Holidaying in the Lake District; climbing Wainwright’s 214 fells
I recently joined a Facebook group titled “To climb the 214 Wainwright Fells” which according to the introductory blurb is “for people who enjoy climbing the wainwright fells”. Strictly speaking, I should not be allowed in this group because, as much I would love to enjoy climbing the Wainwright Fells, I can’t do so these days because of a muscle wasting disease. It is even an effort to walk any significant distance on the flat and my best achievement in our (my wife and I) recent holiday in the Lake District was to walk around Buttermere Lake, which is all flat, surrounded by some of those very fells. But I did start walking Wainwright’s fells aged 20 (my first was Skiddaw) and have walked many since (don’t ask me how many as I don’t know but I am pretty sure it included most if not all the majors). I stopped doing so some 12 years ago and have not returned, that is until two weeks ago after my wife asked me where in the UK I would like to go on holiday to celebrate my 70th birthday. Without hesitation, I said the Lake District.
According to Wikipedia: “Alfred Wainwright MBE (17 January 1907 – 20 January 1991), who preferred to be known as A. Wainwright or A.W., was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, published between 1955 and 1966 and consisting entirely of reproductions of his manuscript, has become the standard reference work to 214 of the fells of the English Lake District. Among his 40-odd other books is the first guide to the Coast to Coast Walk, a 192-mile long-distance footpath devised by Wainwright which remains popular today”. His Coast-to-Coast guide book is pertinent, given 45 years ago I did the walk using AW’s book as my guide, spending my first night camped by Ennerdale lake near to the cottage we stayed for two weeks and from where we have just returned. I should also add that the year before I walked the Pennine Way aided by yet another AW guidebook. According to Wikipedia: “the Pennine Way is a National Trail in England, with a small section in Scotland. The trail stretches for 268 miles (431 km) from Edale, in the northern Derbyshire Peak District, north through the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland National Park and ends at Kirk Yetholm, just inside the Scottish border”.
Back to AW’s 214 fells (I did not know the number until I joined the group), after selecting one from his absolutely superb and still amazingly relevant and inspirational seven volume pictorial guides, along with the appropriate large scale Ordinance Survey map covering the fell(s) I wanted to walk and reliable compass, these were my usefully necessary aids when once I walked many of the fells, sometimes along with companions from one of various groups I was part of back in the day but often alone (just as did the great man himself). Just as I enjoy reading members of the Facebook group stories of their walks along with the pictures, I did observe first hand on my recent holiday, albeit from a distant. Such is the camaraderie of the walking / climbing fraternity, when I did encounter a walker on his / her way up / down some or other fell or merely walking on one of the spoiled for choice flatland walks, there was a cheery hello and a silent (from me) good for you mate. While many were visitors from outside the national park, a fair number we did encounter in our journeys including the main centres that also included Whitehaven and Workington and small villages near to where we staying on the West (the quieter) side of the Lake District in the splendid cottage we found out about from our online searches, I reckoned to be locals, due to their regional accents.
We didn’t even need transport to get to some of our walks. Besides beautiful scenery observable from our bedroom window, only a few yards from the cottage was the Whitehaven to Ennerdale Water cycle path which, like so many parts of the national park, has been loving established and maintained by enthusiastic volunteers and enlightened statutory types. While I couldn’t do to one or other of the extremities (we were situated somewhere near the middle) we could walk in either direction, and we did on a number of occasions, sometimes joined by visiting friends, ensuring every day we walked somewhere, even though reliant (and sadly one needs to be, so it seems, to visit all where we wanted to go) on the car. The other part of our staple diet was the short car trip to Ennerdale Water, to one of the two car parks nearby that lake. While walking around the lake was out of the question for us, although quite doable for the capable determined, we did short walks, sometimes picnicking when there.
Then there were the various car outings, usually on single track roads, where my watchword was slow and steady, never knowing what awaited around the corner. Our own favourite was to Buttermere, branching off to the Newlands valley and back to the lake via Grange and the Honnister pass, doing short walks amidst the breath-taking scenery en route. One pleasant observation was driving by Derwent Water to Grange on the Catbells side, possibly the last Fell me along with my wife and our then eleven-year-old son climbed, and wistfully watching walkers climb that gentle and beautiful hill and its astounding views. Another was, after passing Grange, going down the dead-end road leading to Seathwaite and noting in every parkable space there was a vehicle. Looking at the map, I could see we were near two old favourites: Great Gable and Green Gable and I expect this also served as a starting point for those wanting to climb Scafell Pike and other nearby mountains.
Perhaps our most memorable outing was to Grasmere and Ambleside (via Keswick and passing Thirlmere Lake the foothills of maybe my personal favourite fell – Hellvellyn). The adventure began when deciding to get home by a different scenic route. We chose to go via the Langdales and then the Wrynose Pass and Hardknott Pass – which my wife described as a scary drive but the scenery was fantastic and worth negotiating, even though it is not a trip for the faint hearted. A personal favourite was re-visiting the Mire House near Keswick, walking around the grounds and reminiscing in the bee garden and then St. Bega’s church by Bassenthwaite Lake.
It is possible this was my last visit to my beloved Lake District – but one never knows and God holds the key to all unknown. But we do hope to come again, maybe the same time next year, and stay at the same beautiful cottage (staying in a less touristy area with all the amenities we need remains an attractive proposition). After all, there are many areas I had NOT revisited and some areas I have never visited. Weather is always an unknown and while we did get rain, most days were fine and not too hot – ideal in fact walking weather. As for climbing the Fells, other than due to a divine miracle, my climbing days this side of heaven are well and truly over. I am mindful of the book AW wrote after writing his seven-volume masterpiece: “The Outlying Fells of Lakeland” and in the great man’s own words: “It is thus in the nature of a ‘mopping-up’ operation to complete the author’s survey of the Lakeland fells. He said that he preferred, however, to regard it as a late bonus for old age pensioners who had enjoyed the fells in years gone by and were reluctant to put away their boots and call it a day”.
Sadly, I doubt this OAP can do even many of these less demanding fells but thanks for the thought AW. We can still reminisce and encourage the next generation of fell walkers though. The nice thing is there is something for everyone – some may need decades to complete all the walks and go at a measured, steady pace and there are some like this remarkable lady we read about while we were away, who ran all 214 fells in a matter of days. As for me, I can now sing my own version of “Old MacDonald” (composed for the benefit of the five year old who joined us during our time away), especially regarding the sheep of which the Lake District is full of, and even though we spotted a deer and even a lama, we did not come across red squirrels, which some of the notices said were definitely around!