Series 2 – 40: Mr 214


Mr 214

Sometimes someone says something that makes you stop and think. I was in the fells, talking with a passing walker, explaining that I was collecting the Wainwrights, and he asked, “Which one are you saving for last?”
I’d never even thought that before. My first reaction was to think that all the good ones, as in the properly ceremonial ones, like Scafell Pike and Great Gable, had already gone. Though there were still big fells in the thirty plus I had yet to climb, none of them seemed properly final, in that sense. But only a little thought was required to come up with the ideal, the only selection.
You’ve likely never heard of Seatallan, and there is no good reason that you should have. It’s a green, grassy lump of a fell with indefinite borders, lying between unlovely Blengdale and the lower part of Wasdale, from which it is removed by two rougher outliers. It’s only of modest height, has no compelling features, no demanding routes or especially beautiful views, but it was my choice for Final Fell.
So the moment came, Saturday 14 April 1995, twenty six years and nine days after that first ascent. I parked halfway down Wasdale, opposite the Screes at their finest. It was a sunny day, clear at valley level but hazy to the point of invisibility at felltop height. All was bright and inviting, and I walked a mile along the Greendale Road, under the cliffs of Buckbarrow, first of those outliers and my first target for the day, in quiet but with mixed feelings.
Who doesn’t approach an outcome that you’ve pursued over years with such feelings? The satisfaction of achievement, of completion, of having had the skill, the stamina and the persistence to gain that goal has always to be balanced against the realisation that you will no longer have a goal to aim for. The underlying rationale of so much of your life is about to be taken away. What is there left?
I found the way off the road, zig-zagged uphill and gained the indeterminate plateau of which Buckbarrow was, primarily, the terminal cliffs. There was no difficulty in finding its low top, or the lower point from which the view is actually more extensive. Then there was one.
I walked back across the plateau, pausing halfway to visit the curious, isolated rock outcrop of Glade How, and then gritting my teeth for the uphill grind onto the ridge, dull as it was. An equally unexciting uphill walk followed until the ground began to level out, the broad summit approached, and I arrived at Seatallan’s summit cairn.
I had done it. I was Mister 214. I’d climbed all the Wainwrights.
The haze made views impossible, even of the Scafells, across the head of Wastwater. Luck, as it so often has been on my many wanderings, was with me, because after a decent few minutes for private reflection, a party of walkers arrived, who gladly agreed to take a photo of me at the cairn, with the invisible Scafells as proof of where I was. That’s me above, Mr 214, leaning against the final cairn, grin as big as the fells themselves.
Then they went their way and I prepared to return. From Seatallan I headed east, down steepening slopes towards the valley of Nether Beck, but swinging round to the south east to follow the rough ridge around the head of the valley containing the marshy Greendale Tarn. A rough path materialised, and I followed it beyond the wide col, gaining height again onto a scrubby ascent up the back of my first post-214 fell.
My luck was holding. A party occupying the summit were packing up and leaving as I approached, clearing the summit within seconds of my arrival. I had Middle Fell to myself.
That’s what made Seatallan the only possible choice as my last Wainwright: the formal closing of the biggest circle and the symbolic re-start in visiting, for the first and only time, that insignificant, scrubby, unprestigious top that was magical only for being my very first.
The last time I had been here, I was a thirteen year old boy, accompanied by his mother, father and uncle, and his younger sister. Dad, Uncle Arthur and Mam were no longer here, and my sister Lee, a mother herself by now, would never put on walking boots again, so I returned alone, the only one who would, could and did come back.
Each year, on the anniversaries of my Dad and my Mam, I go to the Crematorium, to the plot where their ashes were sprinkled, decades apart, and, provided I am alone, I talk to them about the year gone, about who and what I am, what I’ve done and not done, of who their son is. On Middle Fell I went through a more extreme version of that, granted solitude by the fates that sometimes favour me for the full half hour I spent talking to the air.
I have no idea what I said. It was none of it prepared: I have become expert across the decades at keeping what I might say in front of Dukinfield Crematorium Plot C out of my own mind, and on Middle Fell as much as at the Crem, what came out was unrehearsed, was what the heart had in it to say about twenty six years and being the only one to carry on. I’d walked in solitude, and content, indeed relishing it, for most of that time, but I still wonder what it would have been to have the affinity of my Dad as we reached all these places, or to share with a life partner who saw the same beauty and drama that I did.
Afterwards, I packed up and headed down, free now to go wherever I wanted, just for the hell and the fun of it.
In 1969, I’d made a point of noting that it had taken three hours to get up Middle Fell, and one to get down. I wondered how I’d fare, second time round. Clearly I was a fitter, stronger walker in 1995, even on the first day’s walk of the year, because I was back at the car in forty-five minutes. Indeed, excluding the half hour I had spent out of time at Middle Fell’s summit, it had taken me only a half hour longer to ascend the fell this time – even talking the roundabout route over two other fells to get there!

6 thoughts on “Series 2 – 40: Mr 214

  1. Good read this.

    You really should get on a social media site like twitter to improve viewing figures.

    1. Hi TYSKIE, and thanks for commenting.
      You’re probably absolutely right – you certainly sound exactly like one of my mates at work! – but I come from a generation that can’t get its head around Twitter, and social media in general. Self-promotion is very hard for me, and the writing itself is too much fun.
      I hope that, if you get to the UK some time, I’ve inspired you to visit the Lakes.

  2. You’re welcome, George. As you can see, it was part of a longer series of posts, and there was an Epilogue too. There was an earlier series, as well.

    I did collect both into a book, though as I hold no copyright in the photos, save for the one on this post, it was purely for my private collection. I did print a second copy, intended as a gift to a friend who, before I could give out to her, dropped me abruptly. If you want to drop me a line through arduous.publications47(at)gmail.com with your address, I’ll happily send you the other copy.

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