Imaginary Holidays – The Grand Return


I’m tired, I’m stressed, I’m jittery as f-u-c-k, what shall I do? I know – let’s go on an imaginary holiday.

Not yet…

Let’s go up to the Lakes again, in my imagination. Let’s pretend there was one more week, one more Sunday to Friday, divided between Ambleside and Keswick, on which the sun shines but the fells are cool, the atmosphere is clear and the views and the photographs are fantastic.
Let’s pretend that this holiday is the big one, the one that catches all the places I never got to go properly, the summits under cloud, the views unseen. All of them swept up in one go, in my prime of twenty odd years ago, before the knee became a problem.
So the car is packed, only because this is imagination I can cheat. Suitcase and rucksack, anorak, waterproofs and boots, but we don’t need the cassette player to provide me with music in the evenings, and instead I carry my mp3 player and headphones, and there’s a small space for my laptop, instead of a writing pad and spare pens.
And the alarm goes on a Sunday morning in North Reddish, Stockport. I’ve been to Old Trafford yesterday afternoon and United have won, won in the style we’ve lost, terrified the opposition into submission, reaffirming our position at the top of the Premier League. The tank is full of petrol, and here I go.
Romance is an essential component of the imagination, so let’s forego the latterday, get there as fast as I can route of motorways, and revert to that old AA ‘Manchester to the Lake District avoiding the A6’ route that my Uncle obtained in the Sixties, and which I still know by heart.
Leave through North Manchester, bypassing Bury on the M66, to Rossendale and that dual carriageway route that by-passes the drive over the moors to and through Burnley. Then it’s up through Pendle and Nelson and cross-country, briefly returning to civilisation by driving through Gisburn.
At Long Preston, I join the long A65, along the edge of the Limestone Country, through Settle where Dad would always settle for a doze in the car, under the massive presence of Ingleborough, one of a tiny handful of non-Lake District mountains I have climbed, towards Kirby Lonsdale and beyond, until I cross the M6 and make for Milnthorpe. In my imagination, the Flying Dutchman is still open, offering the sausage butties that I was never allowed at home, and just as all our three visits in 1966, ‘Strangers in the Night’ is playing as we walk in, because for a moment I am surrounded by people long gone.
Beyond Milnthorpe I head north for the long road across the foot of the Lakes. The full run would take me through such places as Haverthwaite, Lindale and Greenodd and to the moors from which there’s that glorious view of Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man, and along the Water.
But this time I regretfully turn off at Newby Bridge and follow Windermere all the way to Ambleside, because even in imagination time is not elastic. The hotel that overlooks the park has my old room available and they haven’t yet jacked up the price for singletons, so I unload my case and stuff, change into my walking trousers and boots and set off up the street.
My starter walk is Wansfell, for which I walk down the main street towards Windermere before diverting off along Old Lake Road and starting to gain height. This was a starter walk once, a sunny afternoon of the kind we have today and I ascended to the ridge via the first of Wainwright’s options from Blue Hill Road, which disappeared with Jesty. No wonder: it was a poor line that got tangled in rough fellside, leaving me no option but to traverse awkwardly over to the other path (now repaired), to emerge on Wansfell Pike above the most spectacular full-length view of Windermere, exactly the right distance below.


With my camera still in the hotel room.
So now I’ve got my camera, and the shot turns out to be perfect, of course. The problem with Wansfell is that Wansfell Pike is such a perfect summit in a perfect position, but Wansfell is higher and further back, involving a stroll along the ridge with the dull views directly ahead.
The descent is by the same route, save that I drop down further to cross Stock Ghyll, picking up the lane that leads directly into the heart of Ambleside.
A quiet evening, a nice dinner, a pint in the Ambleside Tavern and some music.
I sleep well and eat a cooked breakfast on Monday, complete with tea rather than coffee at the table. I am sensitive about the kinds of coffee you get in Lake District hotels and guesthouses. Today’s plan does not involve severe effort, so I have time to wander Ambleside and drink in the atmosphere.
Then off to Grasmere to do the same thing, and to pay my traditional visit to the Heaton Cooper Studio, which is as much a part of my Lakeland holidays as trips to Ravenglass and the Ratty were for family holidays. There isn’t room for a trip westwards this time, unless I retrospectively decide to extend the holiday backwards, travel up on Saturday, spend my first Saturday night in the Lakes since my Wedding Day, and go for a ride on Sunday.
Either way, this is Monday, I’ve had a hot tuna melt for lunch and it’s time to drive round to get as close as parking on the main road will place me to the Travellers Rest Hotel.
Seat Sandal was a walk on a rainy, cloudy day that offered no entertainment, but was on ground both familiar from previous a visit, and easy to follow. We’d ascended by Little Tongue Gill on a day that turned to rain, heading for Grisedale Pass, though we’d stopped at the hause above Grisedale Tarn, which is a little lower than the official head of the Pass.
They were rebuilding the path along Little Tongue Gill that day, had got about two-thirds of the way to the top. The contrast was striking: when I reached the end of the paved area, I stepped into a foot deep trench.
The cloud was down on the hause and the Tarn invisible, but today the sky is clear. Cloud dots the sky in clumps. I take another photo and turn to the steep slope to my left. There’s an initial scramble, to the right of the wall, which rapidly eases off. No need to guess where to cross the wall and stroll to the broad, flat cairn this time.

It’s a view I’ve never seen, not an extensive or brilliant one, even to the open west, but one of four denied by rain and cloud that I am ticking off. And under the sun, there is no need to return to the hause, to traverse across the top of Great Tongue and descend its length. To do so would bring back memories of that first visit: I took the lead descending, on my own, ten yards in front of everyone else, and so full of energy that I could have turned round at the bottom and done it all over again immediately.
But on such a day there’s no reason not to descend by the south western cairn and the slowly-narrowing ridge, with the Vale of Grasmere below and views all the way. There’s time to enjoy the return.
Tuesday is traditionally transition day. I check out of my first venue of the week and cross Dunmail Raise, this time northerly, to check in at Keswick. I have had a number of regular places here over the years, and my last place is my favourite, but this is taking place entirely within my own head, so once again a room in a hotel overlooking the park becomes available, and when I get back from my walks, a parking space within easy distance will also miraculously appear.
I have two small fells within easy reach of Keswick to reascend, on either side of Bassenthwaite Lake: the question is which to take first. I leave Keswick onto the A656, along the east shore of Bass, and when the road swings round in the direction of Cockermouth, I turn into the woods and the narrow, undulating roads to Wythop.
This was another Sunday afternoon starter walk, a long time ago. I made an afternoon out of it by taking in Ling Fell and Sale Fell together, the improbable ‘Sentinels of Wythop’
Ling Fell, on the far side of the village, deep in the narrow cleft of its valley and its mill-race, is round, unlovely and uninteresting. It’s not in my mind to return, but the only parking is on the high road, on that side of the valley, so I have to get close to it.
That’s not too bad, except for when it means coming back, because Sale Fell is on the other side of the valley and it’s accessible from the lower road. So I march up the valley, drop down via the cross road, deep in the woods of the lower Wythop Valley, and under the same sun as the day I walked here in reality, follow the road up to the farm, Kelswick, at the furthest extent of the valley.
A clear, well-angled path doubles back towards the cleft on the ridge, but this time, when I arrive at the top of the path, the weather doesn’t explode into a cloudburst. I am free to wander up my gentle green ridge, enjoying the vista across Bass Lake and the side-on view of Skiddaw, rising above the Long Side ridge. I say wander: last time, I was marching into the teeth of a howling wind, my head bowed, my glasses removed to my anorak pocket (there was nothing to see so it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see it).
But I’m constitutionally incapable of walking slowly unless the terrain won’t let me pass apace, so I stride out contentedly, contrasting the openness of this climb with the claustrophobia of my real visit. There’s a mixture of paths nowadays, whereas I remember just the open ridge – not that I was the most reliable witness that day!
Then, I reached the tiny cairn, walked round it and started heading back without a pause. I had not been beaten. Now, I can sit down on the springy turf, doff the rucksack, have a drink, admire the view at last.

