Because they’re there


I’ve just added a new link to the blogroll, for the benefit of those readers who come here for the Lake District pieces. Because they’re there is the blog of Alen McFadzean, former quarryman, ardent fellwalker and journalist for a local paper out Darlington way, who’s currently under Notice of Redundancy.

McEff is a quiet joy to read, a fund of stories, an ardent and much-travelled walker, and the kind of guy you’d share a pint with any day, and I’ve linked to his blog because, in the unlikly event of you not already having found it, I think you’ll enjoy a short-cut to a wealth of posts about not just the Lakes.

Tell him I sent you and he’ll probably say, “Who?…”

Obscure Corners: The Head of Swindale


swindale 2

Swindale is a lovely, lonely valley on the eastern side of Lakeland, the kind of place for which the word ‘unspoiled’ is usually coined.
That’s not entirely the case: sixty years ago, when Wainwright was working on the Far Eastern Fells, plans were well in hand to construct a dam and flood the valley to provide another reservoir for the benefit of Manchester. Though there was a change of heart, enough things had been done in preparation for sending Swindale after Mardale to leave render ‘unspoiled’ as forever inappropriate.
Yet sixty years or so have gone since the threat to drown Swindale receded, and the valley has been all but untouched since: an oasis of quiet beauty, a window upon an older world, a living memory.
And this effect has been enhanced in recent years by the decision to ban all cars from the valley, except for those of its few residents. Parking used to be restricted to the grassy banks around Truss Gap, in the middle of the valley, but even this is now forbidden. Those who want to walk in Swindale must needs rely on their feet from the valley mouth onwards. Needless to say, this has cut down on the already few visitors to begin with.
For Swindale’s is a rural beauty, of low ridges and silence. It shares but two Wainwrights, only one of which truly belongs to the valley, this being Selside Pike, the reasons for both the visits I paid to Swindale.
My first visit was a geographic disaster. I completely misread my maps and Wainwright and, parking at Truss Gap, took to the western flank of the dale, gaining a wide, low ridge on an afternoon of cold wind and clarity, a very long way uphill to my target. On my second visit, I was extremely cheeky: I ignored the Truss Gap sign about there being no parking after that point, drove the extremely narrow road to its end at Swindale Head, and sought permission to leave my car there until about 3.00pm (I planned an early end to the afternoon as I was going to interrupt my week away by driving back to Manchester to see United play in the Champions League and, as Swindale was decently handy for Shap and the M6, as well as Selside Pike being among the few remaining Wainwrights on my list, it was convenient all ways round). The farmer (?) was happy for me to stay as long as I was gone by 5.00pm, which I assured him was not a concern. Walkers in the twenty-First Century have miles to go before reaching this isolated farmstead.
A more adventurous walker can make a longer day of it by ascending to the ridge from Truss Gap, as if planning to creep up on the Naddle Horseshoe from behind. Neither the Outlying Fells nor the bog standard Far Eastern Fells cover the country between the Naddle valley and Selside Pike – a blank behind the name Swindale Common – but though pathless, it looked to be innocuous from afar.
But if the walk is also to experience a slice of history, there is no alternative to Swindale Head and ascending the Mardale Corpse Road. This leaves virtually from the farmyard, ascending alongside a wall before breaking off on a gently graded straight angle across the fellside that provides little excuse for stopping and looking back into Swindale, but do that often anyway.
There are no difficulties in the walk, as is to be expected. The Corpse Road has not been used for its original purpose in over 275 years, since the consecration of a burial ground in Mardale relieved the farmers of that dale from the need to transport their dead across the fells for burial at Shap, but the way was made for men carrying a coffin shoulder high, and was made with (relative) ease and comfort in mind.
From the ridge, there are no difficult gradients to Selside Pike’s summit, which can be reached with an overall ease. The best of the views are those to the west, over Mardale and the lower reaches of Haweswater. Selside Pike is neither high enough nor prominently sited to see beyond the western flank of Mardale, but Swindale lies behind, and on a clear day, the Pennines fill the eastern horizon, across the Eden Valley.
The obvious ridge route from here is to the undistinguished Branstree, a mile and a half of grass and a broadening ridge, but the return from here, without retracing trodden ground, is very roundabout: down Selside Brow to Gatescarth Pass and the long, empty walk through Mosedale. Unless ultimate loneliness, and a brew in the Mosedale bothy is utterly compelling, a better option is to turn to the afore-mentioned Outlying Fells.
This will provide directions for a circuitous return to Swindale by keeping to the high ground above Hobgrumble Gill to the subsidiary top of Howes, an indefinite shoulder of Branstree, and descending to Nabs Moor before working down to the indistinct path emerging from Mosedale, where the beck begins to break into cascades on a surprisingly steep fall back into Swindale.
This section offers the best views of the day, though the gill is not seen to any real advantage from this side of the cascades.
Eventually, the path descends into the valley head, which is strangely lower than the moraines that guard it. Presumably, Swindale had its own body of water in some past time.
The path ambles round the valley back to Swindale Head, where – at 3.00pm as I predicted – I reclaimed my car and headed for Manchester and a 4-2 victory. Those who want to partake of this remote and quiet place will have a long walk along the road to return to their transport, but they will walk in quiet pleasure at their experience of the Lakes as it once was and never will be again.

Cumbria Scenes – An Epilogue


There were more walks after Seatallan and Middle Fell. I was free to explore wherever I wished, and to return to places last seen long years before. For several months, I could cheerfully boast that I had done all the Wainwrights in a cycle of less than ten years. And I could chance my arm at things like Lord’s Rake now that a slip, and a broken leg, would not have meant the ultimate disaster of falling short.
But those years were all too short, far shorter than I could ever imagine they’d be. Injury, working commitments, constraints of time and money, and the dream of an unexpected marriage: all these things happened.
Now I’m 57: overweight, with no stamina, dodgy knees, diabetic, financially strapped. Can’t get there, couldn’t do what I used to do if I did, not without a lot of practice to regain walking fitness once more. There’s still Jack’s Rake I haven’t done, and the West Wall Traverse, and the Robinson’s Cairn route to Pillar, and maybe Sharp Edge again, or toiling up Gable by Gavel Neese and the Hellgates, to Westmorland Cairn.
And there’s Dodd, High Stile and Seat Sandal, from whom I’ve yet to see a view.
Or every one of the routes I’ve taken that, given a heartbeat to make a decision, I would walk again.
I live in hope, if not, at the moment, with hope.
But this series is over. Will there be a third series? This epilogue appears long months after it was written, and the urge to take myself out among the rocks and bracken of memory remains quiet. Not yet, if ever, is the only answer I can give.
In the meantime, there is one more photo to share, that belongs here.

img011

Stanley Crookall (1929 – 1970)
Dorothy Crookall (nee Robinson) (1926-1991)
Mam and Dad

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!

