Wainwright Reflections

It’s that time of year when my Lake District walking is over and all I have left to look forward to is next year, and so start gathering my thoughts.  I’ve also been reading “The World of the Wainwright Bagger” by Chris Stanbury and it’s given me some inspiration too.  Over the coming days and weeks, there’ll be a series of posts covering various aspects of my own Wainwright Bagging, and here’s just a taster of some of the things I’m planning to talk about.

So first, the status report.  I’ve now accumulated 158 of the 214 Wainwrights (just under 74%) and it’s taken me 19 years (but only 6 if you ignore the 13 years when I basically did no hillwalking at all).  I’ve completed only 2 of Wainwright’s books (Central and North Western), although based on the average of 30.6 fells per book, I’ve done enough to have completed 5 books worth.  So what’s clear from this is that I must have loads of odds and ends left in each of the other 5 books.

Actually, it’s worse than that.  I’ve barely scraped the surface of the Far Eastern fells and 29 of my remaining 56 are in that area.  And then I’m down to odds and ends in the others.  So it’s pretty clear that one of my priorities is to make some inroads into my FE fells collection, and that’s what I’m planning my main Lakes trip for next year to cover.

Of course now that I have broken the back of the 214, my thoughts are now turning to how I mop up the odds and ends that I’ve left through injudicious planning or failure to complete planned walks.  And certainly on my most recent trip to the Lakes, I tried really hard to avoid leaving individual odd fells, so that I don’t make the problem worse.

But actually, is it really such a big problem ?  More odd one out fells means more walks, which means it will take me longer to complete them all, which in turn means that I put off for longer that day when my wife suggests that as I’ve done them all I don’t need to go to Cumbria any more (don’t worry, I have some ideas to tackle that one!).

And alongside this I have a constant inner battle between wanting to redo existing favourites (thereby spinning the whole exercise out for longer) and wanting to focus on new ground to make good use of my scarce time in the Lakes.  I still haven’t worked this one out, and I suspect that only when I get to the point that I know I will definitely complete them, will I feel happy slowing down and redoing old fells.

Of course, another key consideration is making the run-in to number 214 special.  It was a couple of years ago that I fixed what my final fell would be (Haystacks).  And since then I’ve done everything around it, so that last day will be totally devoted to that one fell.  And it only seems right to pop into Buttermere church at the end of the walk and visit Wainwright’s plaque.  Now anyone who knows anything about Wainwright, and the collection of fells that his name is linked with, will understand the choice of Haystacks as the last one, so I won’t go into it here, but suffice to say that as Haystacks was his last ever fell (clearly, as he’s still there!), then it’s a good choice for mine, not that I would even attempt a comparison between him and me.  But there were some other contenders…

By the time finishing all 214 became a fixed ambition (sometime in 2008), I’d already done several of the big name fells that most people would consider obvious and sensible choices for final fell – Scafell Pike, Coniston Old Man, Skiddaw, Helvellyn….- and my shortlist came down to Scafell, Blencathra and Haystacks.  All good choices, but I wanted something with some symbolism so went for Haystacks.  In the end Scafell was my 100th fell, as I just couldn’t wait any longer to do it.  But I still haven’t done Blencathra.

By the way, for anyone who is interested my Wainwright milestone fells were:

1st – Helvellyn

50th – Clough Head

54th – (1/4 way) – Esk Pike

71st (1/3 way) – Blea Rigg

100th – Scafell

107th (1/2 way) – Rossett Pike

143rd (2/3 way) – High Stile

150th – Caw Fell

So I have some upcoming milestones to think about too – 161st (3/4 way) and 200th – as well as the final fell.  Now, as I’m on 158, the next milestone is clearly going to be on my next trip, so this adds some additional considerations into the planning.  But given that if I’d been deliberate in my milestone choices I would probably have chosen something different to the above, and that I don’t know which are the good fells until I’ve done them, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.  Indeed, if I’d had the benefit of hindsight I’d have chosen fells such as Castle Crag, Eagle Crag, Seathwaite Fell and Binsey (yes, really!) for these key milestones.  And for that matter, others I really like include Lingmell, Mellbreak and Green Crag, as well as all the big names that everyone loves.

But this brings me to another thought.  A lot of the fells I particularly like are the less popular, or peripheral, or low fells, and therefore, as I’ve got plenty of these left to do, I’m expecting the quality of the rest of the round to remain high, at least in terms of what I like in a fell.  Indeed, I’d go one step further and say that I’m going to try to plan my home straight fells to epitomise everything I’ve enjoyed about the Wainwrights.  So this means making sure that my final few include lots of the following: scrambles, tarns, remoteness and solitude, shapeliness etc.  For that reason, I’m leaving Blencathra until very near the end.

But what happens once I’ve done them all ?  Well a few ideas have already germinated.

First, it’s occurred to me that virtually all of the fells have been done using only my feet or public transport to get to.  This has made it an interesting and challenging exercise to work out how to do the remoter fells.  It also feels a little bit more of an achievement not having used a car to get to convenient start and end points.  So, I think one thing I’ll do will be to revisit all of the fells that I have used a car to get to and do them in the style of the others.  The list isn’t long as only 3 of my 15 trips have used the car.  My first trip in 1992 bagged Helvelyn from Wythburn, but I’ve done Helvellyn twice more since then.  My second trip to the Lakes was on a 3 Peaks challenge (hangs head in shame), and my return to Scafell Pike was also by car.  So that just leaves the family camping holiday in Langdale in 2007.  I was dropped off by car for the walk from Clough Head to Stybarrow Dodd, so I need to redo that walk (that’s no hardship really!).  Also, I did a walk from the campsite over Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End and Scafell Pike which is arguable – car to get to Langdale for the holiday, but on foot for the whole of the walk.  Whatever, I don’t mind doing that walk again.  And that’s it.  I just redo 7 fells (I’d already done Stybarrow Dodd properly) and then I’ll have done them all under my own steam.  Of course, that still means I have to find a way of cracking the Far Eastern fells, which has been puzzling me for a while, and which I need to do soon if my mopping up plan to get me to the finish is going to work out.

Second, I’ve already mentioned my love of the quieter, lonelier and lowlier fells which means that doing the Outlying Fells is a logical next step.  In fact I’ve done 21 of the 116 already, and enjoyed almost all of them (sorry Burn Moor, you’re not included as a “like” as it was dense cloud and pissing down).

Thirdly, I’ll redo Wainwrights I’ve enjoyed in the past, and do the more interesting routes on those that I took the most efficient (rather than the best) route on to bag in the first place.  And of course, this may end up being a second complete round in due course.  But that’s not exactly an ordeal is it?

Fourthly, alongside the Wainwrights, I’m also working on the Nuttalls, in particular the English ones.  I’ve only got 37 of the Nuttalls in the Lakes to do, but then 70 in the Pennines and Cheviots.  So I think that’s my next target.

And while I’m not really paying much attention to the Birketts, I’m still planning my routes to fit in with them where I can, and have a good number under my belt already.  So I may even get to the point where I decide to do them all.

Anyway, enough droning on about peak bagging, which is after all just a framework for my thorough exploration of the Cumbrian fells, and the tool I use to prevent me just doing my favourites all of the time.  Over the winter when I’m not in the hills, I’ll write some essays about my favourite fells and then perhaps people will understand even if they don’t agree with my choices!

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