Two down, two to go, and one within sight.
Down the ridge again. I don’t have to walk back to Kelswick, there’s a path dropping directly down, beside the wall, onto the lower road, down which I march to the village. Time for a sit on the bridge wall, admiring the mill race: perhaps this time the sky is bright enough to enable a decent picture to be taken of it.
An unwelcome stroll back uphill to the car, where I sit for half an hour, enjoying the sandwiches I bought in Keswick and then, without having removed my walking boots, I belt up, reverse out and drop back through Wythop to the main A656 again. But not to return to Keswick. Instead, I angle round the quiet roads beyond the foot of Bass Lake, aiming for the A56 Carlisle Road, and turn Keswick-wards there.
Just as Sale Fell is part of a pair with Ling Fell, separated by the Wythop Valley, it’s part of a pair with the third of my missing views, separated by Bass Lake itself. This is Dodd, that tree-clouded outlier of the Skiddaw Range, only not so tree-clouded now, after a mass-felling sometime prior to 1999. Like Seat Sandal, this was a walk for a wet day that otherwise gave me nothing to do: on a day with no views, what better fell to climb than one from which there were no views to begin with?
That was one of the few days on which Wainwright failed me, his ascent from Dancing Gate proving impossible to follow after less than a quarter-mile. I ended up struggling uphill through trees, never my favourite method of approach, until I emerged on a forest road, from where I threaded together a very heavy-legged approach to the little path onto the wooded top. There were pale glimpses of the Lake below, but nothing else.
Rather than return that way, I descended to Long Doors and began to march downhill. It came on to rain, but I had established a metronomic rhythm, left – right, left – right, without need to pause or halt, all down the simple gradient to the cafe, and all down the A56, using up little or no energy, until the car came in sight.
There’ll be none of that today. Downhill marches are one thing and regular movements are easily attainable on regular ground, but even at my most enduring peak, the same effect isn’t going to occur going uphill. Unless I manage that even, slow-measured tread I struck that time on the Long Side ridge, and that eats up both distance and time, because it’s slow.
Steadily, I gain height, in the tuck of land between the steep sides of Dodd and Carl Side, until Long Doors, when I can escape right and round, into the open. Now Dodd’s summit is clear and warm, and I can enjoy the view even Wainwright couldn’t, without even having to stretch up on my toes.

I’ve done this kind of split-walk expedition on only a couple of occasions before, once by design, the other on impulse. The second half of it is always a bit odd, psychologically, and is slower. Once back at the car the first time, both mind and body relax, automatically: the energetic stuff is over, time to kick-back. Then going out again, even with the reminder that these are walking boots pressing down upon the accelerator and clutch pedals, not the softness of trainers, is harder to do. Even on simple walks like this, where for once I have no more feasible plans than returning to the car by the identical route. Trodden ground indeed.
It’s an early return to the hotel so I slip out into the Park, hire a putter and tackle the Crazy Golf. With long practice, I got the round down to about 39 shots: I reckon that, letting a bit of realism creep in, the rust will be enough to push me back to about 45. Then Tuesday night in Keswick. Beef-filled Yorkshire Pudding and a pint at the Oddfellow’s Arms.
Wednesday is, in a sense, a free day. They’re all free days, really, but there is only one walk remaining to complete sweeping in those fells on my list. I can go anywhere I want, without compulsion. Shall it be flood-ravaged Cockermouth, restored in my memories, and a quiet half hour browsing in The New Bookshop before driving down Lorton and exploring the Buttermere Valley? Or Patterdale via Dockray and Matterdale, into the pre-flood Glenridding, where I was married? Or further east yet, out and round into Mardale and Haweswater?
In light of Thursday’s plan, east it shall be, and by this I mean the Far Eastern Fells, and distant Mardale. I’m going on a nostalgia trip. It’s not the Second Drought Summer that re-calls me, 1984 and walking through the remnants of Mardale Green. Let the lake be full, let all the bare strips, the untidy, ugly tidemarks be covered in good honest water. I m going back to 1975.
It was the first and only time the family had holidayed outside that rigid arc from Ambleside to Wasdale, and for my benefit. I had seen Ullswater and Patterdale only once, and at last Haweswater/Mardale wasn’t too far to drive. We came here on Wednesday. On Friday, we made an attempt on Helvellyn via Striding Edge that only I completed, symbolising the breach I’d made by announcing I would go on no more family holidays after this. The last summit I reached with them was Harter Fell, Mardale.
It’s a simple re-tracing of steps: the left-hand fork beyond the roadhead, the steepish zig-zags to where the corner turns into that green hanging valley beneath Gatescarth Pass, the meandering, silent ascent of relaid stone, the broad grass col. Gatescarth, for some reason, always feels a lonely place, further away from your fellow man than other spots in the Lakes.
From here, in 1975, I had the Wainwright, I had the lead. It wasn’t really needed: there was no path on this flank, but a wire fence led up to Adam-a-Seat, before turning across the fellside, tracking an old boundary to the summit ridge, just short of the third cairn and its fabled full-length view of Haweswater.

Now, and since before 1988, there’s been an already-eroded path, direct from Gatescarth to this wall-corner, even of gradient, easy of ascent. In sunlight, and free of the wind that brought the unnecessary warning not to go too near the edge to get my photo – as if I, with my vertigo, would ever get that close! – it’s the highlight of the walk. Then the long stroll over the flat summit to the distant main cairn.
In 1975, something amazing happened here, that I was in no way responsible for. My family, who had never yet reached a destination without walking back exactly the same way they’d come, decided to descend to Nan Bield Pass and return by Small Water!
Dark cloud massed over Ill Bell, Kentmere Reservoir was cold and still as steel. We descended to Mardale via Small Water, the first photo I had ever seen looking down towards Haweswater, spread out before us. It had become a cold afternoon, since Gatescarth onwards, and we were well wrapped up against rain that never came.
All my holidays alone built up to the Big Walk on Thursday, and the slow retreat home on Friday. There’s one walk, one summit left, from which the view was obscured by clouds (yes, that is a Pink Floyd reference: please do not hold it against me).
This is why I went east on Wednesday, not west. Today is the day to go to Buttermere because I’m going to climb High Stile.
To drive, I’d say my favourite Pass is Whinlatter, because of its ease and simple gradients, but if I’m heading for the Buttermere Valley itself, and an early start is mandated for a long walk, then the only way to go is Newlands. This side of the Pass is not too bad, until the very end: in any car I’ve driven I’ve tried to get up some speed on the straight section, to help me up the last, steep bit to the summit, but Newlands has a ninety degree right hand bend just below that bit, on which all momentum is lost, requiring a laboured limp to the top, in second gear if I’m lucky. Not even imagination can overcome that turn, and I have never reached Newlands Hause without pulling in to let the engine recover.
One of these days, perhaps in another imaginary holiday, I’ll leave the car here and take off up one of the paths from the Hause. Knott Rigg is easy walking, trainers and jeans stuff apparently, though I’d want the boots for the ridge to Ard Crags which would have to be part of the walk.
Once the engine has had time to cool down, it’s down to Buttermere Village, and this is the brake’s turn to take the strain. Because it’s downhill all the way, and it’s steep downhill, and I have never tried to come up this side and never will, not even in my head. At the Village, I’m going to need to park for the day, so let’s assume that the quarry just down the road towards Crummock Water is still operating, and I can get my gear on there.
This is a straight repeat, and it’s a repeat of a walk I’ve not that long ago written about, so let’s insert a link here  and not describe the route in the same detail. My memories glide through the long diagonal ascent across Red Pike’s foreground, the rocky ledges that lead to Bleaberry Tarn’s outlet, and scaling the path to Red Pike, only this time the light stays good, the sky is well above my head, there is nothing to darken the day, or enforce any gloom, and I can relish the view.
And there are no concerns about disappearing into the cloud on High Stile, no issues about where the path might lead and whether I’m getting too close to invisible cliffs. So I make it to the summit of High Stile for a second time and I can see all there is to see, and the purpose of this holiday is fulfilled.

I wander downhill to the vantage point that offers me dramatic, near vertical views of Buttermere Village, and take multiple photos. Then it’s time for the long retreat, the narrow ridge to High Crag, the steep continuation to Scarth Gap, the scramble downhill. This time, there’s no One Man and his Dog in the valley below, and I reach ground level and take my time strolling along the lakeshore path, Buttermere lapping gently beside me, until I turn across the fields, back to Buttermere Village, and the car.
This being my imagination, I have enough time to drive along beside Crummock Water, and through gentle, spacious Lorton, to Cockermouth. Like all things in this week, this is the Cockermouth of old, undamaged by floods, and The New Bookshop is what it was, and I have time to browse in the way I used to before I became used to instant access through Amazon and eBay.
And because this is my fantasy, and it can take in whatever I want, there are books that never existed, there for me to buy. I very rarely came out of The New Bookshop without three purchases. So, one at a time, I discover that there is a fourth Master Li and Number Ten Ox story from Barry Hughart, another Dortmunder Gang book from Donald E Westlake and, most precious of all, one final Sam Vimes and the City Watch book from dear old Terry Pratchett, written at the peak of his powers, before the first onset of the Alzheimers, and it’s written to incorporate the ending I had envisaged as a perfect Last Discworld Book, only Terry does so much more with my skeleton than I’d ever imagined possible. I know what I’m going to be doing this evening.
And it’s morning, and it’s time to go home. Register out, drive round Keswick. Take the Penrith road, but cut through Matterdale, through unravaged Glendridding, and over Kirkstone Pass. It’s far too early for the Inn to be open but I stop and wander around, making the goodbye as long as I can because I don’t know how long it will be before I can be here again.
Then down, through Troutbeck, without stopping, through Kendal, with one final stroll and one final bookshop because in my imagination the walls of my pokey little flat are elastic and I can bring in an infinite number of book, especially imaginary ones.
But at long last, it’s the M6, south and home. No drawing it out through Settle and Gisburn, just M6, M61, M602 and Salford and Manchester’s inner ring road, and Hyde Road, Reddish Lane.
And I am back to reality, to where I really live, not where I used to live, from which I departed on this Imaginary Holiday.
I think I’ll do this again.