Series 2 – 39: 1994 – The Final Run-in


Esk Pike

The glorious summer gave way to my September holiday, six precious days towards completing a course that had come down to only ten fells remaining. I drove up on a grey Sunday, ensconced myself in Keswick with greater ease than I’d had in June, and set out immediately for Clough Head, the lowly yet prominent, bluff northern terminus of the Helvellyn range.
There was little need to ‘walk myself in’ for this week, but it was still an awkward ascent, initial steepness and a need to get through a ring of crags succeeded by an interminable convex slope, chasing an ever-retreating skyline under clouds grey enough to threaten rain. Which duly came on the descent northwards, via the rocky White Pike and down to the Coach Road, a long trek back to St John’s in the Vale and the car. Thus I closed the Eastern Fells.
I was impatient to return to Keswick: United were live on Sky that afternoon, and whilst I was against this dumbing down that BSkyB were starting to spread, it was hypocritically frustrating to find that culture had not been sufficiently debased in Keswick to find a pub open at 4.00pm on a Saturday.
Nor did the weather co-operate the following day, keeping me off the fells and threatening to derail my planned ascent of Blencathra. This was the infamous day of travelling via Sharp Edge: sun at first and bright skies gradually being filled by grey cloud: the wind taut on the Edge in a darkening world, and then that moment when I found myself having to shuffle off a shelf to drop – yes, drop – onto a knife-edge arête, before taking an unsupported step on this narrow edge of rock, drops on both sides, before clinging to the far side and dragging myself onto and around another shelf.
If it were to be done, it had to be done quickly, and decisively, and I got across unscathed, though my heart thumped wildly for five minutes. Only, having got across, and not having the remotest prospect of going back (not twice. Not the same day), I was quickly stopped as I reached the cloud-line at the base of a scramble that, at that time, I couldn’t face. I’d lost my nerve.
Out of sheer luck, there was a professional Guide on that same route that day – the only Guide I have ever encountered on the fells – who caught up with me, recognised my funk, took me under his wing and got me up the rough section, leaving me to recover on an easy, closed-in rise to the summit.
I crossed to Blencathra’s other peak, Foule Crag, passing the massive white quartz cross that has lain so many decades in the saddle between, and then, having ascended the Northern Fells‘ most sublime summit, I closed that book with its most ridiculous: Mungrisedale Common, an unsightly, shapeless pudding of a ‘fell’, a sheep pasture that, even so, has a thin line in the grass leading to its apology for a summit, a parasite on Blencathra’s back. But a Wainwright, nonetheless.
Two books completed in two walks, and the same again a day later as I headed out to shy Swindale, the furthest east one can go and still be in Lakeland.
I’d visited it one day previously, thinking to collect its sole fell, Selside Pike. I’d been charmed at its sylvan beauty and otherworldliness, but I’d gotten my geography horribly wrong and climbed onto the ridge at the wrong place, very far from the Pike. Now this was the one Far Eastern Fell left to me, and I had chosen it for today for a specific purpose.
There’s no public parking in Swindale past Truss Gap, two miles before the valley head, but I drove to the road end and, with politeness and hope, asked permission to park in the farmer’s yard until about 3.00pm. Provided I wasn’t still there after tea, he was willing to give it, so I climbed out of Swindale via the old Mardale Corpse Road, giving me easy access to Selside Pike, And, courtesy of the Outlying Fells, I made a roundabout return over two foothills, to the falls tumbling out of Mosedale and through the moraines in the valley floor.
By 3.00pm, as I’d promised, I was out of the farmer’s way and heading across the Lowther Valley to the M6 and Manchester. You see, I had booked my week off before United knew their draw in the first ever Champions League group stage, and there was a home game against FC Gothenburg on the Wednesday night: had to go back for that, hadn’t I? (We won it, 4-2)
I had always intended to belt straight back to the Lakes on Thursday but the teeming rain made haste unnecessary and I headed for Ambleside in my own time – which did not preclude me from leaving my ‘time’ behind. I had taken off my watch downstairs after returning from the match the previous night, and had left it on the couch. It was there still.
It didn’t matter much if I was killing time in my car and various villages, but the week ended in splendid sun and September clarity and I had another Big Walk, another to be added to that splendid pantheon of that Glorious Summer, and I had nothing by which I could tell the passage of time whilst I was on the fells.
Or did I? I did, though: my Test Match Special Cap Radio. This led to the unusual, and unrepeatable experience of a grand long day’s walking timed to a day’s broadcast of Radio 4.
For the fourth time that week,I was en route to closing up a book, this time the Southern Fells: the most used, most cracked and battered of the family’s set. Oh yes, they may have been mine now, but they were still the family Wainwrights, and they always would be.
For the last time that year I had a walk that took me over a captured peak to gain missing summits, but then I hadn’t seen a thing from Bowfell first time round. Through Oxendale and climbing to the flatlands below Pike O’Blisco, the vast moorlands rising with ever-growing anticipation to the spiny top of Crinkle Crags, with the justly famous Bad Step and the succession of summits, and the views immense all round.
The long descent to Three Tarns, with Bowfell Links in clear view, and that river of stones down which me and those two guys from Trafford Ramblers had descended out of the unseeing cloud. Somehow I got talking to this bubbly blonde in blue cycle shorts who was staying in Ambleside, and me so concentrating on my beloved tops I didn’t recognise the chat-up possibilities until I was halfway to Bowfell’s top.
Down to Ore Gap again, and this time across it and ascending to Esk Pike, the last fell, and on again as far as Esk Hause once more, only a few weeks since the day I’d climbed the Pike. This time I was arriving and departing by two more of the different routes that make this the most dangerous place in all Lakeland to be caught in cloud.
I started the long tramp down to Angle Tarn, and the truly painful additional 300′ climb to the top of Rossett Gill beyond, listening to a fascinating magazine programme item about a professional biographer who would write ordinary folks’ biographies, telling their life-stories to their heirs.
And this too was the day I set out to trace the old pony route down Rossett Gill, quietly finding all the landmarks, all the remains of long-disused paths that, a little over a decade later, would have vanished completely. I traced the pony route in solitude down to Mickleden, convincing myself of my own credentials as an experienced walker, before sinking my right boot into soft sedge to the ankle and half-marching, half-squelching down Mickleden and going home.
The vagaries of the weather left me with four fells to go: two final books, two walks, and plenty of time to fit them in in this final year of achievement.
I got away in mid-October, a cold, grey Sunday, climbing out of Stonethwaite to Greenup Edge Pass, insisting on doing things ‘right’ by reaching the top of the Pass and not taking shortcuts that would enable me to escape its gruesome wetness. From there it was an easy, steady climb to the top of Ullscarf, geographically Lakeland’s most ‘central’ fell, and after that a long descent over fairly indeterminate ground, hunting out the half-hidden top of Great Crag, before a steep zigzag back to Stonethwaite.
I had fallen short. There was one more walk required, one that would not take place in 1994 after all, that would not give me a neat, decimal, quarter century from first to last. Last, instead, would have to be first, in a new year for which no other plans existed or could be made, for, much as I’d half-dreamed of being able to return to favourite places, old haunts long unseen, I’d steadfastly refused to plan beyond that final day.
The picture is of Esk Pike, Bowfell and the Crinkles, seen from outside the circuit, from Great End. This year saw me undertaking four of my ten favourite walks in the space of little more than two months. I’d relive this year again, any time, work or no work.

