Prince William, in Patterdale MRT uniform, at Red Tarn, with Helvellyn in the background

Prince William, in Patterdale MRT uniform, at Red Tarn, with Helvellyn in the background

Walkers setting out today to climb England’s third highest mountain could have been forgiven for thinking a major incident was underway on the fells.

Mountain rescuers from numerous teams made their way to the Lake District village of Glenridding to make the 6km (4-mile) journey to the top of Helvellyn. More than 40 mountain rescue team members walked to Red Tarn and then on to the summit via Swirral Edge.

But the true purpose of the exercise was to give their patron a taste of mountain rescue life. Prince William, second in line to the British throne, walked to join the assembled rescuers and a gaggle of press photographers at the tarn, in the shadow of Helvellyn’s summit.

In addition to being England and Wales’s mountain rescue patron, he is also training to be an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot, so is likely to see action helping Britain’s volunteer mountain rescue teams when he qualifies.

The prince was accompanied on the trip by four teenagers from the Centrepoint charity in the North-East, of which he is also patron. The group also helped Cumbria’s celebrations for the 2012 Olympics by unfurling two flags at the tarn.

The day began in typical Lakeland downpour, but the skies brightened to allow great views for the prince and his young companions as they tackled the route up Swirral Edge.

Members of the Lake District’s 12 mountain rescue teams took part, along with a member of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation. They posed for a picture with Prince William both by Red Tarn and on the summit of Helvellyn.

Walkers out for a day on the fells were surprised to see the royal visitor, who chatted and posed for photographs with them.

Prince William praised the mountain rescue volunteers. He said: “These men and women are unsung heroes. They are up and down these mountains rescuing people with broken legs every day.”

The prince said it was a great opportunity to provide the Centrepoint youngsters, from Consett and Sunderland, with a different perspective on life. He said: “A lot of these guys have never done anything like this so it is a real challenge for them and I have really enjoyed meeting them.”

William with MRT members and youngsters from Centrepoint

William with MRT members and youngsters from Centrepoint

Jonny Glendinning, 18, was among the Centrepoint members who walked up Helvellyn with Prince William. The prince joked that his facial piercings might freeze in the inclement conditions.

Mr Glendinning, who was made homeless last year, said: “We were chatting about my piercings and he joked they would freeze up in this weather. I think he was a bit surprised when I said they have done before.

“I didn’t know he was coming until last night but he was a lot more down-to-earth than I expected, he was canny.”

After descending from the mountain, Prince William took a trip on Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team’s speedboat, which it uses to access parts of its area quickly and evacuate casualties.

Team photocall for rescuers with their patron

Team photocall for rescuers with their patron

He then boarded a steamer for his return trip down Ullswater, accompanied by children from the WellChild charity, of which his brother Harry is patron.

Richard Warren, chairman of the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association accompanied Prince William throughout the day’s activities along with Martin Cotterell, leader of Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team.

Mr Warren said: “The weather at the start of the day was poor with very heavy rain but when Prince William arrived at 10.30 am at Glenridding in the Queen’s Helicopter Flight it stopped raining and, apart from one heavy shower at the royal press call at Red Tarn, the weather got better as the day proceeded.

“Prince William was informal and very happy to talk to everyone he met on the day. The young people from Centrepoint on the mountain and the WellChild families on the Ullswater Steamer had a fantastic day out.

“Prince William made everyone he met very relaxed through his extremely personable nature.

“Around 50 mountain rescue team members were involved on the day including representatives from each of the 12 Lakes MRTs and members from Mountain Rescue England and Wales who were involved in the organisation.

“Patterdale MRT hosted the event and were pivotal in the organisation of the day which was Prince William’s first royal engagement in Cumbria and for safety reasons the best kept secret.

When asked what benefit a royal patron brings to a charity like Mountain Rescue England and Wales, Mr Warren said: “The increased profile he brings to mountain rescue cannot be overstated.

“The opportunity to get our messages across in the national media is significantly enhanced by his hands-on involvement. This includes the messages of the 24/365 commitment, the purely voluntary nature of the service and the need for the general public to take greater responsibility for their personal safety on the mountains and great outdoors.”

One of the Centrepoint youngsters had a real taste of mountain rescue when she had to be stretchered off Helvellyn Lower Man when an old hip injury proved too painful to enable her to carry on. Patterdale MRT members lowered her to safety, helped by other Lake District teams.

Embarrassingly for a member of the Penrith team, he needed his colleagues’ help after he fell while attending to the woman who needed stretchering off Helvellyn. He injured his ankle in the incident. The rescuer was given first aid and then he too was taken off the fell by stretcher, and then on to hospital by ambulance.

All photographs copyright Bob Smith/grough Limited

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