Great Walks: The High Stile Range


A fish-eye lens view of the Range

I haven’t previously written of the High Stile Range as a Great Walk because, although it undoubtedly is, my experience of it was in large part a frustration. Not wholly: there was much that was good and the start and the end of the walk, but when the main fell, the highest peak, is covered with cloud during the part of the walk where you’re crossing it, you can’t really call it a success.
The High Stile Range is three high peaks in a dead straight line of under two miles, between Buttermere on the rocky, impressive, challenging north-east and Ennerdale on the dull, grassy, featureless south-west. Most walks tackle the ridge from Buttermere, for reasons that will be immediately obvious to anyone who sees the Range from that side: you don’t even need to view the Ennerdale flank to make a decision.
Those of us who hate to cross trodden ground during a walk find ridges like this a bit difficult. There is no Horseshoe element whatsoever, or if there is it’s one that’s been straightened out by Desperate Dan. You have to gain the heights at one end and drop down off the other and find some reasonable way of connecting the walk-foot at each end.
Fortunately, this is not an insuperable problem with the High Stile Range.
The day began with the usual engine-stressing, brake-busting crossing of Newlands Hause. Parking at the Village end of Buttermere is at even more of a premium than the Gatesgarth end, and I took refuge in a small roadside quarry a quarter mile or so before the Village, where, if I recall correctly, I still had to pay for a day’s parking.
At either end, the ridge is across the valley from the road, and there is a long, flat, green walk to the base of the Range, rising steeply from the edge of the lake. At the Village end, the path across the fields is narrow and bounded. It felt like a long way to go just to get to the bottom of the walk, especially as I was eyeing cautiously the cloud level, sweeping about at just below the top of High Raise.
I’ve done this before, setting off for a walk that might take me under cloud cover, anxiously raising my eyes but ploughing on determinedly, daring the cloud to still be there when I get up with it. Helvellyn, that time I went round by Sticks Pass, Raise and White Side, ending up sitting in a wind-shelter too crowded to get into the lea side, watching people arrive out of the cloud at least every thirty seconds. A first attempt at the Coledale Horseshoe, having driven up Friday night during the 1994 World Cup, and having to descend to Coledale Hause after feeling my way to Hopegill Head, the water droplets catching in my beard. Bowfell the first time, via Rossett Gill, Rossett Pike and Ore Gap, nearly coming to grief on Bowfell Links when we lost the path down. I should know better by now, or then, but I pressed on.
The walk didn’t really begin until we reached the further lake shore, and then the lines of walkers turned towards the head of the valley, until a gate at the foot of a long, diagonal path. And it was through the gate and up, up and up, single file, through the woods on a long, narrow route that kept to the same gradient and never ended, left, right, left, right, nowhere to turn aside and take a break without holding up a continual procession behind.
That’s exactly what it was like, a procession going up the stairs. I’ve never had an experience like it on the fells, before or since.
Not until the route emerged from the woods did the way widen to enable people to settle to their own pace. And after a short section directly up the broad fellside, the way turned right, and we could enjoy an extended level section, dashing or strolling, all across the face of the fell, below Bleaberry Cove, on rock. I couldn’t resist the urge to stride out and overtake a lot of the stair-climbers who had preceded me, whilst allowing the younger and fitter to burst past me.
The openness and the levelness was like a rush of fresh air, especially after the confines of the woods. I have never liked not being able to see where I am in height at any time on a climb.
At the far end of this extended terrace was the confused and tumbling outflow of Bleaberry Tarn, white water to hop across to gain the far bank and turn back uphill, scrambling into the lip of the cove, the tarn bright under a heavy sky, and High Stile’s buttresses beyond it.
The cloud was still hovering, this time around the top of Red Pike, my first destination. The path moved away to the right, onto the saddle separating the Pike from its subsidiary, Dodd. I wondered, on the saddle, about turning towards the latter, but it would be a strenuous day and Dodd was a literally backwards step, a few hundred feet of climbing I would have to repeat when I got back to this point. An actual Wainwright, of course. A subsidiary summit, no.
So I committed to the long, straight ascent towards Red Pike, and to the lowering cloud cover that was making the day grey, and doing the same for my mood. For the first time today, the walking was tedious, and I found wisps beginning to float around me and across me.

As not seen from High Stile today

Red Pike was almost exactly the same height as the cloud base. I did get a full view, but it was from under a very low roof and through grey air that robbed the panorama of its richness. And as the clouds were unshifting, I had before me the prospect of crossing to High Stile in complete invisibility.
The ground underneath was not too difficult, though the path was far from being as distinct as I would have liked, and the presence to my left of steep and dangerous cliffs had me like a cat on hot bricks all the way to High Stile’s summit cairn. There was nothing to see, not through the swirling grey. I had Wainwright’s word for it that the supreme viewpoint was down the slope towards the lake, at the end of a rocky nose.
I went in that direction with ultra-caution as to what might lie beneath my feet or, rather, what might suddenly not lie beneath my feet. This viewpoint was lower than the summit, maybe it might, just, peep beneath the cloud, but as ever my optimism was merely hopeful. For a moment only, a swirl of wind blew away the screen, and I caught sight of the lake and the Village and the deep valleys opposite, but it was literally a moment only, and then the enclosure again.
I made my way back to the summit cairn, collected the rucksack I had, trustingly, left there, and started towards the rough descent to High Crag. It was still a bit nervy: I do not like cloud on the tops. But I came out below the cloud level, the ridge started to narrow, and then I was walking the narrow path along the top of Burtness Comb, and behind me the cloud had burned out and it was all sun and afternoon glory, and I was alone on this narrow, level ridge, with steepness on both sides, and behind me High Stile bare, proud and clean of cloud.
Not that I was going to turn round and add that extra climbing to my day. There’s a psychological dimension to descending from a summit, and I have found that once I have gotten more than a token distance from the top, steps retraced are heavy and draining. Onwards, ever onwards, not backwards. Though I regret not summoning that extra energy now, and going back for the view that now was unobstructed.
I was now above Burtness Comb, on a flat ridge that felt as narrow as a rail, and the sun was now burning down on my exposed position. It was one of those crossings that felt endless, with little change in the scenery to suggest I was getting much further forward, High Crag not seeming to loom at all, and care required in view of the lack of width.

The ridge to High Crag

But at last I reached the third fell, and made the short climb to its little top, bare of summit furniture on which to sit.
With nothing to wait for, and the sun slowly dehydrating me, I set off down the unremittingly steep ridge towards Scarth Gap. This was a strain on the knees throughout, and I quickly made a mental resolution that when I came back to the High Stile Range, I would not reverse the order of ascent. This ridge was not merely steep, but well-scraped, and hard underfoot.
By the time I got down the worst of it, to the base of Seat, the soles of my feet were burning. I had the option of the easy route, bypassing this long, subsidiary upthrust to the south, and joining the Pass lower down but, purist that I am,  insisted to myself on crossing it along the ridge, before finally reaching Scarth Gap.
This made the third time I had dropped down off that particular Pass, to the Buttermere valley, but this time there was the matter of returning to the Village, not Gatesgarth. However, rather than the road, I had left myself the lakeshore path, which was cool, and quiet, and level, and uncrowded. There was no need for hurry, and the presence of the Lake lifted the spirit of my feet, even if I couldn’t physically plunge them in it for cooling.
In the end, I met the gate where the diagonal stair debouched onto the route, and not too much further was the turn across the valley to the Village, and the little quarry car park where I could relieve myself of my boots and transfer to soft-soled trainers for the drive over Honister and back to Borrowdale.