Series 2 – 38: 1994 – The Glorious Summer


North from Great Borne

It began with a false start. My firm had a client who lived in Askam, an old Westmorland village just off the route to Haweswater, who needed a visit. I’d planned a weekend in the Lakes, and so arranged to see the man on the Sunday. I drove up Friday night after work, a sweltering night but one on which the shimmering outline of unidentifiable Lakeland fells swam into view not far past the end of the Blackpool Motorway, the furthest south I’ve ever seen the hills.
But I could only get Friday night in a Keswick Hotel – not guesthouse, a Hotel – in which I watched World Cup Football under a sheen of sweat, and Saturday dawned with cloud, wrecking my day. I still got up Grisedale Pike and Hopegill Head again, despite finding them swathed in cloud. I wandered in a silent landscape, droplets clinging to my beard, and then down to Coledale Hause, still shrouded, and not free of cloud until halfway down to the Valley.
I rang our client from Braithwaite, hoping I could see him that day, but no joy so, with no bed for the night, I drove home, and made a special journey back the next day – in hard rain for most of it – to serve my firm.
But that was just a false start. A fortnight later I was back, not on the Friday night as I’d quickly learned that High Summer was not the time to make impromptu attempts at weekends away, but for the beginning of five glorious consecutive Saturdays. Each began with the six o’clock alarm, hit the road for seven, cross the Cumbria border about eight and the hills to enjoy for as long as I wished, since no streams of traffic left Blackpool on Saturday nights.
I was back to Grisedale Pike and Hopegill Head, but this time under clear blue, with the wind across the peaks, and this time the full Coledale Horseshoe.
I’d done almost all of it before: Grisedale Pike and Hopegill Head: Eel Crag and the interloper, Wandope: Outerside and Barrow: three walks now blended into one round, a great day of steep ridges, fast climbs and striding out across the tops all day. In terms of the Wainwrights, the point of the walk was almost the least of it, a fell called Sail: a rounded, green dome squeezed between bulkier fells, with a summit cairn easier to see from above on the descent from Eel Crag than in the lush grasses of its top.
It was a great day’s walking in my favourite part of the Lakes, seven tops for the sake of one tick and a wonderful time. It was also a poignant moment: Sail was the last of The North Western Fells. The last book I’d opened became the first to be closed until I’d reached my goal.
A week later it was the contrasting surroundings of the low, wet, frequently drab ridge separating Derwent Water from Thirlmere. I arrived early, took the narrow road to Watendlath Tarn, paid for the maximum four hours in the little car park at the farm, and set off uphill.
First, a steepish ascent out of the valley, on the only ‘pass’ in the Lakes to cross a summit. I only climbed as far as the wall above the valley before veering off north on a slanting path that, very gradually, rose towards the ridge itself: too slowly because, after an interminable walk distinguished only by the fresh, clean air, I cut across easy ground to the ridge and headed back south.
Armboth Fell lay off the ridge to the Thirlmere side, a bog-dodging trek to a raised point that was actually lower than the ridge itself. Then High Tove, gently rounded, wet underfoot, that ‘pass’ crossing its summit rather than a col to either side because the summit was somewhat firmer underfoot. And more slutch-avoiding, bog-dodging, liquid grass circling as far as High Seat, from which I made a direct return to Watendlath, not without having to climb a locked gate to get onto the road.
And back at the car in a minute or two under those four legitimate hours!
Next, I went to the Helvellyns, for a parcel of fells surrounding the big one itself. Early enough to park in one of the limited spaces at the entrance to Grisedale, I strode in shade through the woods and in scorching heat across the flank of the fells to the Hole in the Wall where Red Tarn and Helvellyn’s face, between its two Edges, first appear.
I had on my Test Match Special Cap Radio – a baseball cap with a tiny AM radio pouched in one side, earphones like dangly horns and a miniature aerial to be tugged up out of the brim. England were playing South Africa at Lords (it was the infamous day of Mike Atherton and the dirt in his pocket) and England were starting the day needing about twenty to thirty runs to avoid the follow on.
As I walked back to add Birkshouse Moor’s summit to my tally, Phil De Freitas cracked off the necessary runs, aggressively. My film ran out when I tried to take a picture of Helvellyn from the cairn, so I sat down to put another one in. A couple were approaching from down-ridge: he, with balding head, a big white moustache and a proper walking shirt like Dad used to wear, looked as if he would be interested in the cricket, so I told him about the follow-on being avoided.
Over the next hour, as we followed our paths, our routes kept converging and I kept him up to date on the score. We toiled up the ridge of Catstycam, when the wind suddenly tore my Cap Radio off, and I had to scramble down about thirty feet to retrieve it.
Our ways parted on Catstycam. He asked about my plans and I jokingly said I was “Collecting”. “2,000 footers?” he immediately asked, with an enthusiasm that rapidly subsided when I admitted it was Wainwrights. “Oh dear,” said his companion.
Suddenly, I had a thought: could this old gentleman to whom I’d been chatting actually be the noted writer, climber and Guardian Country Diarist, A. Harry Griffin?
