Christmas Carols on Helvellyn

Christmas Carols on Helvellyn by Carmine de Grandis

Scarpa Athlete Carmine de Grandis came up with the idea of playing Christmas Carols on Helvellyn, in December, with a full sized Accordion. Some would say this was a crazy idea, but once Carmine has an idea in his head, there is no stopping him!

On Saturday 18th December Carmine and a group of friends set off for the summit of Helvellyn…

A perfect winter Christmas Saturday. On Helvellyn runners and hikers, young and old, men, women and children have climbed up to sing Carols together to the sound of an Accordion, a flute, a ukulele, a guitar and a few percussions to spread the Christmas cheer as one community wishing for a merry Christmas and a better 2022.

I have three great passions: spending time with friends, running up mountains and playing the accordion. I often manage to combine two out of three. I run with friends, I play the accordion for friends, I run and carry my accordion up mountains on my own – I know it sounds strange! -. However, for the end of 2021 I wanted to make these three passions come together. I would climb up to Helvellyn with a full size 120 basses 1940s accordion, invite family and friends to join by running or hiking up, and play Carols on the 3rd highest mountain in England.

I talked about this project to my local Lake District friends and I expected a resounding: “What? You must be mad!” reply. I was right! They started with that statement… but, then, they encouraged me and helped me to give it a go.

Christmas Carols on Helvellyn, in December, with a full sized Accordion
Credit: Andy Johnson

I love the tradition of Carol singing in the UK. I’ve seen that it helps people reflect on the year just gone and look ahead with hope. Most people have a favourite carol or a Christmas song they love to sing. I am a Christian and I appreciate Carols for their message about God giving his only son to save the world.

However, I see myself as on a spiritual journey with like-minded people of any or no religion. The Great Outdoors offer a perfect opportunity to search or connect with one’s search for meaning. For these reasons carols at the top of the most loved English mountain was to be dream come true: Helvellyn, 945 metres, in the Lake District National Park would provide me and my friends the perfect location for “possibly” highest Carol singing in England 2021.

My friend Kim Collison, current Lake District 24 hours record holder, Sabrina Verjee, current Wainwrights Round record holder, Tom Hollins who recently attempted a Winter Wainwrights round, Charles and Nicky Sproson, local outdoor guides and race organisers in the Lake District, my friends from my local Northern Fells Running Club and many other friends from the fellrunning and hiking community from far and wide came together on Saturday, 18th December at 12:30pm at the top of Helvellyn to sing and be jolly.

I was not sure whether this idea would resonate in people’s hearts to motivate them to make the challenging climb. I had so many doubts that I only created a Social Media Event post with less than one week to go. My doubts were so great that I only worked out how to carry my large accordion two days before making the long trip from Norfolk, where I live, to the Lake District, my adoptive home… however, the Universe was preparing one of the most glorious days in terms of weather the Lake District has experienced this winter. Cloud inversions, crisp conditions, blue skies, and incredible views all around.

Credit: Andy Johnson

On the day we met in Glenridding for a 10am start. This had been offered to those who wanted to climb together. Friends from Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria came ready to climb. As we prepared, we cheered runners taking part in the classic Lakeland winter Ultra Marathon organised by NAV4: The Tour de Helvellyn, 40 miles around the Helvellyn massif.

We climbed up chatting and in less than 2 hours we made it to the top via the beautiful Swirral Edge scrumble. I was very proud as two of my children and one of our friends’ son had made the trip with me. Winter, 8 years old, was the youngest person to come with us and he made it look easy.

Credit: Andy Johnson

As we reached the top just before 12:30pm people started to appear from everywhere. Some came up from Thrilmere, some from Dunmail Raise and some from further away. The nerves disappeared, the instruments came out, the carols sheets were offered to all and we sang a beautiful selection of classic Christmas Carols with a difference… “La Bamba”, “Just one Cornetto”, “Feliz Navidad” and “Happy Birthday” made it into our repertoire too.

We sang respectfully “Silent Night”, Jazzed up “O come, all ye faithful”, encouraged healthy competition between women and men while singing “Away in a Manger” – the women came top! – and danced to “La Bamba”… I am not sure one could say that “we rocked the Carols”… but that is what we did. Smiles all around, shared mulled wine, old friendships strengthened, and new ones made. We all left with one thought: let’s meet up to do it again next year and invite more people to share the joy, to develop a greater love for Mother Earth and reflect on our personal journeys to find love, life and meaning.

Credit: Andy Johnson

Carol singing on Helvellyn was an amazing Community event where the Lake District landscape and community helped us to focus on our hopes and dreams for the future with positivity.

See you all again next year with a bigger band, a greater crowd and – who knows – great weather too. Mountain and plans to be announced closer to the time.

For now, let’s treasure our memories and find time for our ourselves, our families, our friends and the world we have to enjoy.

La vita e’ bella… especially when you can climb a mountain, with friends, carrying an accordion and taking part in “possibly” the HIGHEST CAROL SINGING IN ENGLAND 2021.

Merry Christmas everyone from Carmine De Grandis

Want to keep up to date with Carmine’s adventures? Follow him on Instagram @outdoorspirit1