The Day I Went Back


Wainwright’s Favourite

Many years ago, in the first half of the Nineties, on a whim I decided to commit myself to playing every album I had – CD, vinyl, tape – during the year. When you live alone, you can do oddball things like that. I can’t remember how many albums I had then, but it was probably more than 400. That’s a lot of listening: I got to the last album somewhere in the early weeks of December.
Three or four years later, and a substantial number of additional albums in my collection (I was a considerably more voracious acquirer back then, when there seemed to be more good music) I decided to repeat the exercise. This time, I had listened to everything by the middle of May.
The difference was that, second time round, I was a lot more methodical about the task. I planned, I executed, I zipped through.
I mention this because my fellow blogger George has suggested I write about a particular walk that has a poignant element for me, and my lack of method first time round the Wainwrights was in its way responsible for that day.
I’ve spoken before of how my Dad, Stanley Crookall, introduced me to fellwalking in 1966, and of how reluctant, and complaining, I was. I grew out of it reasonably quickly, or at least that’s what I remember, but I have never forgotten that it was he who introduced me to the fells. I went on to complete the Wainwrights, and a part of that achievement was to do what Dad would have loved to do, and to see all these things that were denied him by the cancer that took him away from the fells, and eventually from us all, before he reached the age of 42.
I would love to set out on another Wainwright Round, go back to all those 214 summits (with especial reference to High Stile, Dodd, Scale Fell and Seat Sandal, from which I have not seen any views). But I know that it’s impossible, and my body wouldn’t let me. I have my doubts about getting to even a low summit again, given the state of my right knee.
But if I were to tackle the Wainwrights again, I would be methodical. There would be a plan, and it would be efficient. Not like the first time round, where planning did not extend beyond a Big Walk for the last day, and trying not to use the same Wainwright book twice.
There would be no holes in the jigsaw ‘next time’, no little fells in awkward corners that hadn’t tagged on to larger rounds, leaving me, as I neared the end of the list, with the prospect of short walks that didn’t amount to a full day’s expedition. Such as Fleetwith Pike.
Everyone who knows Buttermere knows Fleetwith Pike, and everyone who’s looked at even a small selection of Lake District photos knows the stunning view from its summit of the Buttermere valley, with the two lakes stretching out in a line. From the valley, the ridge is an obvious temptation, a straight, steep prow leading directly to the top.
On its own, Fleetwith Pike is maybe a half-day outing, with no real appealing route of return. To make it into a decent day, it was obvious that I should combine it with Haystacks, circuiting the short Warnscale valley, and returning via Scarth Gap. I have been to Haystacks before. It had been one of the very earliest fells I had climbed, or rather, we had climbed: the whole family.
My Buttermere walks were always done from Keswick, and for something at the head of the valley, I would cross Newlands Hause, pulling up at the top to allow my engine a chance to recover from that final steep pitch, after the bend, where there was never time to get out of first gear, and then that steep descent to Buttermere Village, riding on the brakes the whole way, which was why I would never drive over Newlands from the Buttermere end.
The only freely available parking at Buttermere by the Nineties was in Honister Bottom, and I had to go a good half-mile to find a suitable spot. The sun was well up the sky, and I had clear blue conditions and a fair amount of heat to face.
It was one of those days that started heavy-legged. There’s very little preliminary to the ascent: you leave the road and immediately you’re zig-zagging, in the lea of the fell, past Fanny Mercer’s white cross. I found it a struggle until I was out on the ridge.

Fleetwith Pike

Narrow ridges of this kind, thin trails amid the grass and rock, are great to follow, especially with that kind of view behind if you feel the need to halt for a breather. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the ridge as much as I have others: it felt just that little bit too unremittingly steep, and although it was better to be out in the open, it was still a breathless day. Nor was I gratified that the path kept more to the Warnscale side of the ridge: Honister Bottom may not offer the best views, but Warnscale has a devastated look to it, as if it is the scene of some quasi-nuclear bomb test that has left a blight on the ground.
But persistence always brings the summit underfoot, and this was where the day changed, for the better. There was a breeze, and the air felt fresh now, and that spectacular view behind, with which I was so familiar already, but photos can never measure the scale of such sights. Still, I was peeved that the sun was shining too directly into my lens to make taking my own shot viable.
Fleetwith’s neat, bare summit was not bare of walkers. In fact, it was a bit like a tea party up there, like a Helvellyn summit crowd crammed into a smaller compass. I found a small patch of unoccupied ground, lowered myself onto it and dove into my rucksack for my sandwiches.
When I got up to move on, I was at last alone. I left the pack at Fleetwith’s summit behind, and strode off to descend the grassy decline to Dubs Bottom. I always preferred having the fells to myself, and I could now relax into sole possession of the afternoon.
En route to Dubs Bottom, I passed Black Star, the ‘summit’ of Honister Crag, and contemplated for a moment stepping aside to reach its summit. The thought amused me, that a mere walker like me could so easily reach the top whereas all the climbers were making it difficult for themselves, but then I realised that that wasn’t the point. It’s walkers who pursue summits: to climbers they’re the least interesting part of the crag.
Dubs Bottom was an interesting place, a wide depression studded with levels and derelict buildings from the old mining days. Beyond it, I could see the ground rising to the Old Drum House, at the stop of the seriously stiff ascent from Honister, the road to Great Gable, or Moses’ Trod, or the descent to Ennerdale by Loft Beck, so well used a thoroughfare yet almost invisible in Wainwright because it lends itself to no ascents.
Though it was no part of this walk, I crossed the dip and went up to the Drum House, climbing onto its platform and surveying that odd plateau that lies between the Buttermere and Ennerdale Valleys, and the way the Gable path turns towards the low ridge and seems to spring forward along its base. I’ve done that each time I’ve sweated up from Honister: by the time you get to the top, you need a few moments breather.
I turned back towards Dubs Bottom, which needed to be crossed at a diagonal, from the near right corner to the far left corner, to escape onto the fellside and the ridge of which Haystacks in the primary part. There were paths through the old workings, and I switched from one to another, like a child following a maze with invisible walls.
I emerged onto a path snaking in and out of the outcrops along the front of Haystacks. It moved up and down, and in and out, never the same for ten yards straight, and giving no glimpse as to what was ahead. I didn’t have Wainwright’s proverbial raging toothache, and I suspect I would have been giving it the major part of my attention if I did, but this crossing had immediately etched itself into my short list of paths I would happily go back and walk immediately: Ullock Pike to Long Side, the Corridor Route being other examples.

Blackbeck Tarn

The best part came when I crossed the entrance to the cove that holds Blackbeck Tarn. Everyone sees Innominate Tarn as the jewel of Haystacks, but one look at Blackbeck, glittering in its sheltered bowl, the Tarn’s boundaries swelling towards the back of its expanse, and I was hooked. I’ve never been one for camping, being too fond of guesthouse beds in which to rest myself after a hard day’s fellwalking, but I could imagine the joy of an early awakening on the grasses above the reedy banks at the far end.
After Blackbeck Tarn, the winding path continued to weave up and down, but far too soon I was emerging onto the broad back of the fell, and could see across the head of Ennerdale to Great Gable, and Pillar. From there, it was just a gradually ascending way, passing Innominate Tarn’s shores (I cannot remember whether Wainwright had adorned it then) and on to the nearby summit, which surprised me by merely revealing another, and higher outcrop.
I had been here before, nearly thirty years before. I remembered that we’d not been able to see Innominate Tarn from the summit and had moved on to the other outcrop to see it, with the ring of high Ennerdale fells as its backcloth, but no further.
Part of me still can’t believe we had ever been there at all. My family were wedded to the quarter of the Lakes from Ambleside to Wasdale, and apart from the traditional wet-Friday trip to Keswick, never ventured further. I hadn’t even seen Haystacks until the previous year, when, for my benefit, we spent a non-walking rain-soaked day going round the Western Lakes, and I saw Ennerdale Water, Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere for the first time ever, four new Lakes in one day, and we escaped by going over Honister Pass, between writhing clouds and towering cliffs, and this from my Uncle who normally wouldn’t take his cars over anything more steep than Dunmail Raise.
And here we were, in Buttermere, parking opposite Gatesgarth Farm, bound for Scarth Gap and Haystacks. I can only assume that it was its status as Wainwright’s favourite fell that brought us there. The pass was supposed to be one of the easiest in the Lakes, but once again our family maxim applied: ‘if Wainwright says it’s easy, it’s hard: if he says it’s hard, it’s bloody difficult!’
Enough so that, at the Pass, in a precursor of the stomach problems that would limit our expeditions in the Seventies, my Uncle stayed behind, leaving only the four of us, mother, father, daughter, son, to scramble up the gully and find our way to the summit.
My Dad was 39 in August 1968, fit, healthy, active. He was looking up, and ahead, to the high fells. His younger child, my sister, was older every year, and the range of our walks would be growing with her. His son had stopped whingeing if you so much as asked him to lace up his walking boots. No, he wasn’t as impressed with Haystacks as he’d hoped to be: to him, Lingmell, our second and highest top to date, was more the mountain top he envisaged. Idly, he suggested he’d prefer his ashes sprinkled there.
That November, we got away, just the four of us, for a couple of days in a small cottage in Grisedale Forest. I remember walking down the road to see Forge Force Falls on the evening we arrived, I remember lying in the top bunk in a crowded bedroom we all shared, feeling so much part of everything as my parents talked below, and I remember following the Grisedale Forest on our last day. There was no fellwalking as such.

Forge Force

Dad was complaining of pains in his left shoulder. Back in Manchester, he went to the Doctor. He was in hospital more than not over the next twenty months. He never saw the Lake District again. Haystacks was his last walk.
That’s not the place of sentiment for me. That came a couple of years later, crossing from the last Wainwright to the one that had been the First, unlovely, ungainly, unlikely Middle Fell in Nether Wasdale. As I arrived at the summit from the back, the party there was packing up and leaving. I walked round for the next half hour, talking to those who would never come back as I had come back, this once and only time.
But Haystacks is still one of only three tops where I can look the memory of my Dad in the eye and stand equal to him. Me and you, Dad, me and you.
I scrambled down to Scarth Gap and set off for the valley. I can’t remember if this descent came before or after the one I made after completing the High Stile range, which was the one where I sat down on a pathside stone to look at the very strange goings on in the wide green fields below, that I finally realised was the filming of an episode of One Man and his Dog.
Sadly, I never saw the broadcast episode, so I have no idea to this day whether I managed to get myself into the background of any shots, and add to my small stock of TV background shots.
And I drove away over Honister.