But it was back to business, and the grandest part of the day as I headed for Swirral Edge, the less famous ridge to Helvellyn. I loved every step of it. It’s not an independent ridge like Striding Edge, more a steep rocky prow, but it was hand and foot all the way and a great glory to top out and cross the short turf to the cairn.
Busy as ever, busier even than my last visit here, under cloud.
I crossed to the top of Striding Edge, drinking in the view and looking down on the perspiring masses dragging themselves up. In the case of several ladies, it was definitely looking down from above, and I shamelessly took advantage of my perspective until it was time to march on, across the broad top of Nethermost Pike with its three summit cairns, from each of which one of the other two looks higher, and then Dollywaggon Pike, an old favourite of my parents for some never-learned reason.
I descended the infamous Dollywaggon Zigzags, keeping to the curves, to Grisedale Pass and a long, sunshine retreat down the valley, to the shade of the woods and my broiling car.
My fourth Saturday took me across the Lakes to the far West, to Ennerdale, which is about as far as you can go starting from 6.00am in Manchester. To the west of the High Stile range were two more fells, Great Borne and Starling Dodd. The former was accessible from the rarely used Floutern Tarn Pass, rarely used because it flounders into the morass of Mosedale Head, behind Hen Comb.
I was a bit concerned to see signs plastered everywhere: “No Wainwright Routes Off This Path”. A local explained to me that the farmer had put them up, but nobody really knew if he’d any right to. Still, the Pass was a public footpath, and I doubted his remit extended that far. It was an easy, grassy route, from which I diverted at the top, onto the curious little ridge of Floutern Cop. Then, after carefully picking my way across a very glutinous piece of land, I got a foothold on Steel Brow, much of it a steep, rough scramble, which took me to a surprisingly indefinite top, split by a shallow valley.
That valley pointed the way onwards, along a broad, grassy ridge, to Starling Dodd, an easy route. The fell itself has little to distinguish it beyond airiness and loneliness, but that’s not to deprive it of its status as Wainwright’s last. Not in life, but in the Illustrated Guides: the final fell from which notes, sightings and photographs were taken, despite the presence of a comely woman hoping to meet Mr Wainwright (who instead gave his name as Walker. A. Walker).
Instead of the standard return, on my way back down the ridge I sought out a curl in the grass that became a trickle, a stream, a gill and a descent onto Floutern, leaving me a short climb to the Pass alongside the shy, narrow and, frankly, dull Tarn, and down again to Ennerdale Water.
And then came the sequence capper, one of the finest days I have ever had out walking in the Lakes. Like the Coledale Horseshoe, it was a walk that produced a single new summit whilst covering old ground, but it was magnificent, my third glorious day in five weeks.
I’ve written about it at length already, for this was Scafell Pike from Seathwaite, and all three of the Pikes that go to create the famous fell, but so what?
Arriving at Seathwaite under a 9.00am Saturday sun, every minute seeing two more cars parking in the run up to the Farm. Across the fields and rising to the entrance to the Taylorgill Force ravine. Hot enough to take off my shirt and walk bare-shouldered and chested. The long approach to Sty Head, the Tarn placid and blue. A ham and salad filled pitta looking down to Wasdale Head. Finding the Corridor Route and walking it end to end in a state of bliss that I didn’t want to end. Revisiting Lingmell, a quarter century after my other visit, the cairn a jumbled wreck but looking up at the Pike for I am about to take the route my Dad never did. The stony, busy ascent without a break, the last lap across the empty plateau, the summit again.
It’s crowded, disgustingly so. I practically have to force my way to the cairn because my being there displaces some ignorant lout from being the highest person in England. I take myself off to the south cairn, from where the wind blows, silencing those behind me, overlooking Eskdale, Mickledore and Scafell Crag.
Descent and reascent, into and out of a steep col. Turning off to traverse, carefully but confidently, balanced rock, all edges and angles and risk at every step, to Broad Crag. Descent and reascent, into and out of another steep col. Turning off to traverse the long back of Ill Crag, afternoon sun turning the Scafells into shimmering, backlit, silhouettes, impossibly close. A diversion along a surprising grassy rake onto the broad top of Great End, the highest point in the Lakes that’s below 3,000′. Descent, finally, to the cairn at Esk Hause, the meeting place of paths, the gateway to fells  and dreams.
The long, tiring, reluctant descent, following a miniature gorge through a fold in the rock to Grains Gill, the greatest highway to the highest land, here a demanding route of exit, to Stockley Bridge and the final mile to how far away your car had to be left in the long ago morning.
Of such days are dreams made. Of such summers are memories made.
And a postscript. I went into work on Monday, bought the Guardian, flicked through. Harry Griffin had written that day’s Country Diary, about a hot Saturday in the Helvellyns, and a young man in a Viking Helmet who said to him, “They’ve avoided the follow on!”
The photo looks north, from Great Borne, towards the Buttermere Valley and the fells around it, dappled in sun. These were the kind of days I enjoyed in that priceless summer.

