The post-Wainwright period proved to be considerably shorter than the years of steadily accumulating summits in pursuit of completion. Part of it was a shift in work commitments, reducing the opportunities to get away, a lot of it was the unexpected joining of my life to someone else’s, and more or less ending the ability to go off on my own whenever I felt like it, because I no longer felt like it. And some of it was that the drive that had kept me focused on the ‘prize’ was no longer the same, because I had been there.
At first, I concentrated upon places I hadn’t been in literally years. It had taken me twenty-six years to visit each of the 214 Wainwright’s, but with some judicious choices of routes, I managed to achieve the proud record of having stood at the summit of every one within the previous ten years, and to keep that status up for about eight months before my other commitments started to cause my record to slide.
Looking back now, it amazes me that I hadn’t swept up that small handful of fells I’d only climbed in adverse weather conditions. True, High Stile, and to a lesser extent Seat Sandal were relatively recent, but Sale Fell and Dodd would have been ideal for family expeditions, once I had one, especially as the latter had had its summit stripped entirely of trees since my visit in the rain.
I’d climbed Causey Pike in the early Eighties, one of my first expeditions when I ventured into the fells on my own, and my first ever walk in the North Western Fells. It had been a dull day, a little cold, and I had returned via the inner wall of Coledale, catching the rain at the end of things.
This time, a sunny Saturday of driving up from Manchester in the grand tradition of things, I was planning a somewhat artificial walk: Causey Pike and Scar Crags to Sail Pass, but returning by a sideways slip onto the parallel Knott Rigg/Ard Crags ridge, that I’d also climbed in the Eighties, on that occasion by following the Newlands road to gain the former fell at Keskadale Farm.
This meant a road walk of about half a mile between the start and end of the walk so for once I played smart and tucked my car into a small roadside quarry at the foot of Rigg Beck, where my route of return would debouch, and walked round the base of Causey to start. There was an offroad path, above the tarmac, for most of the way, making the stroll rather pleasant.
I remember those fresh Saturday mornings, the difference in the air from Manchester, the knowledge that I had no responsibilities to anyone, except to get myself back safe and sound, and on the walk ahead I had no fears of difficult situations. All that I had to do was to enjoy myself.
Naturally, I was taking the same approach, by Rowling End. The first time round, it was a test of ability: I was still a novice walker, inexperienced at walking alone, my background that of family caution, the easy, unexciting option, the dull way up.
This time I was without trepidation. I’d done it before, and I had much more serious climbs under my belt. So I ploughed merrily onwards, surprised to find the walk that less enthralling when I knew it to be so much more feasible. Instead, I had the amusement of realising that I could look down into the little quarry where my car was parked, and keep an eye on its safety even as far as Causey’s summit.
Though what good it could possible have done me if I’d been witness to a theft from 2,000 foot above it, I have no idea.
I was at least bolder this time in making a direct attack on Causey’s highest point, the bobble at the very top of the ridge. I’d chickened out originally, casting to the right to find a way around and up, but now I scrambled like the best of them, up and over and there to the top.
Beyond the serpentine end of Causey Pike’s extended summit ridge, there’s nothing remotely exciting all the way to and over Scar Crags. It is nothing more than a whaleback top, a broad ridge, a bridge between more exciting fells at either end, and when you’re casting Sail as a more exciting fell, you know that the bar has fallen very far.
This was long enough ago that the path remained untouched. I have now seen horrifying and ugly photos of reconstructed paths on Scar Crags’ back, elevated causeways sweeping backwards and forwards in curves that elsewhere might be entitled to be called graceful but which, on the back of an honest Lakeland fell, are hideous in their excess. Surely the ground beneath cannot have been so badly damaged that this was necessary?
I hadn’t stopped first time because I’d had the clouds threatening just behind me, and I wasted no more time this time because there simply wasn’t anything to stop for, like Brim Fell in the Conistons. So it was down, easily, to the unofficial Sail Pass, and a change of direction.
Twice from here I’d turned back east, to return to Newlands, but this time I took the opposite branch, descending at a gentle and grassy angle onto a quiet and attractive space between the two ridges. It was too broad and grassy to be a defile, too wide to be a col or a pass. It was just a valley head with valleys and backs leaving it in opposite directions, under the twin walls of Sail behind me, and the Knott Rigg/Ard Crags ridge before me.
As I’ve mentioned, I am not and never have been a camper, but once more I could imagine pitching a tent in this place, to one side of the path, and waking in the early morning to the sun pouring down.
There was no orthodox path across the divide. I took a line on an outcrop along the ridge towards the hidden Knott Rigg, and started towards it, at an angle across the fellside that, as far as I could mange it, would involve only incremental climbing at worst, as the skyline dropped down to greet me. Once I reached the ridge, there was nothing but an easy forward and upward walk to Knott Rigg.
All the hard walking was behind me now, left behind at Causey Pike’s summit. I strolled to Knott Rigg, admired the view, reversed my steps to where I had joined the ridge, and strolled on. Ard Crags is smaller, with neater lines, and the path wound up following the crest in a tight little groove. The well-defined top offered excellent views across Newlands, and there was an even better ridge ahead, first descending to, then following the crest of Aiken Knott, a walk of glorious openness.
Ideally, this ridge would persist to the very end, but a fence crossing the ridge from side to side forces a surprisingly long descent towards Rigg Beck, on the left, crossing a flank that, after the delights of most of the walking so far, seemed surprisingly drab.
There’s a path on the other side of the beck, wide and easy, making for an unstrenuous end to the walk. The first time I followed this down, I kept turning around to gauge the view back to Ard Crags, looking for that shot which Wainwright had used for the opening page of his chapter, where Ard Crags appears in isolation, as a triple-topped pyramid. This time I knew that, with typical irony, the view is only a hundred yards or so upstream from the car park, and can be viewed with unfair ease after a stroll in open-toed sandals, or even flip-flops.
Despite having been out of my sight for the last two-thirds of the walk, my car remained untouched, and I was my usual assiduous self about getting into trainers again, even though this had been far from a punishing, or even tiring day.