Rambling about Passes


Hard Knott

On a wet January Friday afternoon, when work is not actually overwhelming, a man’s thoughts naturally turn to the Lake District, to the fells and mountains, and lakes and tarns of the most lovely corner of this Earth. This is even more so when memory is the only means by which I can access the vast majority of Cumbria. The increasingly grey sky of Stockport is rightly displaced by all the varied colours of a Lakeland day’s walking.
Ever since the funeral I attended last week, my late father’s been in my mind an awful lot. Nor can I think of Dad without thinking of the fells: after all, it was he who introduced me to walking in the first place, very much against my will and comfort. Nor was I the kind of child to keep such a thing as discomfort to myself, in stoic fashion.
We only got a couple of years fellwalking in together, before the pains in his shoulder led him to the Doctor, and to the long illness that ended in his death from cancer. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that he’d seen me come round to fellwalking without complaint before he lost his own access to the high country.
Because our first walk, indeed several of our first walks, took us to the tops of various of the Lakes’ official Passes, I’ve always had an affinity with Passes as an acceptable destination for a day’s walking. Not in the same class as summits, of course, but any ascent that included a trip to the top of one of the recognised Passes had the extra cachet of following directly in my Dad’s footsteps.
Over the years, I’ve managed to ascend all the Official Passes, and in the case of those that carry roads, this hasn’t always been behind the wheel either.
Obviously, if we’re going to be technical about it, the first Pass I reached the top of was Dunmail Raise, and I have crossed it dozens upon dozens of times, as passenger and driver and, most recently on a double-decker bus (lower storey) in pitch black conditions, to the point where not only did I not see a single glitter of Thirlmere, I did not know we’d even set wheel on the Raise until we were roaring past Dunmail’s cairn.
But really Hard Knott was the first, and it was our first walk. It’s a motor pass, true, and one with which my parents had been familiar in their courting days, when my Dad’s method of transport was a motor-bike, and the actual condition and gradients of Hard Knott weren’t a concern. Neither he nor his brother, my Uncle, would ever take a car over Hard Knott, no matter how improved the surface.
It seems an odd choice, but it should also be borne in mind that it was not just I who was a fellwalking virgin, but also my sister, then aged five, albeit a very sturdy example of the five year old girl. Distance was an issue, and height.
We ascended from the Eskdale end of the Pass. It would be a few years yet, and beyond Dad’s time before I was able to exert what little influence I ever had to get my Uncle to drive through the very narrow bit of the Duddon Valley road, by Wallowborough Gorge, and enter the massively flat and empty bowl of the upper Valley. Cars would zip up and down the road, but Dad wanted grass under his boots, and so we took a line, or rather a series of lines, from the foot of the pass in Eskdale, and walked uphill, the tarmac and its manifold bends well to our left.
Dad would use a compass to take a bearing on a landmark ahead of us, a prominent rock, a bit of a bluff, and keeping to the bearing, would guide us to that mark, whereupon he would repeat the procedure. Although Hard Knott was a motor pass, the tarmac replacing the rough routes that pony (            ) had followed over the centuries, it was unusual geographically in not standing at the head of the valley, but crossing at an angle a low saddle on its southern flank. This left ample opportunity to make a gentle scramble over grassy fellside, slowly angling towards the col that completed the climb.
For the route home, we simply walked down the road. I was in a thoroughly petulant mood by then and when they proposed a detour to the Roman Fort, I refused to join the family and sat by the roadside, until I got bored sitting on my own and went in search of them. I couldn’t find them anywhere, but instead they found me, creeping up from behind and surprising me with a shout when I was stood in the middle of the bathhouse or something similar.
We did climb the Pass from the Duddon, though this time it was via the tarmac, and it wasn’t with the Pass as our destination, but rather as an approach to Hard Knott fell: the first summit we reached after Dad died. There was no alternative to the road on the east side of Hard Knott.
Despite the older generation’s reluctance, I have driven the Pass once, from east to west, as part of a very short cut from Ambleside to Wasdale: it felt very strange to enter Eskdale from that direction and have such a long drive down the valley so early in the day.
The last time I was at Hard Knott was in the relaxed circumstances of being Mr 214, and no longer seeking out Wainwrights. I parked at the foot of the Pass, in Eskdale, took a new line of approach to Harter Fell, then trudged the long, unfamiliar and, yes, rather dull ridge down to the Pass, crossing the tarmac and ascending the fell, before making my way home down the Pass.
From Hard Knott, we turned to Wrynose Pass, where the object of the walk, at least as far as I was concerned, was to see the fabled Three Shires Stone, marking the point where three counties – Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire – met. Wrynose was another of those Passes with which my Dad and Uncle were well-acquainted, from past days of the bike, and the convenience with which Hard Knott and Wrynose could be combined for a quick return from the coast.
Indeed, Dad told a wry story of returning over Wrynose one Sunday, out of the Duddon Valley, and finding a motorist pulled up short of the top, his radiator drained, and unable to move. Having assisted in getting him water, Dad leant a shoulder to push the car up to the top. Whereupon the driver took one look at the descent into Little Langdale and insisted on turning round and going back to the Duddon.
Unlike Hard Knott, there was no option for us to leave the tarmac and make our own idiosyncratic way to the top. So there we were, a family of five, all dressed up in proper walking gear, walking up the road to Wrynose. I sometimes wonder what the drivers who passed us, ascending and descending, thought of us, for of course just as there was nothing but the tarmac up, we had only the road for our retreat.
My only other visit to Wrynose came many years later, by car. From Ambleside, I used both Passes as a quick way through to Wasdale. Admittedly, the car I was driving was better than any my Dad or Uncle had access to, but whilst the roads are narrow, and some of those hairpin bends on the Eskdale side of Hard Knott, coupled with 1 in 3 gradients, are a bit dodgy, I found them nothing like the fearsome experiences they were made out to be.

Sty Head, leading down to Wasdale Head

With two successful walks under our belt, we set out to conquer our third Pass, this time a ‘proper’ Pass, being one that you could only reach with your boots on. Of course, it had to be Sty Head, and that gave me the objective of getting far enough around Great Gable to see something of its shyer neighbour, Green Gable.
We were without my Uncle on this occasion, just the nuclear family, and we set off from Wasdale Head, as we would do time and again, angling for that narrow valley below the long fall from the Napes ridges, leaving the level path along the valley, rising across those slopes, and reaching the edge of the scree field that the path has to manage at a constantly rising angle.
Here, my mother, not for the last time, took one look and decreed that my little sister wasn’t going across that. But the men of the family, a boy and his Dad, were entitled to continue alone, whilst the memsahibs retreated to the valley, and an extended spell of paddling their feet in the beck. Dad and I went on alone.
There’s nothing a small boy loves more, especially if he only has a sister/sisters, than to be alone with his Dad. There aren’t that many opportunities to be in a purely masculine atmosphere, and it’s an important part of your life to be tested only against Dad’s expectations, and to live up to that. It was especially so with my Dad, who never gave quarter, never played down in any game, always made sure that if I won, it was because I had deserved it, not had it handed to me, and that I knew the game hadn’t been thrown.
I wish I remembered more of that day, but that upper stage of Sty Head on the Wasdale side is simply an extended walk, often with little to see beyond the immediate horizon on a convex slope. I remember dozens of little cairns, at intervals, and Dad encouraging me to add a stone to them along the way: little markers for walkers caught in cloud that they were still on the correct path, though even then Sty Head’s slopes were as good as unloseable.
We got to the summit of the Pass, overlooking the Tarn, even advanced far enough for me to see a sliver of green fellside, peeking around Great Gable’s bulk, that was all I was going to see of Green Gable today. Dad was concerned about not leaving Mam and my sister on their own for any longer than was necessary, so we hustled back down to find them at the beck, their feet not too cold yet to stand more immersion whilst we had our turn.
I’ve returned to Sty Head on several occasions, though I’ve never again taken that slanting path across the scree. There was a later occasion when the four of us set off to trace the Valley Route to Sty Head, as revealed by Wainwright, only to give up when we ran out of flat valley, and another when we started that way only for Dad to divert us up alongside Piers Gill, an unplanned expedition that turned into an impromptu ascent of Lingmell: our second summit, and Dad’s highest point.
On my own, I’ve twice ascended Sty Head from Seathwaite, each time using the much more exciting Taylorgill Force variation. The one time I travelled by the true Sty Head route, from Stockley Beck Bridge, it was for the purpose of ascending Seathwaite Fell, in the company of a maybe girlfriend, and we broke off the path before reaching the point where the Taylorgill variation ends. We did return by that variation that day, the only time I’ve descended that side of the Pass.
There was one more example of father and son exploration that was Pass related, though I can’t really count this as a success. One of our regular, relaxed expeditions was into Mickleden, although we would rarely go further than the weir on the beck, just after the accompanying wall from the Hotels had ended. This once, we had wandered on, through that vast flatness, to the foot of Stake Pass. Dad, feeling energetic, proposed a fast ascent with me, whilst Mam and my sister strolled back towards the weir.
And it was indeed a fast ascent, faster than my liking, especially as Dad insisted on using the proper zig-zags whilst I would have headed for the shortcuts that still littered the slope, on the grounds that they were, well, shorter.
But Stake Pass is an exception to the rule that Passes cross ridges at low points. Once we hit the end of the climb out of Great Langdale, we were faced with an undulating moorland, not noticeably lower than the indefinite lands to either side. How far it was to the highest point was impossible to guess and, just like Sty Head, Dad was determined not to abandon the ladies any longer than it needed, so we shot back down again.
It would be many years until I finally reached Stake Pass’s top, when it would be the last Pass summit I hadn’t previously reached. I’d completed all the Wainwrights and was in that comfortably relaxed state of being able to choose my walks just for the fun of it, so I decided to take a long way round circuit of the Langdale Pikes, gaining the heights by Mickleden and Stake Pass, and it’s not that far distant after all high point, before turning west towards the Pikes.
There would be few other occasions when we would set out to reach the top of a Pass as the objective of our day, and this would not be until after Dad was gone. But he did lead us up one further Pass, in an unexpected corner of the Lakes, as a means of ascending our third fell, and his last: his last walk in the Lakes.
I never understood why my family insisted on confining themselves to so small a part of the Lakes. Almost without exception, our walking was done in the arc between Langdale and Wasdale. In the car, we’d go as far as Grasmere and Keswick, and there was that rainy day when, just to appease my desire to see some of the more remote lakes, we did that tour of the western side of the District.
And on our last holiday with Dad, we wound up at Buttermere, intent on climbing Wainwright’s favourite fell, Haystacks, for which we would first ascend Scarth Gap Pass.
Scarth Gap’s reputed to be one of the easiest Passes to ascend, and it must be on the Ennerdale side, since there’s only about four hundred feet drop to the Black Sail Youth Hostel. I’m bound to say that I didn’t think, in 1968, that it was as easy as it was cracked up to be, but then the general family consensus those days was always that if Wainwright said it was easy, it was hard, and if he said it was hard it was bloody difficult!
Like Hard Knott, the Pass doesn’t lie at the head of the valley, but crosses the southern ridge, between the irascibility of Haystacks and the prestigious High Stile range. By my later standards, it isn’t a difficult ascent, though I’ve only ever after used the Buttermere side of the Pass for descents, coming down off the ridge on either side after great walking days.
Back in 1968, my Uncle was unwell, so he went no further than Scarth Gap, but we went on to the summit. It didn’t impress Dad as much as he hoped: for him, Lingmell was a far better summit, but he never had the chance to explore further. I would have to do all that for him.