Series 2 – 37: 1994 – To Begin With


Mardale Waters 2

It was a momentous year in the making. Having broken the long duck in 1993, United would go onto to win Back-to-Back Premierships, the second by being top of the table for all but 28 hours of the season. My lowest moment – learning from a former contemporary of mine in Altrincham that, had his very respected and well-established firm known I was unsettled, vacancy or no vacancy they’d have made room to get me – was followed by the possibility of escape, when my firm agreed to let me out of my contract if they could get an acceptable replacement for me.
Most of all, it was the year I was going to realise my goal. I was going to accomplish something that had taken strength, skill and commitment. Only not at first.
I had no chance of getting to the Lakes before my April holiday, and when I did it turned into something of a bitty week. Having failed to plan for the closing stages in anything like a professional manner, the remaining fells did not lend themselves to easy collection. There had been insufficient Sunday afternoon walks down the years, and too many isolated tops.
At least I had good weather over the first couple of days. Bakestall, more properly a summit than a fell, behind Skiddaw, brought me fully into the Dash Valley, along a narrow road of four gates, a long walk towards Skiddaw House, climbing beside Whitewater Dash, the falls, and then a stiff uphill pull on grass, struggling with the first serious walk of the year.
I remember thinking of the less obnoxious of my two Senior Partners and the complete horror he would have at the thought of this being a holiday activity: a thought I could easily understand just at that moment and a memory I would draw on three years later when my first novel came to life unexpectedly on a felltop not that far away. And I remember a descent on steepening grass as hang-gliders floated silently in the air, not much above me.
The next day took me into Borrowdale, to Rosthwaite Fell, another isolated top that provided me with a none-too-exciting experience: so little so that my memory of the day is mainly of getting back to the car in early afternoon and sitting there for over an hour. The cricket commentary was on from Antigua: Brian Lara was batting, was approaching the highest ever score in Test Cricket, against England, and I sat there willing him on, at every delivery afraid of the disappointment.
But Lara made it, and I roared him on, as all true cricket fans will do: unlike football, a great feat is no less great for being accomplished by an opponent, or against your own team.
The sun persisted into the next day, when I introduced myself to a kind of walk with which I would become familiar that year. Some lone fells were not isolated, but lay in the heart of magnificent territory, left behind by earlier, shorter walks. So I was back on the road to Hayeswater again, not for the Round I’d devised for myself, but for a direct ascent onto Rest Dodd again, and a return – headache free – down Brock Crags.
The point of the walk was, however, to tick off The Nab: a narrow, steep-sided green fell enclosed within my personal valley, Martindale. But, by being so, it lay wholly within the Martindale Deer Forest, and to ascend it was trespass.
Like all such walkers who put their personal needs before their conscience, I came in from the rear: a descent from the tedious Rest Dodd onto the Nab’s long back, picking my way past punitive peat-bogs to its lowly summit and retiring to safety without being seen by keeper or deer. The irony of it was that the deer are unaware of boundaries, and the only ones I saw all day were on the far side of Brock Crag, in public territory.
Since that time, The Nab has become publicly available, but still the only accepted route is from the back, and Rest Dodd. Unlike the trespass, the peat hags have not obliged anyone by disappearing.
Three days, three fells, but once I transferred to Ambleside, the weather turned foul on me. Walking was impossible and there was no Big Walk conclusion, but I couldn’t confine myself to the car for two days, so I chose Seat Sandal, the eastern sentinel of Dunmail Raise, whose summit might be invisible, but which had a wall reaching almost to the cairn.
It was a nostalgic expedition. Twenty years earlier, the family had ascended to the top of Grisedale Pass, ascending by the shorter, easier Tongue Gill, returning by Great Tongue. I came down full of beans, feeling fully capable of turning round and doing it all again, not a feeling shared. I took the same approach today.
The narrow confines of the gill were shrouded by the cloud above. Much of the path was reconstructed by the National Trust, a necessity that I hate. The wild is the wild and that’s why we go there, not to walk garden paths. But the necessity was demonstrated when I reached the limit of the constructed path, which immediately became a trench, almost a foot deep.
From the top of the Pass I climbed roughly beside a prominent wall, following it in thick, grey cloud until it levelled off. I correctly judged where to cross it, and walk some twenty yards to the large cairn, marking the highest point of nothing: I might as well have been indoors. But I had refused to let the elements get the best of me, and I could always return when day was brighter.
So it was back to my car, following in old footsteps down Great Tongue. Trodden Ground is acceptable when the difference is twenty years.
But, despite the meagre returns of my holiday, I was eager to improve. Once the football season was over, once I had had my first FA Cup Final – all those years of Cup Final Day on TV and now I was actually there – once United had demolished Chelsea and it wasn’t until we were 3-0 up and had won the Cup that I remembered we were the Champions, and we’d won the Double as well, then Saturdays were free for great weather and more tops.
Great Walks abounded. I ascended Skiddaw for a second time by the Tourist Route, and once more crossed Lonscale Pike as a descent, but these were to accommodate a first visit to Skiddaw Little Man between. Wainwright praised the magnificent sweeping view from its summit, and the approach from behind that saved it for the last second, and I dutifully followed instructions, and it was everything he promised it to be. I am usually a restless walker, eager to hurry on to the next top, rarely staying above ten minutes even when eating. But on Little Man, I sat a half hour, just turning my head to sweep backwards and forwards across that panorama. Amazing.
Though Wasdale belongs to Great Gable, its true patron fell is Kirk Fell, a bulky, grassy, solid chunk of mountain that saves its photogenic crags for the hidden Ennerdale flank. It can be walked as an energetic start to the Mosedale Horseshoe (and it featured prominently in an ITV play of many years ago, entitled ‘The Mosedale Horseshoe Club’) but that would entail the steep, straight, unremitting direct ascent that I wasn’t going to tackle under any circumstances.
Instead, I set myself towards Gable, and the steep prow of Gavel Neese, as if aiming for the Napes Ridges and the Hellgate screes. At the right moment, I veered off towards Beck Head, and the rocky scramble onto Kirk Fell’s broad top, with little tendrils of cloud threatening to spoil the day at the wrong moment.
Having crossed the fell, I descended circumspectly to Black Sail Pass and the steady return to Wasdale Head.
And, to make it three Sundays out of three, a week later I was back, back to Mardale, to Haweswater and the heights at its head. Again, a long walk was the key to sweeping up an overlooked summit, but though Mardale Ill Bell was the summit going in the book, the highlight of the day was the ascent of High Street by its most exhilarating route, via the Long Stile/Rough Crag ridge.
Not a step of that climb was without delight, in the ground underfoot, in the changing views of Haweswater from full length to a panorama, as the ridge curved across ninety degrees, in the intimate views of Blea Water and Small Water in their respective bays, collectively known as Mardale Waters. A magnificent ascent.
My plan was to traverse Mardale Ill Bell to Nan Bield Pass and descend, but I was still too fresh, and the day not too far advanced, so I threw away my plans and ascended Harter Fell again, crossing its summit to the third cairn for the most spectacular view possible of the lake. And I descended that path to Gatescarth Pass, the one that I’d seen from the slopes of Branstree only five years earlier, but which had seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Less than twenty years before I had climbed this way on trackless grass: descending, the path was in bad repair. It would not be long before the National Trust would have to become involved again.
I’d begun.
The picture is of Mardale Waters, with Small Water in the foreground, and Blea Water below High Street and the Rough Crag ridge backing it. You should go there: the day will live in your memories for ever.

