The revolution began on Sunday.
I set the alarm, got up, chucked my rucksack and boots in the car and drove north. By mid-morning, I had gone past Keswick and up the rackety, steep road through the woods, jolting up to the back of Latrigg and the start of the Tourist Route to Skiddaw.
Yes, I’d already conquered Skiddaw but it wasn’t my primary destination of the day. I was now close to the three-quarter mark in collecting the Wainwrights, and there were fells in awkward gaps between longer routes I’d followed. It would be dull, and a waste of good walking if I restricted myself only to them. Today’s goal was Skiddaw Little Man, which, according to Wainwright, possessed one of the widest, deepest panoramas in the whole Lakes, best seen if approached from the back so that the view appeared at the last moment. To leave out the highly adjacent Skiddaw would have made for a half-assed walk, obsession rather than the joy of walking.
But Skiddaw is the greatest cloud magnet in the whole Lakes, able to attract a covering no matter how clear a sky may be, and there was grey stuff shielding the summit. Still, I set out in my traditional determination not to be deflected until it became too obvious I could go no further.
This moment arrived at the fence beyond the top of Jenkin Hill, at the end of the easy stroll that follows the initial stern 900’ of ascent. Yet again the cloud had not blown away. Rather, it had descended, and Little Man was firmly in the murk. Indeed, the underwisps of the cloud were visible in the air above my head. No point in climbing a fell for its view if that view is rendered invisible.
But no need to waste the day. I was below the cloud, just, and the fence could lead me over a long, level course, to Lonscale Fell, the blocky eastern end of the Skiddaw massif. My 150th Wainwright, in fact. And from there a steep, direct descent, over trackless grass, steering myself as best as I could to find the path that led to the wall corner that was the key to the final and very steep section of descent. At the bottom, I joined a path rounding the corner out of the Glenderaterra valley, and followed it back to the car.
As the planned walk had been cut short, I had ample time, so I decided to finish off with a wander over Latrigg: not, this time, by the tedious whaleback whose main merit is preserving the view to the last minutes, but by a longer, idle route, initially descending towards Keswick, before turning back, up a series of splendidly graded zigzags, to a gentle stroll around the flank, the view opening ahead, and the unexpected opportunity of a sit-down on a park bench, less than 100 yards from the top.
And then I headed home, long cool miles to the M6, long long miles down it. There was a tailback of almost 10 miles to the end of the M65, the Blackpool motorway, the weekending trippers flooding onto the motorway to go home, and I crawled through them until I was free, and finally got home and could read the Sunday paper.
A fortnight later, I shot off again, this time to Eskdale, in pursuit of unfinished business. Green Crag sits at the northern edge of Birker Moor, the most southerly fell in the Wainwrights, whose boundary is closed off with a solid line. I’d made an attempt on it previously, but been driven back by bizarre forebodings.
I’d climbed out of the valley easily enough on one of two old peat roads, only to find myself unaccountably spooked once onto the moor. It wasn’t just the threat of cloud bringing rain to this lonely scene, but an eerie sense of emptiness and isolation. I progressed very reluctantly to the bottom of the grassy ride that led to the summit ridge, where the minimal comfort of a path expired, looking for an excuse to give up and go back.
Which I found in a dead sheep, fallen from a small bluff, landing on its back with feet in the air, rotting away. It was enough: I fairly hurried back, justifying my decision by the rain that set in before I got to the bottom of the peat road, but knowing that that was not why I’d backed away.
On a sunny midsummer Sunday, such feelings were inexplicable: I scrambled up to the sharp peak, made my way down behind the coxcomb crest of the subsidiary Crook Crag, located the other peat road from above, where it wasn’t easy to find, and found it a tremendous highway down, a gem of twists and levels.
My next expedition nearly didn’t happen: I’d set aside another Sunday to shoot off to Thirlmere, climb Raven Crag, the tree-covered rock-climbers haunt above the Dam. But Sunday dawned dull, cloudy, wet. Deprived of purpose, I rattled about, trying to read the paper, find something else to do. Until the sun broke through at 10.30am, I screamed a loud soddit, raced through getting dressed and flung myself out onto the road north. By midday, I was parked up by the Dam, and just discovering that, in my haste, I had left behind not only my camera but my walking socks.
It felt strange to climb in ordinary M&S socks, but I got away without blisters, ploughing a steep uphill course, ignoring easy diversions onto the zigzagging Forest Road that I crossed multiple times. Then, from the fringe of a deserted logging camp on the ridge, a winding, overgrown trail into a little dell that, with the assistance of chicken-wired duckboards in wet spots, led me to the tiny, tree-fringed summit.
I even walked to the furthest end of the ridge before descending, enjoying a relaxing break on the top of The Benn, a subsidiary top ignored by Wainwright. Sometimes there could be more than what the master had advertised.
My last summer outing was more ambitious, and required an earlier start, though its starting point was just across the valley from Raven Crag. With no difficulties except initial steepness, I walked up Sticks Pass – second only to Esk Hause among foot passes, but more frequently used as a Pass – and then onto the grassy, rounded but impressively high tops of the three Dodds: Stybarrow, Watson’s and Great.
Had I not been due home before dark, ready to face another week in my loathsome work environment, I might have added the range’s most northerly peak, Clough Head. More grass, miles of it, presenting no difficulty but distance, but that distance was two miles there and two miles back, all of it over terrain that was clearly deeply dull.
So I made my way down a sea of grass, into the valley, and headed home for the Blackpool Motorway Tailback, one last time.
To find the Lakes put within my reach for concentrated little expeditions, several of them walks that were just a little too short for days that could begin as soon as the bacon and egg was washed down by the only cups of tea I drank each year (I drink coffee, instant though it is, but I wasn’t prepared to face the possible variants these people would serve up): this was a delight, and before very long it would become a vital relief from the weekly grind of the job that I came to loathe with a passion, that nearly destroyed my ability to work at the profession I’d now followed for fourteen years, and until recently with distinction.
All I had to do was work out how to miss that bloody Tailback.
The photo is of Green Crag. It’s far easier to find shots from Green Crag, over Eskdale, to the Scafells, than of the fell itself. This scene is from Muncaster Head Farm, at the eastern end of the lowly Muncaster Fell, and it shows, from left to right, Harter Fell, Crook Crag and Green Crag, though it doesn’t show quite how far back is Harter from the other two. Beautiful setting, mind you.
The revolution began on Sunday.