Honister – photos cannot do justice

Of course, there was one other Pass in that sector of the Lakes with which I was by now familiar, and this was Honister Pass. I had heard some horror stories about it from Dad and his brother, so it came as a massive surprise, that day of the rains and the tour of the Western Lakes, that when we reached the dark and damp end of Buttermere, my Uncle should so blithely follow the road half left, into Honister bottom.
My memories of that first visit colour all my experiences of Honister, even the ones in good weather. There was the long, slow, almost interminable approach along the valley, with little or no gain in height until the road leaps across the bridge and starts to furiously ascend, among narrowing cliffs, the winding line laid out above, the clouds drifting in between the crags, the gradient worsening at every twist, until it’s a struggle just to keep going long enough to get to the top.
The first time I tried Honister in my own car, I failed. I was driving a Datsun Cherry that had problems and it simply couldn’t take the first slope beyond the bridge, and the traffic kindly waited whilst I turned round and retreated. I’ve never had problems since, but I have also never been able to reach the top without dropping down into first gear for that final rise.
I haven’t tackled the Borrowdale side of the Pass, which is where the steepest gradients lie, just above Seatoller. I’m fine driving down them, but in this instance, I have always adhered to familiy advice and never tried to get up there.
The one time I have had to ascend Honister out of Borrowdale, I had to do it on foot. I was climbing Great Gable, from the Pass, working my way up over Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Green Gable, but in order to sweep round and include Base Brown, I parked at Seathwaite, and walked back to the main Borrowdale road, on a lovely September morning of golden delight.
My original intention was to catch the Mountain Goat bus service to Honister, except that such a service did not then exist. I then proposed to hitch a lift to the Pass, except that the only drivers who did not studiously ignore my existence were the ones with full cars, who could afford to pretend regret. So I ended up walking it, just like Wrynose. It wasn’t too painful, especially once we had cleared the steep bit, through the trees, and I was wandering almost at leisure through the hanging glacial valley above, but it made for a long and wearying prelude to a long, strenuous walk on a hot day, and was not to be recommended, and certainly not repeated.
I break my walking career down into three unbalanced phases. The first of these are those brief, initial years with my Dad, who I remember being the one who took most of the initiative, even though his brother was six years older than him (though that might be the boy in me speaking: at that age, your Dad is always the one in charge). These were the years of being just a boy: your parents decide and you go along with it without complaint (ahem), because that is what life is. You don’t get an opinion, and you don’t expect to.
His falling ill put an end to the Lakes and walking for the next couple of years. We did manage a week away in September of 1970, four of us now, not five, with my mother and Uncle as collaborative powers in charge: a necessary break after the stresses of a horrendous summer in which Dad’s condition deteriorated badly and the last week was nothing but chaos. It meant a chance to put on boots again (and anoraks and waterproofs, for it was cold and very very wet).
The second phase began in earnest the following year. It was business as usual, only with Dad no longer part of us. I was growing into my middle teens, and I was starting to have opinions and wishes of my own. I had read and re-read the Wainwrights so often that it no longer surprised any of my family when I recognised photos of places in the Lakes we had never seen. And after my high-speed sponsored walk for school, I was starting to feel confined by the slow pace and limited ambitions of the older generation.
In short, I was becoming a teenager.
But to be honest, the family’s ambitions were extremely limited. We had proven ourselves capable of reaching the summit of fells over 2,000′ in height, and there were ample below that level, but somehow or other, we could never manage the energy to climb more than one top in a week’s holiday.
I wanted to do more, I wanted to go further afield. There was three-quarters of the Lakes out there that we were deliberately ignoring. Indeed, we were not even getting the most out of our regular haunts. It would take until 11.30 most mornings to even get out of the cottage, and there was an obstinate refusal to even consider where we might then want to go before that point.
And I was slowly growing tired of being treated as if I were still ten, instead of closing in on the end of my teens. I left school, I went to University, I was still being told what to do, where to go and where to stand. We set out to climb Coniston Old Man one day, by the Quarry Path, but the clouds closed in below the summit. I was sent ahead to see whether we were near the top: we were no more than one hundred yards away so I dutifully returned to say how close we were, only to find everyone packing up to go down.
A few times, we reverted to our old type and set off to climb a Pass. One of these was Grisedale Pass, which we approached from the Grasmere end (naturally: Patterdale, no matter how beautiful, was beyond our bounds). It was a greyish day, and I remember some rain and cloud in the upper stages, as we worked our way up by Little Tongue Beck. Technically, we didn’t even reach the top of the Pass, going no further than the col overlooking Grisedale Tarn, where the highest point of the Pass lay beyond it, at the head of Grisedale itself.
We crossed over the top of Great Tongue to return, an extremely rare instance of our not simply turning round and going back the same way we have climbed. For some reason, I took myself out in front, leading the way, letting the other three tramp on behind me, ten yards to the rear. I enjoyed the descent, indeed I came down with so much spare energy to burn that I could seriously have turned round and gone back up again.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed better times with Grisedale Pass, on my own. The only other time I’ve climbed it from Grasmere was in identical conditions to that long-removed family expedition,, and by the same ascent and descent, but in between I scrambled up the cloud-shrouded slopes of Seat Sandal, aware I wasn’t going to get any view, but still getting some enjoyable walking in on a day when views were never going to be part of the parcel.
But I’ve both descended and ascended the Pass, to its true summit, on the Patterdale side, which is much more lovely and, in its views of the Hellvellyn range, and the chance to visit the Brother’s parting, more exciting approach. I do wonder about my family at times. There was a long, slow descent after walking in the Hellvellyns, the day I met Harry Griffin, a day when I took the long stroll to the south side of the valley back home, under a burning sun, glad of the frequent patches of shade from the clumps of trees down that flank, and a Saturday morning ascent, aiming for Fairfield and St Sunday Crag: this was the day of the Manchester Bomb, about which I knew nothing until the 4.00pm radio news, driving towards Shap and the M1 home.