Series 2 – 36: The weather has the best of it


For some now-forgotten reason, I didn’t visit the Lakes again until Summer was past its peak, and then it was less a walking expedition than a date!
I’d tried the Guardian‘s ‘Soulmates’, or whatever it was being called nineteen years ago, and met a bright, intelligent, arty woman who was an Assistant Museum Director in Lancaster. As she was a fellwalker too, a day out was indicated, and I collected her on my way north, to Borrowdale and Seathwaite.
Of course I’d chosen a file on my list of remaining fells: Seathwaite Fell, another northern outlier of the Scafell range. Not a spectacular walk, but an enjoyable effort. We ascended by the orthodox Sty Head route before breaking off to make a pathless ascent towards the crags that rimmed the summit, following an easy breach onto the high ground. There was an easy stroll across the broad top, my first visit to the photogenic Sprinkling Tarn, a descent to Sty Head summit and a return by the Taylorgill Force variation, my first exposure to that fascinating ravine.
I think we met up only once more before she started seeing a non-Guardian guy: a colleague who’d been carrying a bit of a torch for her for some time, who she went on to marry. Good luck to her, we were suited for friends but not otherwise. It was a different kind of day, but what I recall it for most was standing at Seathwaite Fell’s cairn, surrounded by a circle of high, high fells, adorned with paths.
Famous paths, prominent routes, ways to high adventure. Every one sticking out, visible from miles around. Scratches, scars on the landscape, inflicted by people like me, worshippers of the fells, eager to be in the heights. We were cutting the fells to ribbons. I had never understood that so clearly before, never realised that the only solution was to ban us from the hills. For a hundred years if necessary, if it took that long to recover.
Did it stop me walking any more? No. I was just as big a hypocrite as everyone else who professed to care. Not with thirty-odd fells on my list to walk.
I knocked off another couple to the east of Blencathra a couple of weeks later, a pure, clear, sunshine Saturday in shy country. Two cars had parked there before me: when I returned, about half three, there were cars everywhere. I’d descended off Carrock Fell on a mystery path, a zigzag series of steep flights unrepresented in Wainwright – and not added to the Chris Jesty revised Second Edition, despite its clear presence from the north. In the midst of the Blessed One, there was still discovery, even for slaves like me.
The other thing I remember the day for was listening to the football on the radio: United – Champions after so many years – were at Southampton and Eric, playing his first game of the season, scored a precision chip that I wanted to see on MOTD later.
So far, so good, but my holiday away, at the beginning of the month, was not to be anything like so bright. I got up and down Hartsop-above-How, a sickle curve of a ridge rising out of Patterdale, whose summit is little more than a place where the ridge levels out briefly, a walk where the only variation route back was the other side of the wall. Sunday at least was dry and clear, but every other day of the week suffered.
There was no walking on Monday and, after transferring to Keswick on Tuesday, I took myself to the Stonethwaite Valley, at the head of Borrowdale, intent on two small fells that would at least be below the threatening cloud-line, come what may.
I still wanted dry weather for Eagle Crag, a fell of fearsome aspect, because I was going to do the direct route, and this meant putting myself into some precarious positions. Eagle Crag, and its associate, Sergeant’s Crag, lay in the corner of the Greenup Valley and Langstrath, geographically distant outliers of High Raise, Lakeland’s supposedly most central fell.
And after years, decades even, of the sight of Bowfell rising nobly at the head of Great Langdale and Eskdale, I was anxious to finally see its third aspect, at the head of Langstrath, though the clouds did not look propitious.
I crossed the beck at the gateway to Langstrath, waded uphill through waist-high (and wet) bracken that left me damp from the waist down. But there was no going back on this route: crossing a rickety stile where a broken fence abutted a cliff-face, beyond which a way along the foot of the cliff leads to a short, near vertical gully, up which I scrambled, emerging on the left at the top and having to circle around its head to progress to the right on a long, grass shelf, conscious of the lack of protection on my right and the steepness of the slope: then a scramble up a series of pathless green shelves until emerging near a tiny peak that proved to be the narrow summit.
That was when I finally started to believe I could do the difficult, dangerous ascents.
Sergeant’s Crag was half a mile along a mostly level ridge, with the path ‘behind’ the top. Rain was obviously closing in now and would reach me before I got to my other top, so I dragged on waterproofs and continued, picking out the cairn more by luck than judgement because by then it was tipping down, and it didn’t stop.
The ‘proper’ route back was to continue on to Stake Pass and reach the valley from there, but that meant heading further away from the car, and those who have the dialect will already know that Langstrath means ‘Long Valley’, so I negotiated a slow, careful, trackless and steep way directly downhill and marched back along the broad, flat path. Unlike on Yewbarrow the previous year, my waterproofs kept the rain out, but my glasses were soaked and thus, returning through the wet woods, I was unable to get a clear look at the flash of red that I am sure was my first ever Red Squirrel.
It seemed no better the next day so, after the traditional trip to Cockermouth, I motored further on, a first, and only visit to Whitehaven (I would pay my only visit to Workington a few years later, but that was for football, instead of filling time until the air seemed dry enough to chance a small hill). Come the afternoon, I motored back to Loweswater and added Hen Comb to my conquests: a grassy, narrow fell, isolated on three sides by the brutally wet Mosedale Head.
Big Walk Day was at least dry in the air, but the clouds were hovering at exactly the wrong level for me. I had chosen the High Stile Range, three massive, stern fells fronting to Buttermere, and turning steep backs on Ennerdale. A long steep ascent of Red Pike commenced the day: a long, straight angled walk, diagonally climbing the lower face, a level transit on rock to the entrance to Blackberry Comb and its deep blue Tarn, and the scramble onto the ridge, with the cloud dogging my shoulders for the last fifty feet or so, flickering the view.
High Stile, in the centre, was even higher. I crossed in safety, the view unseen but visibility sufficient to keep to the path. There were a couple of moments as I stood there, brief blowings allowing a glimpse through the curtain, hinting at the spectacular view beyond, but again it was not to be: not unless I wanted to turn and walk back, once I was firmly committed to the narrow ridge to the Range’s third fell, High Crag. Because the cloud burned away and the tops were stark under a streaming sun, too hot to turn back to, not with so many miles to go.
Over High Crag, down steep, knee-cracking screes, over the subsidiary rocks of Seat, to Scarth Gap Pass, and the return once more, this time without TV Sheep Dog Trials below me, and lastly the Lakeshore path to Buttermere Village.
The holiday may have been over, but the walking year not quite. There was a clear and sunny Sunday east of Kirkstone, claiming the sprawling Caudale Moor and the last of the Hartsop Dodds, during which I stood aside to let a fellrace shoot past me on Threshthwaite Mouth, and there was that unbelievable day on Yewbarrow.
There were twenty-eight summits left. Another year should do it. I had climbed more fells than that in a calendar year, even when the calendar excluded November to February for the lack of late light. 1994 would be a good year. I would achieve my ambition.
The picture is of Eagle Crag, as seen from the road entering Stonethwaite. The direct route goes up that face. Any earlier year, I’d have looked at it with trepidation but longing. Who wouldn’t want to be able to climb that? And now I had.

