ENGLAND Lake District 2017 Wainwrights 1

England. Lake District. On completion of the Wainwrights (English Fells). Essay 1. June 2017.

I am striding purposefully towards Sergeant’s Crag. When I reach the summit, I’ll only have three fells left before I have completed all the Wainwrights, and one of these three lies just fifteen minutes beyond the one I’m about to reach. I’ve left the easiest peaks until last. Right now, however, I’m having trouble seeing the ground properly – not because of thick mist (quite often the case up here) but this time because my wretched eyes have teared up. I realise I’m feeling quite emotional about this completion business. I have been on a beautiful journey getting to know these mountains, and I don’t want it to end. To reach the end is like seeing a magnificent flower you have watched and tended since it was a stunning bud reach its fulness, knowing that from here on, a growth in beauty will be impossible. It is fulfilment, but it is also sad, filled with its own poignancy.

In the previous saddle, reached just before this story begins, I crossed paths with some walkers in quite a big “tourist” group of maybe a dozen or more. They were huffing and puffing as they laboured up towards the saddle I was merrily descending into, reliant on their leaders to guide them on their way. That saddle would be the high point of their day. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, and there is, in fact, a great deal of merit. Their confreres are possibly on a couch watching television at home. Nonetheless, hearing the puffing, and seeing their reaction to the fact that I had dropped to them out of a trackless wasteland (you’d think I’d popped in from the moon) and that I was eying up a route where I might make my way under some very steep cliffs to another saddle beyond – tricky, but I thought it was worth a try – I realised another aspect of this journey I have been on whilst completing these Wainwrights: namely, that my voyage is integrally tied to my love of freedom to go on whatever route I want, determining entirely my own direction and speed, and that that freedom which is my delight is entirely dependent on my ability to navigate confidently, and on my strength (relative to my diminutive size) and general agility in the mountains. Were I less confident, my journey would not have been the solitary one it has been.

As I headed towards Sergeant’s Crag on this “epiphany route”, a few more important observations brushed my consciousness:
(i) the extent to which this whole journey was not about “achieving” something, but rather about a relationship between me and these mountains. Moreover, every single one of them thus far had been done either solo or in the company of my husband with whom I am one (and who, being slower than I am, has followed me up when he’s been with me – maybe half the summits – giving me plenty of time to enjoy each top alone as I wait). This solo space at the heights has given me a special relationship to each mountain: it has been about a triad, viz., the mountain, Louise and infinite space; an experience of the sublime that is different for each mountain. I value each encounter.

(ii) the German phrase das Gehen ist das Ziel could be said to be a motto and description of my attitude to my journey. It is not about arriving, or completing; it is about the process and joy of getting there. I will soon have ticked all the boxes on a list, but I will not have completed my business with these mountains. My completion, such as it will be, will be like passing university entrance exams. I will have achieved the first phase in learning about these mountains, but by no means will that learning be complete. My knowledge of most is based on a single encounter. What sort of knowledge is that?

Every mountain you see in every photo of the Lakes District, I have climbed. You have no idea how satisfying that feels.
(iii) because the whole journey has been about a relationship and not about achieving something, but has been a celebration of my freedom and independence in the mountains, about delicious solitude and doing it myself, unaided, the very last thing I wanted to do, I realised suddenly, was to do my final mountain differently: that is, in the company of others. I wanted whatever emotion I experienced – and observation of my behaviour on this mountain suggested it would be teary rather than celebratory – to be mine alone and not shared with (very nice) strangers. It would be a spiritual time, and I wanted it to be quiet. Now, this was a problem, as, not knowing in advance how I would feel, I had responded positively to the suggestion by the fabulous David Purchase that I do the final climb with a group of special people he was gathering for the occasion. What an honour!! This seemed like such a lovely idea – it was. Only now did I see that my feelings had moved. I didn’t want chatter in my holy moment. I didn’t want other moods or expectations. I didn’t want to have to wait if these other people were slower, or, worse, be led up my own last mountain. I didn’t want my final fell to be any different from all the others.

And so, the most important thing I realised was that I was going to, intentionally, ruin my own party. I was going to do my final mountain today, two days earlier than expected. I would do it tonight, at sunset. I would have preferred dawn on the morrow, but already a forecast of several days’ heavy rain had been made (an excellent excuse for doing it early); today would be better. Then, if David would like, I could do a celebratory reenactment of the final climb with the others, or, if the rain performs as expected, we can skip the idea completely. I will be his servant, and most willingly.

