I grew up with the Wainwright fells and nearly 50 years later have never really left them.
As a boy I was hauled up them by my dad (one of my abiding memories of him is his extremely attractive varicose veins in blue rugby shorts heading up Great Gable). as a youth I escaped to roam them with some dodgy and ill kitted friends; spent many a car journey seeking out some of the out of the way ones (usually on my own) and now I spend time guiding others up them and getting pleasure from their enthusiasm. They are of course the fells of the Lake District or as I often call them the Wainwrights.
The power of the 7 fantastic guide books that Wainwright wrote 50 years ago still drive me to experiment with some interesting and alternative routes. However whereas in the past I used to use them as a map, and they were my soul choice of route finding, age and sense has seen me move on to the splendid Ordnance Survey Explorer maps; the Wainwright books left for the pub or a comfortable chair. More on the Wainwrights is here including a full list.
So if Wainwright and my dad inspired my initial love of the LakeDistrict fells what has kept me climbing them 20 years after completing my first round? Doing a 2nd round is one driver but that is only a minor consideration, the few I have still to do are far out weighed by umpteen ascents of my favourites. No it is more, much more than ticking.
I had a phase in my life when I loved climbing the Scottish mountains compleating the Munros 10 years ago. Although we still go up regularly I do find the days increasingly hard work (the whole thing is just big) and I now find myself picking and choosing favourites such as Suilven which are still stunning yet achievable; similarly I have come to enjoy the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and its wonderful landscape but try as I might the bigger walks do not have the raw pleasure of a good day in the Lakes.
The Lakes are just a perfect challenge; the beauty of a big day on Scafell Pike or Pillar is still thrilling yet exhausting enough. Dropping off the mountain late in the day and knowing that there is a lovely pint or two of Jennings (other beers are available) in an attractive Lakes pub at its foot is one of the many great joys. Another is the variety of colours and challenges each season brings (superbly illustrated in Terry Abraham‘s Scafell Pike, a year in the life); I personally love Autumn when the rusty bracken coats the fell side and turns a bright orange in the sunlight but that is just me, a hot summer’s day or a cold snowy one can be great fun too.
The weather helps (the exception being a dreich day) and there is always the chance of something special. Swirling mists around the crags can part suddenly to reveal some stunning and unexpected views, winter sunlight can give a fascinating contrast of colours and even a strong challenging wind can be avoided by route alterations. Having said that an exhilarating ridge walk in the wind can be great fun and the glow and ‘feel good ‘ factor afterwards is one of those feelings of well being you only get after a bracing day full of exercise.
The Lakeland hills are of course beautiful; crags, stone walls, sheep, lakes and tumbling streams all help give the area a unique character. Each fell is different, each summit has its own character and one of the joys is recognizing them, familiar ones and those less so. I bet Wainwright thoroughly enjoyed sketching his panoramic summit views that feature in most chapters in his books. We all do it when we are there, spot them rather than drawing them though!
There is variety as well; the eastern and northern fells look and feel different to those in the south and west. The fells are more difficult in the south and west, the paths rougher, the fells generally steeper with more exposed rock but I have to admit that I enjoy some of the long ridges to the north and east. Maybe it is an age thing but striding along High Street or over the Coledale Round gives me as much pleasure as the last few steps up Bowfell or Gable.
I have my favourite walks, my favourite fells but often this is dictated by the company that is being kept, the weather or just that intangible thrill of being there. A short walk over Gowbarrow or Loughrigg Fell can be fantastic and hopefully I can get to these for some time to come but for now the big days, my classic circuits (detailed here) are what really drives me. There is nothing like those first steps of a big but do-able day on the fells of Lakeland.
I am not sure why I wrote this, it was not meant to be a love letter but once started my enthusiasm for this wonderful area from which I have had so many great days (and hope to have many more) just got the better of me. I started just looking for an excuse to publish some of my favourite photos (and look at them again) but became carried away. It is a great area, I would urge anyone to visit. !
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