It has swept horses to their deaths, flattened barns and spooked walkers with its eerie banshee wail – Simon Ingram tells the tale of a Cumbrian wind so infamous, it even has its own name

The Helm Cloud, image by Anita Evans

The Helm Cloud, image by Anita Evans

Wind is, you’d think, a rather geographically encompassing thing. So to have a particularly ferocious one inhabiting a specific locality – and noticeable enough to have its own name – is quite a thing. Britain has only one.

A few more names, to get acquainted; firstly, the place it is local to. Cross Fell, a scraped summit on the less cuddly side of Cumbria, is named either because of its aggressive conditions – as in, this is a 'cross' fell – or because a venerable saint erected a cross atop to banish demons from what was then known as Fiend’s Fell. Neither likelihood intimates a particularly cheerful venue. And the wind itself: the Helm. It’s so called because its visual hallmark – in addition to a sonic one like the wail of an express train – is a cloud that sits atop Cross Fell like a helmet, sometimes with another ‘bar’ that forms before it like a scythe.

This wind has flattened barns, turned sprouts blown from stalks into bullets and blustered sheep around yards like cotton wool. It’s killed a horse and allegedly a flattened a Norman battalion. John Ruskin described it dearly as one of ‘the plague winds of the world,’ and to this day, the Helm Wind remains erratic but present. Look our for the Helm cloud on Cross Fell – and if you’re wise or superstitious, flee. 

Learn more in Simon Ingram’s new book Between the Sunset and the Sea, published by William Collins, £18.99

Simon Ingram is an author and journalist preoccupied with the high places of Britain. He is the editor of Trail, the UK's best-selling hillwalking magazine