                                       Ennerdale from Black Sail
We were in more familiar territory in Wasdale when, probably as a result of the little influence I could bring to bear, we foresook Sty Head one day for Black Sail. I was allowed to lead the way for most of that: the little climb over the lip of Mosedale, the zig-zags to pass the moraines at the bottom of the upper valley, the long, smooth ascent between grassy flanks and the gate in the ruined fence on the top that I insisted on using, because, of course, I was that kind of person.
I went back twice on my own, both times with the same purpose, of using Black Sail as a starting point for the ascent of Pillar, and some limited form of the Mosedale Horseshoe. The first was a breathless, airless day, hot and stuffy, guaranteed to drain energy like pouring out a bucket. I was already having serious doubts about my ability to progress when, in the upper stages of the Pass, I twisted my ankle, the weak one, the left one, which put paid to it. I just about got to the top of the Pass, and its lonely gate, and after a good rest limped on as far as the top of Looking Stead, though the view of Ennerdale was small consolation. But it was only getting hotter: I remember the slow, dismal return with Yewbarrow, directly ahead, looking like a cardboard cut-out in the flat air.
I had better luck next time, going on to a magnificent day visiting Scoat Fell, Steeple and Red Pike, although I lacked confidence when it came to descending Dore Head and ended up circuiting Yewbarrow to get back to Wasdale Head. One thing that amazed was that, despite seeing a few people on Black Sail, I had the entirety of Pillar’s magnificent east ridge to myself, not a soul in sight on that long ascent, until I reached the sturdy summit.
Given my family’s natural gravitation towards Coniston, it’s both unsurprising and surprising that we should find ourselves setting off to the top of Walna Scar Pass, the surprising element being that we left it as late as we did.
We were very familiar with that side of the Old Man, Torver to Goatswater being one of our regular repeated walks, and we had once used the first part of the Walna Scar Road, from the gate above the lane descending into Coniston Village, to reach Cove Moor and find the tarn that way. But one time we simply crossed our old route, and continued onwards, passing Cove Bridge and gradually approaching the towering wall of the ridge descending from Dow Crag. The final, sweeping pull up onto the col was steep and eroding, though much firmer underfoot than it would subsequently become. I was eager to go on, head up the ridge towards Dow Crag, or at least one of its subsidiaries, but no go: back to the car and the Village.
I would make my way back to Walna Scar for one of my earliest walks once I began to visit the Lakes alone, this time eagerly pursuing that ridge, and rounding Goatswater for the Old Man at last. This was the early part of the infamous day when I found myself very carefully descending that very steep slope into Boulder Valley.
And when I summoned up all my energies and did a complete round of the Coniston range, starting with Wetherlam and ending with Dow Crag, I came down onto Walna Scar and turned for Coniston with relief that had to be tempered by the badly eroded, loose state of the upper slopes of the Pass. Sadly, I have never experienced the Duddon side of Walna Scar.
In the end, family holidays came to an end the moment a concession was made to me. In August 1975, for the first, and only time, we moved our base of operations to the north east of the Lakes, taking a cottage between Penrith and Ullswater. This was specifically to indulge me, by taking us into regions I had never been before, but had been asking to see for, literally, years. I was nineteen, about to go into my final year at University, and I had been away, only two weeks previously, on my first holiday with ‘the lads’: a week in Blackpool, making decisions for myself.
On our first day after arriving, we climbed sweet little Hallin Fell, overlooking Howtown, and returned via a bustling Pooley Bridge. My mother, who I think was resentful at not seeing the same old familiar places, acted horribly towards me, in public, treating me as if I were younger even than my sister, only just turned twelve the previous month. Later that day, having been in the Lakes for little more than twenty-four hours, I took her on one side and told her that I would not be going on any family holidays in future.
Yet even with that undercurrent bubbling away, we had our most successful week ever, at least with me in tow. It would end up on Helvellyn, at the far end of Striding Edge, with Mam deciding that my sister was not going to be risked climbing down the ten foot chimney that gets you off the Edge. I was thunderstruck at the walk ending so limply, but Mam surprised me by releasing me to go on alone, to reach the summit and return on my own recognizance, and I swarmed up the face to the edge of Helvellyn’s top in ten minutes without even breathing hard.
But even by then, we had collectively climbed another fell, and what’s more we had ascended and descended by different routes, both of which involved recognised Passes: the first time we had climbed two fells in the same week, and I had finally added the last Lake to my list of sights.

Nan Bield

On the Wednesday, we went to Haweswater, at long last no excuses about it being too far to drive. To justify the drive, we actually set off to climb Harter Fell, from the car park at the head of the valley. To ascend, we used Gatescarth Pass, ascending through grassy valleys, angling around the bulk of Harter. Disappointingly, Longsleddale was not visible behind its gates, and we used the now-abandoned trackless route following the fence over Adam-a-Seat to reach the third cairn and that spectacular view of the lake. It was blowing a howling gale by then, and the summit was so far along the ridge to the south that I think Mam and my Uncle decided it was easier and quicker not to retrace our steps, but to descend onto Nan Bield Pass, and follow the lovely, winding route down by Small Water.
I certainly had no inkling until the summit of Harter that we were not just going to turn round and go back, so this was an added bonus.
I have, of course, been back to both passes on my own, funnily enough to the blander Gatescarth more often. Once I had a car, and the freedom to drive anywhere I chose, I paid that visit to lonely, sweet Longsleddale, wandering along its eastern ridge, the very edges of Lakeland, and coming down to Gatescarth Pass off Branstree, to return to Sadgill.
That was the day I’ve previously spoken of, when the path direct from Gatescarth to Harter Fell’s third cairn appeared out of nowhere, when the eternity of the fells presented itself to me in a new and unconsidered sense. And one of my best days ever, when I ascended High Street by Long Ridge and Rough Crag saw me swing round by Mardale Ill Bell to the top of Nan Bield, but instead of descending there as I’d planned, time and energy combined to carry me on over Harter, to Gatescarth, and a return to Mardale Head by the way I’d only before climbed.
The only other time I’ve walked Nan Bield was, in a sense, a failure. I had planned to walk the Kentmere Horseshoe, but found myself with only the energy for the eastern ridge, and had to descend Nan Bield into the long, empty valley. Yes, I have descended both sides of Nan Bield, without ever ascending it once.
After the end of the family holidays, I didn’t return to the Lakes for six years, paying a brief, October visit in my first car, getting used to negotiating Cumbrian roads whilst they were quiet, and not getting into my boots until 1983, and even then for just a couple of short, individual walks.
But being master of my own motor meant that I could explore the motor passes that Dad and my Uncle had refused to go near. The main one that this left me was Kirkstone Pass, which I tackled impromptu one week, when I had booked out of my Keswick room on the last day. I drove leisurely down Patterdale, seeking one last visual feast, and sort of seduced myself into tackling Kirkstone, from its steepest side, in a fully-laden car. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve needed first gear just to cover the final slopes, especially when the car’s packed, but I’ve crossed the Pass multiple times by now, from either side, without difficulty. Indeed, there’s absolutely no reason to worry at all about the Troutbeck side, where the gradient isn’t steep in even one place. But my family…
On the other hand, there were Whinlatter and Newlands Passes, in the North Western Fells, routes from Keswick (more or less) to Lorton in the one case, and Buttermere in the other. Whinlatter is a pussy cat, and I have criss-crossed it over and again, and stopped at the Visitor Centre at the top on several such visits (and been through the human-sized artificial Badger Sett twice, which played merry hobb with my mild tendency to claustrophobia).
Newlands is a different kettle of fish, though it has a lovely approach through the low, wooded mouth of the Newlands Valley, before the road itself takes off along the valley of Keskadale Beck. It’s a bit of a bugger to drive from the Newlands end, thanks to a ninety degree right hand bend just below the final pull up to the Hause. A car with a decent engine that is not following a driver scared out of their mind can get up a good deal of useful momentum for that final slope, every bit of it it has to relinquish in order to get round that bend without overturning his car. I have yet to be able to get back into Second Gear to reach the Hause, and have always taken this as a signal to pull in to let the engine have a breather.
I have never attempted to cross Newlands from Buttermere. It’s bad enough going down something so unremittingly steep as that, with brakes fully locked at every moment in order to stay in control: I do not need to force my car up that.
Once I settled into being a lone walker, going where I chose, when and at what pace, I grew ever more ambitious in my walking, and set out to visit all of the Wainwrights. In due course, this would involve visiting the very small number of official Passes that I had yet to experience.