 

Series 2 – 35: Barf


It’s only a little fell, geographically not even a separate entity, a mere extension of Lord’s Seat, but Barf is recognised, indeed demanding of recognition, as a fell in its own right, and the direct ascent is worth relishing.
Things change. A year and a week before, I’d been up for an unexpected weekend with my lady love: a fortnight before we’d been on very friendly terms. Today, it was her 41st birthday, we weren’t on speaking terms and I was on my own, with her on my mind.
Another thing had changed: for the first time in twenty-six years, United were the Champions again. There might be so many things wrong in my life, but in that respect at least, something new had started: it was only six years to my first flight out of the country, to Barcelona, and another kind of mountain top.
But all that lay ahead, and besides was irrelevant. It was hot: not the best conditions for the steepness ahead, all of it under a broiling sun.
I’ve already described Barf, with its five-stage ascent and the whitewashed figure of the Bishop, in the first series. I’d favoured The North Western Fells so much that this rough little beast and one other were all that remained to me. The direct ascent, stiff and unnerving as it sounded, had always attracted me, and it was inevitable that I would want to go up by the most stringent route.
You could call it a compulsion. I was always eager to test myself against the harder routes, rather than settle for those that were safe, but bland. I’d been a walker for ten years now, always travelling within my limitations, but I was beginning to think that maybe I’d been too conservative in my thinking as to limitations.
So Barf direct it would be: park at the Swan, follow the little tarmaced lane into the woods, almost miss the Clerk, hidden in the tall grass, then the immediate steepness of the first stage. All that was ahead was steepness, enough to make a sliding fall a serious thing if I failed to make sure of my step. Little splashes of white reminded me of the volunteers who would lug a bucket of whitewash up here to keep the Bishop’s raiments fresh and pure: it was useful proof that others had made it in harder conditions than I was facing. What must it have been like before the scree was scraped away?
The Bishop came as an achievement, a breathing space and a surprise. Thirty years had gone by since Wainwright had prepared  The North Western Fells and cheekily commented on the pillar’s naked hindquarters, but the volunteers of 1993 had been round the back, and the Bishop gleamed white from all angles.
Next was the scree gully, also spoken of in warning terms by the Blessed, for its loose, treacherous slate. I trod it with caution, favouring the right hand side, but nothing pulled out on my hands when I grasped it and the worst moment was clambering over a raised bar to reach the higher level.
Of course, I was long-since committed. If anything impassable happened to me, I was firmly touring the headwaters of Excrement Creek because, if I could get back down the gully, I I wasn’t going back down the fist stage: not on my own two feet.
Ahead, the ground was easier. I was onto the open fellside, with scrub and bracken underfoot, the easiest gradient to date, making quick progress through a series of mini-dells, eyes fixed on Slape Crag, looming ahead: clearly impassable.
I’d memorised the route so the book could be stuck in my rucksack and I might have both hands free. Therefore I knew that I had to climb to the base of Slape Crag and escape left, along a rock groove like a miniature Jack’s Rake, not that this filled me with comfort. No matter how elastic my limitations might be, there was no way I could stretch them to Jack’s Rake – not before I’d climed all the Wainwrights.
The route was obvious from below: a green slash across the Crag. So I worked my way up to the very base of the Crag, angled left, and set my foot upon it. With yet more trepidation. Because, after about five steps, the next one went over, and round, a rib in the rock, into territory I couldn’t see: into the unknown.
Try as I might, I couldn’t make that step. I couldn’t see where my foot was going to land, so I couldn’t see if there really was anything for it to light on, and what was most terrifying was if I got there and found I couldn’t go any further, and that I really really couldn’t get back over that rib.
I backed off, eyeing the descent glumly, and did what you should always do at times like this (remember the descent off Brim Fell?): read Wainwright.
Which told me that the groove across Slape Crag that I needed was much lower and much lefter. And considerably less unnerving.
The fourth stage took me off the direct vertical ascent. A narrow path stepped smartly away leftish, with steep slopes below for the misstep. I went about a hundred yards, wondering where this was leading to, before a short rake gave me the opportunity to scramble up onto a similar trod heading rightish and upwards, back to the true line.
And to the third summit, from which I could properly look down at last, at Bassenthwaite Lake lying at Barf’s foot, across to Skiddaw’s western flanks, south to the Vale of Keswick. It was all easy slopes, short, sweet, springy turf, and an east final stroll across the second top, to the highest point.
It was still only early afternoon, so I indulged myself with the detour round Lord’s Seat’s top, with Aiken Beck below. I came and went from a different direction to that valley, so there was not to be any memories triggered of a lost piece of writing on that occasion: I had four more years to endure before that moment occurred.
For the descent I chose the easy route, the safe route: into the Forests and tracing the right roads to lead me to the steep but simple path down alongside Beckstones Gill. The profile of the Bishop attracted my camera, but the woods were too thick to permit a shot in which it was proud and visible, so I reached the Clerk without removing my lenscap, but with an added sense of accomplishment that would lead me on to other paths.
The photo is, naturally, of Barf. You can see all of the route up to and including Slape Crag. Would you do that?