That delicate red dot is Stephen Moore, who represented the UK in the World 100km championships several times, who holds the record for the most completed rounds of Wainwrights, and who came to my completion party. The two of us climbed High Spy together in a fabulous afternoon’s outing after my completion rather than reenacting my final climb. This was a more interesting option for both of us.
Believe it or not, I offer the final statistics:
214 summits. 211 summits experienced solo. 213 summits without rain on top – and I repeated that single erring summit, so can also say 214 without rain on the  summit (we won’t discuss the way up or down). I did have “grey-out” on a significant portion of tops; it’s hard to tell from the photos, but my guess would be at least half, if not more. I experienced very strong winds on several, but only one summit had me crawling to it (Hindscarth) and only one (Knott Rigg) had wind so strong that I had to snake my way on my belly for the final few metres for fear that I would otherwise find myself in the next county.

What do you do when THIS presents itself out the window during your celebration party? Do you leave your guests and be hideously rude and rush out with your camera, or stay demurely smiling, crying inside at the beauty you are not photographing? What I did (the rude option) is rather manifestly clear.

ENGLAND Lake District 2017 Wainwrights 2

England Lake District. 2017. On completion of the Wainwrights, Essay 2.

I have completed “climbing” all the Wainwrights: namely, fells, or what I mostly call mountains. What is  a Wainwright? The definition is operational: it is a fell or mountain that the late Alfred Wainwright immortalised in his wonderful series of ink drawings of what he considered to be the best Lakeland fells. There are 214 of them, published in seven delightful little books.

The Lake District is also, of course, about water as well as beautiful mounds.
I talk of “climbing” the Wainwrights. When I say this, do not picture me with a helmet, rope and carabiners, being belayed up or down a cliff. There were cliffs, indeed, and I chose that route for fun on several occasions, but never with fancy equipment. I use “climb” in the same sense that I say I climbed the stairs, or climbed a ladder to prune my trees. When Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music sang that we should climb every mountain, I don’t think she had ropes and helmets in mind (although, of course, I agree that we should).

Dawn from the Langdale Pikes (Harrison Stickle here). I was so excited to be in the Lakes (and in Europe) I got up at 4.10 on my first morning and climbed 6 mountains before breakfast.
And why do I refer to fells as mountains? Just because I’m Australian, and that is the name we automatically give to a terrestrial lump of a certain size. These English humps are no more or less mountains than Mt Amos, Mt Dove or many other shapes called mountain in my homeland. They are not as high as Mt Kosciusko, but the height difference between nearby base and top is actually, in many cases, more. The shape is also far more impressive. You would have real trouble trying to die on Kosciusko, but unfortunately, it has been proven to be more than possible to fall to your death on the fells. The cliffs have monster drops if you choose that approach. Things are as difficult or as easy as we choose to make them. I hope my choice of language doesn’t confuse. I am writing about England, but I write as an Australian. My relationship to the fells is necessarily tinctured by my own background. As Kant would tell you if you read his first Kritik, knowledge is gained in relationship to existing knowledge; stimuli received within the context of what our brain already contains.

And how do I feel about completion? Please forgive the circularity and intentional banality, but I feel very complete. Every peak on the list has been climbed. There is something beautifully neat and tidy about that (funny, as I am not, with regard, say, to my house, obsessively neat and tidy, but when it has to do with lists, I am). At university, I always read every book on a reading list; here in the mountains, I find there is something satisfying about having a tick beside the name of every mountain. Yes, I know there are nasty words for this “disease”, but it is actually quite a handy one to have. It wins you scholarships and prizes. More important to me than the ticks is the fact that every mountain is in some way “known”; every one, albeit briefly, befriended.

I have fond memories of almost all 214 mountains. As I see each, I remember happy incidents that occurred whilst climbing. I recall my interaction with its shape and surface. My satisfaction has nothing to do with any putative “achievement’, but with something a little harder to pin down. To help me explain, let me recall for you a moment on this trip as I drove into Paterdale on day three to climb the two remaining fells there (neither of which was visible from the car).

As I drove, my peripheral vision had the mesmerising treat of the louring silhouettes of all the surrounding mountains. They seemed so rich in shape, so alluring in their half-caught forms as I still, partially at least, concentrated on the road; so impressive and mysterious. I was in love with each one of them. I couldn’t actually name any of them whilst driving, not without contextualising them in relation to each other, but they all called to me of a world of wonder. It was with a sense of awe and humility that I realised I had climbed every single one. I became teary as I drove and realised this was going to be quite an emotional journey. If I refer to the feeling of knowing I had climbed each one as “satisfaction”, you will see that the chosen word has nothing to do with “achievement”, but something far deeper.

