All the Fells: Lingmell

Lingmell – The Southern Fells 2,649′ (2)

Date: 21 May 1969/6 August 1994

From: Wasdale Head/The Corridor Route

Lingmell is an important place to me. My father and his elder brother led us onto the fells and, even if it were only that my father had his family, and Uncle Arthur was a lifelong bachelor, I have always seen him as the greater driving force in our walking. Before the cancer that was to kill him struck, we only climbed three fells. Middle Fell was the first, Haystacks the last, but Lingmell was the highest. It was where he came closest to the highest of them all, Scafell Pike. By rights, he should have had a fair crack at the walking life I had, a fair crack at the days when he and I would have gone off to take advantage of clear skies and bright air. There was no sense at all of this when we climbed Lingmell. Not that I was in the habit of being consulted or anything like that, but I don’t recall any suggestion, when we parked at Wasdale Head and set off towards the familiar path to Sty Head, of any fell-climbing at all. As far as I remember, we were going to explore the walk to the Valley Approach, revealed in Wainwright’s Southern Fells, the Great End chapter. It was one of those occasional weeks when we were on our own, no Uncle Arthur. We got to the bottom of Piers Ghyll, that fearsome dogleg ravine that, from the north, appears like a vicious razor slash across Lingmell’s face. Dad proposed exploring up that flank instead, and Mam agreed. Actually, we were a five strong party, because an Alsatian dog had attached itself to us by the Wasdale Head Hotel and stayed with us a very long way. So we started uphill to see what it was like, and Dad kept suggesting we went on a bit further, until this little spur-of-the-moment ascent turned into a committed climb to reach the top without any formal agreement. Looking back, I love the whole thing, but at the time I was nervous about proceeding in case we ran into something sterner than our abilities could handle: I mean, my little sister was not yet seven and Mam was very protective of her. But the steep, narrow section at the elbow of the Ghyll wasn’t too narrow or steep for us to get past unscathed. The worst part came when Dad wanted to take a photo of us. There wasn’t enough room for him to get the perspective he wanted as a camera buff so, in order to create this, he stepped over the edge, standing on a ledge out of sight. If I could once again find that photo I would examine the fixed smile on my face for how convincing it was, because I was terrified through every second that his footing might not be secure, that whatever he was stood on might break, and him suddenly disappear out of sight. It never happened, thank the God I still believed in at that tender age, but I wasn’t satisfied until he’d climbed back onto the same level ground we were sat on, and we moved on. Not until we reached the upper stage, when the rocks spread away to either side, and the slope was nothing but grass and everything was totally safe, did I relax, and my sister and I virtually ran uphill until we found level ground at the end of the Corridor Route. Of course there was no question of returning by that route, so it was over Lingmell Col and down that side, but whilst it was there, we’d climb Lingmell. In passing, or was that Dad’s intention all along? It was the most serious of our family walks: my sister especially, but also me restricted the limits of what we could do, so climbing alongside Piers Ghyll was Dad’s biggest adventure out walking, and knowing all the things he could have done, when my sister and I were older, I am so glad he got that in at least. As for Lingmell’s summit, this was long after the spire-like cairn Wainwright had illustrated was first demolished by clowns and fuckwits, but it had been rebuilt. Not quite as expert, broader in the beam, especially at mid-height, but done with honour to the original. When I came back, a quarter of a century later, I don’t know how many columns had been demolished and rebuilt, but the struggle had been abandoned: a massive pyramid stood there, loose and unconstructed, impressive in its own way but no substitute. The day was meant to climb Scafell Pike via Sty Head and the Corridor Route, returning by Great End – the only new summit – Esk Hause and Grains Gill, but for both me and Dad, I couldn’t come to Lingmell Col and not return to Dad’s highest point. Lingmell is an important, and a special place for me.

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