Series 2 – 34: Ongoing Ascents


I’d had my chance. I didn’t have to still be at a firm where I was slowly beginning to hate every working day, where there was no future for me. I could have refused a five year Partnership contract in 1992. But then I’d have had to go looking for something better, in the middle of the 1992 recession, when Conveyancing Solicitors weren’t even ten a penny but rather several dozen. And this time I had a house and a mortgage: the kind of break my 1986 redundancy had offered was not an option.
So I was stuck for five years, approaching the age of 40, without a reliable partner. Not everything was bleak: I had accidentally become an Old Trafford regular, albeit in those last few years between the dismal seasons and the day the sky came off and the future turned Red. And I had the Lakes and the fells, almost at my fingertips.
In that sense, my cup was close to running over. Though winter months (November to February) and short days made walking inaccessible, the Lakes was still virtually on my doorstep every nice weekend that United were away, and I still had my regular two weeks away, and two-thirds of my quest already achieved.
It’s at this point that the story ceases to have a shape, though each walk still held memories to bring to the table. I had become a very experienced fell-walker, unafraid of, indeed seeking long days in country where no-one else might be seen, to the extent that I would get intensely resentful of the distant figure of another walker coming across the other ridge and ‘trespassing’ in “my” valley.
Lessons had been learned. I had complete confidence in myself – except in the brief, trepidatious moments of crossing steep and unsupported places – and a clear sense of my capacities and limitations, whilst at the same time beginning to test those supposed limitations in the suspicion that I might actually have been underrating myself all these years. That some of the more demanding ascents might be within my grasp.
Yet these were not always among the 52 fells that remained. Beda Crag was a lone summit, a low top reached along a narrow, fascinating ridge in sufficient time for me to cap the day with a long sweep round over Angletarn Pikes – where I looked in vain for that little grass dell of five years before: hardly surprising, given that I was distracted – but I remember it for being the first walk of the year: sun and March clarity, the sparkle of Ullswater, the elation of being back.
Tarn Crag above Grasmere was another loner, busy in approach and retreat along tourist paths and roads, but quiet on its ridge. A mass audience of boys gathered by the shore of Easedale Tarn, looking like a revivalist meeting, dispersed by the time I got down to the Tarn itself, puzzled me for a decade until I had a stepson at Manchester Grammar School going on holiday to their camp at Grasmere.
I remember the loneliness between Walla Crag and Bleaberry Fell, on a walk where I didn’t even need to move the car from outside my guesthouse, continually refinding an intermittent path because I knew where it would be next. Then, a blazing day above Buttermere, struggling under severe sun up the steep ridge to Fleetwood Pike, with its postcard view of Buttermere and Crummock Water, but I remember it more for the winding way round the old quarries and onto the back of Haystacks: giving my heart to the perfection of Black Beck Tarn, in its concealed hollow, rediscovering the cairn of the last fell Dad ever climbed, and descending Scarth Gap Pass with a One Man and His Dog being filmed in the fields below me: all sheep and dogs and cameras dispersed before I could get myself into a background shot.
Two fairly undemanding and unphotogenic fells gave me a good strenuous walk west of Ullswater, and rewarded me with magnificent views of the lake at a corner on the way back.
But if you want to hear of an impressive day, that first week away concluded with me finishing my collection of 3,000’ers.
There are only four fells in Lakeland, and therefore in all England, that extend above the 3,000′ contour (the metric equivalent of 914 metres is so much less impressive). I had climbed my first in 1975 and, even allowing for the interruption to my walking career that immediately followed, it really wasn’t favourable for me to take eighteen years to complete the set.
There are many ways of climbing Scafell, and I would have been tempted to go all out for Lord’s Rake were I not still collecting as many tops per walk as I could – sometimes the best route had to give way to the handy-for-two-other-summits route. The Scafell Range’s southernmost outlier, Slight Side was also on my list so I chose to approach and return from the south.
Then again, no major route out of Eskdale fails to be worth walking, and this was my chance to experience the Terrace Route, the lonely environs of Catcove Beck and the stiff scramble to Slight Side’s top before the ridge rising to Scafell, in the midst of Eskdale and Wasdale rose before me, inspiring the feet onwards.
It was delightful. I have never been so alone on a 3,000’er than that ridge to Scafell. It was astonishing to find the path in its early stages so intermittent, but again I unfailingly picked it up, over and over. There were rocks and rises, but it was a mainly green ridge for far longer than you’d expect, and at last I was negotiating little screes and short uplifts, blind and winding, knowing I was near but never yet there, until I finally reached the summit cairn. With no-one around. You don’t get that on the Pike.
I didn’t remain alone. I was joined by a family, which seemed a good time to go. I descended to a saddle, beyond which two separate buttresses arose, between them the head of Deep Gill. Deep Gill is a legitimate ascent of Scafell: me, I couldn’t even get myself close enough to look down. That’s one bloody steep gill – and that’s the navigable part of it.
Short of climbing down Broad Stand, or of returning via Slight Side, my only descent was into the little hidden hollow in the hill that holds Foxes Tarn. What a magnificent escape: the tiny tarn, overwhelmed by the boulder, seemingly no way out, until you round a corner and find a deep, stony channel down to below Mickledore.
And then the long, glorious retreat as if from the Pike: down Cam Spout, around the Esk, the diminishing scene of the Pike and Ill Crag, that long, empty upland valley, descending via a series of rocky gateways and the Cowcove Zigzags, and the long walk back.
The photo is of Ullswater from that corner with magnificent views, or rather it’s half the view. The Brown Hills stand above the corner between the upper and middle reaches of the Lake, and this is only the middle reach. But it’s an easy place to reach if you don’t go round the long way as I did.