Esk Hause

The doyen of them all is, naturally, Esk Hause. It’s not just that it’s the highest of them all, though it’s very rarely walked as a pass from Eskdale to Borrowdale (so little so that, after centuries, there is still no actual path from the cairn at its highest point into the fastness of Upper Eskdale itself). Esk Hause is a walker’s Mecca, the hub for so many adventures on the highest of highest ground in this country, the rough and wild heart of the Lakes
I have never climbed the pass from Eskdale, though I’ve frequently trodden its first section, on family expeditions to Throstlegarth, and once beyond, above Esk Gorge, to within sight of the Scafell massif. The Borrowdale arm of the Pass is much more familiar, though I’ve only ever climbed Grains Gill from Seathwaite, on the day I nearly got heat stroke on Glaramara, and descended by that route once, after visiting all three of the Pikes.
It’s a magnificent route, either way, appropriately rough underfoot, in classic rock conditions, a narrowing, straight-edged valley aimed at the heart of Great End.
The highest path in regular use as a Pass in Sticks Pass, between Legburthwaite, near Thirlmere Dam, and poor unfortunate Glenridding in Patterdale. Oddly, unless you allow the Taylorgill Force variation on Sty Head, Sticks is the only Pass I have climbed from both directions, ironically within less than six weeks of each other in the late Summer, early Autumn of 1993.
The first of these was a frustrating day. I was planning to end my regular September holiday with a Big Walk: the Helvellyn Range from Sticks Pass to Grisedale pass, from Glenridding. The day started sunnily, though the cloud was blowing briskly across Raise as I approached: long, straight, airless walk to Glenridding Lead Mine, the zig-zag scramble up the slag heap behind, the eerie emptiness of the still-damp basin that once housed Sticks Reservoir, and the overlong winding in the confines of Sticks Gill East until reaching the long, open top.
But the cloud never blew off the tops, Helvellyn was in deep cloud, but nonetheless receiving a continuous stream of visitors, so I had to retreat. And a month or so later, planning a Sunday on the Dodds, I used the other side of Sticks – which is frankly bland and featureless – as a stepping stone to Stybarrow Dodd. I remember virtually nothing of the ascent.
Long before that, and in a back-handed way, I had introduced myself to Coledale Pass, the fourth of those Passes to cross my beloved North-Western Fells. Though it’s a brilliant access to the highest fells in that smooth, clean-lined area, I’ve never ascended either side of Coledale, though I’ve used it  as a means of descent from the fells after glorious days.
The first of these was decidedly unintended. I had planned for a full Coledale Horseshoe, one August Saturday when I planned to weekend in the Lakes, but low cloud interrupted me on Hopegill Head after a stunning climb of Grisedale Pike and, with droplets clinging to my beard, I was forced to abandon my plans and drop down to the Hause.
I was sufficiently far beneath the cloud to get an idea of the geography, though it was not until I could descend in sunlight that I began to properly understand it. Instead of the usual single path from one end to the other, the ascent out of Coledale turns out of the Hause and into the shallow upper valley that leads to the plateau between Eel Crag and Grasmoor, whilst the continuation of the Pass is a turn-off, towards and into the confines of Gasgale Gill.
The Coledale descent involved two wide swings round the twin Force Crags before crossing the beck and following the old miner’s road to the diggings. It at least gave me the most perfect circular walk, since the mine road ends at the little roadside quarry turned car park, and I even ended up arriving at the other side of my car from whence I started.
In contrast to the spaciousness of Coledale, Gasgale Gill is a place of confinement, winding, quiet, in places almost ravine-like. I’ve returned along it twice, on the second occasion managing, on level grass a hundred yards from my car, to turn over my left ankle so painfully that it took two years to clear up fully, and effectively put an end to my squash playing career in the process.

Approaching Greenup Edge

I didn’t go anywhere near Greenup Edge until the last but one walk at the end of the Wainwrights. With Ullscarf as the destination, I set off from Stonethwaite. This is not the most exciting of approaches, although Standing Crag is a bit of a fun scramble en route.
Above it, Greenup’s most infamous characteristic starts to make its presence known and just gets worse. It is wet underfoot, and stays so. There would seem to be absolutely no drainage of surface water, in defiance of everything known about geography. A short cut can be made, cutting out a substantial corner and the actual top of the Pass, which is as close as it comes to walking on water without being the head of a major international religion, but given my family background, that option was never tenable. I did not stay long at Greenup’s top, in fact I didn’t stop moving, and neither would you. Nor have I returned.
I’ve saved Scandale Head until last because it was the last Pass, even though I had visited its top as long ago as the late Eighties. Scandale Head – which is also known as Caiston Pass, after the steep beck that guides the path on the Patterdale side – is pretty much an unnecessary pass, especially for the walker. It runs parallel to Kirkstone, separated only by the bulk of Red Screes/Middle Dodd. And it took unusual circumstances for me to find the need to use it.
I did collect the little group of fells around that side of Kirkstone, making a horseshoe out of Caiston Beck. Up by High Hartsop Dodd and Little Hart Crag, a traverse across the top of the pass to Red Screes, and down by Middle Dodd. So, in counterpart to Sticks where I’d ascended the pass from both ends, I had been at Scandale/Caiston’s summit without ascending – or descending – it from either direction!
An impromptu chance to rectify that came up in 1997 when I’d driven up to the Lakes for a day’s walking, with Blencathra and Narrow Edge as my goal. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy at that end of the District, so I pounded south over Dunmail Raise, in search of better weather.
I’d not long since completed the first draft of my Even in Peoria, which climaxed with a fight in cloud on Red Screes, so this seemed a chance to do some research for the Second Draft. I checked a few things about Grasmere and the road to Ambleside, and then set off for Red Screes via Scandale Head.
I was familiar with the lower section, having used it a couple of times previously to access the Fairfield Horseshoe, but this time I avoided the temptation to cross the High Sweden Bridge and continued up the increasingly drab and featureless valley to its top. From Hard Knott to Scandale Head had taken just over thirty years.
The ascent to Red Screes from the pass was interrupted by a descent of the cloud onto the top 2 – 300′ of the fell, but then I was probably the only walker on Red Screes that day who not merely didn’t mind having no view but who was positively delighted. My summit fight scene took place in low cloud: the scene was perfect.
My eventual trip to the moorland top of Stake Pass came a year or so later. Walking Passes had begun as a stopgap activity, an easy breaking in to none-too-strenuous routes suitable for two young children (not that one of those children agreed). Collecting the Passes was never an end in itself, yet my instinct towards completism, that has never left me throughout my life, demanded that one day I should visit all of them.
And now I have.

Tarns – Blackbeck Tarn


Tarns are bodies of water, but a tarn is more than just the water. It is its surroundings, its background, where it is and how it is shaped. This is what makes a tarn delightful to the sight, or not.
Far back in the Sixties, when we still lived in Brigham Street, my parents had a set of four Heaton Cooper prints of paintings of various tarns, identically framed by my Dad and hung one above another on the wall. Fifty years later, more or less, I have these prints still.
The four tarns were, in no particular order, Sprinkling Tarn, Stickle Tarn, Goatswater and Blackbeck Tarn.
Two of these were obvious choices: we had already visited Stickle Tarn and Goatswater, and would return almost regularly. And Sprinkling Tarn was also obvious, given how attractive the Tarn is, with its curving shores, its little peninsula and the massive backdrop of Great End: it’s so wonderfully photogenic, even for those who have never been to it. I myself would not do so for many years yet.
But Blackbeck Tarn? I don’t think I even knew where it was for several years, not until the day we climbed Wainwright’s favourite fell, Haystacks, for it’s the lower of the two tarns on the sprawling back of that terrier fell. Even then, we didn’t see it: we were limited in time for exploring, and only made it far enough from the cairn to see the more famous Innominate Tarn, where Wainwright’s ashes were to be sprinkled.
It’s not as if the print was in any way attractive. It was painted from no great height above the tarn, close by its shores, looking across a flat and indefinable spread of narrow water to an undistinguished background. Why ever did they choose that? By the time I wanted to ask, they had gone.
It was years before I saw Blackbeck Tarn for myself, and then only from a distance. It is visible from behind and above from the Brandreth plateau, rising from Honister Pass towards Great Gable, crossing the back of the Buttermere and Ennerdale valleys.
From up there, it’s a detail, a blue pool in a wide vista, whose greatest significance is the way in which it looks as if it pours directly into Crummock Water.
Finally, in the early Nineties, closing in on the decreasing number of outstanding Wainwrights, I spent a splendid sunny Buttermere Tuesday on the direct ascent of Fleetwith Pike from Gatesgarth. A sweaty ascent in conditions of great beauty, especially the view directly behind of Buttermere and Crummock Water. To complete the day, I planned a wide circuit of Warnscale, descending Fleetwith’s back, via Black Star (the summit of Honister Crag), all the way down to the Old Drum House, which i’d previously approached from Honister itself.
From there, I circuited back towards the old quarries, all of it easy walking high under the sun, winding in and out of derelict buildings, and making my way towards the back of Haystacks.
It was a fascinating walk already, and even more so once I got onto the crags and the path began to slide into and out of the rocks, until it descended to cross the outfow of an enclosed hollow in the rocks, and there was Blackbeck Tarn.
I fell in love with it instantly: the narrowing of the Tarn between the encroaching rock walls, the wider, rounder, gentler section beyond it, swelling into this hidden bay, with reedy shores at the far end, the whole surrounded by green lawns. It looked like a magical hidden place in the world and I, who have never camped out in the fells nor had any serious inclination to do so, immediately felt the urge to wake up in this little kingdom, in the glowing rays of dawn, alone and silent.
It was late in the afternoon, I still had Haystacks’ by no means smooth summit to negotiate, and then the descent to and by Scarth Gap Pass. So my time in that spot was limited but the image is still in my mind.
So I walked on, past Innominate Tarn, scrambled over the summit, Dad’s last, and down, carrying with me the lovely scene. The print is still nondescript, but now I’ve seen Blackbeck Tarn for myself, I can discern the curve of the far shore, understand where the painter stood and imagine myself into that scene.
I still don’t understand why Mam and Dad bought the print, though.