 En route to Tarn Crag for another dawn sunrise
My physical abilities, sure, enable what I was feeling, but they were no end in themselves. I simply love to go upwards, and have a keen sense of, and attachment to, place. In the Lakes, I love both ridges and summits, I love the sheep that inhabit the high places, the wind in my face and time to think. I love the independence of self-propelled navigation. I love the complexity of the bumpy, glaciated terrain that makes it so interesting and casts so many wonderful shadows, the numerous shades of green on a single mountain, and the fabulous moody clouds that so often accompany my efforts.

Stickle Tarn, pre-dawn.
I also love the way you can be out on a truly foul day, minding your own business in a pea-soup fog, and out of the gloom a shape might appear that turns out to be a human form. I don’t regard this as an intrusion on my solitude (especially as I have been lucky enough to have these encounters in saddles rather than on summits). I love connecting with other people who are obviously as mad as I am. Other times, the shapes are just sheep; I greet them too.

Sourmilk Gill. Grey Knotts behind. Taken while climbing Base Brown.
At lunch or in the evenings, in the pubs over soup or steak pie, conversations begin easily with strangers whose kindred spirit to mine is signalled by their boots, or the pile of maps beside them on the table, or a fine specimen of a camera. I enjoy the camaraderie. We compare routes or destinations, or discuss the merits of ViewRanger.

Pavey Ark from Stickle Tarn.
I have now completed all the Wainwrights, but am all too aware that my relationship to these wonderful mountains is only “party deep”. We have met once, over cocktails. I don’t know them with the kind of intimacy that comes with a longer, less superficial relationship. As a result, I have already started on round 2 of the Wainwrights. Old friends are good friends. I am enjoying deepening my acquaintance. Some fells I climbed first with my husband when we were little university students. I have forgotten many details. It is great to be reminded of my first encounter.

Some of the first of my round two list were Maiden Moor, High Spy and Dale Head. I repeatedly ran up these for training in the early 1990s, fabulous inclines to make me fit for the approaching World Championships, my focus at that time. Now I walked up carrying my full-frame DSLR and tripod. For the first time, I photographed them. For the first time, I took in their detailed structure. In the nineties, of course I noticed the fabulous views over the edge that they offered, but this time I had more time to appreciate it. No World Championships were pressurising my horizons this time.

I can’t wait to repeat old friends like Fairfield, Robinson, Great and Green Gable, Haystacks – all fells that I did a long, long time ago, and many of which I didn’t even photograph, as photos were exorbitantly expensive back then in film days, and on a student budget. I am excited. Completion is a new beginning, not an end.

ENGLAND Lake District 2016

England, Lake District, 2016

We’d been travelling for forty hours, which included the couple-of-hours’ drive from Manchester to the Lakes. After an alfresco pub dinner, I needed to stretch my legs, so climbed the first mountain that night: Troutbeck Tongue.
Fells Walking in the Lake District, 2016 version. Wainwrights.
We first visited the Lake District BC (Before Children), influenced in our choice by the English Romantic poets we’d studied at Uni. We came straight from Switzerland, but the height difference didn’t bother me at all and neither did the lack of a jagged, diamond-shaped summit.
Scene out our window at Maggs Howe, Kentmere  our first base this year  a lovely B&B with a huge “sun” room for reading, and magnificent breakfasts. We loved our veggie lasagne dinner too.
What impressed me far more was the intricacy of the glaciated lumps and bumps that produced interesting shadows and changes in the theme of green. The stone walls and sheep, quaint villages and lakes all added their charm. It was like drinking pinot grigio instead of cordial; I enjoy subtler flavours. The only boring bit was that the wretched people spoke English, but I guess they can’t be abused for that.
Setting out for the first peak on the Kentmere Seven: Shipman Knotts. It’s lovely when the people who run your B&B know the fells too. I had laid out the map on the breakfast table before setting out, showing Christine (Magg’s Howe) my intended route. She nodded her approval. Richard at Scales Farm did the same, and loved talking maps and routes with me in the evening. The English actually navigate their fells: they don’t just go baa behind a leader. I like it. 

We climbed many peaks that first trip; I climbed more later as an athlete training and competing in the area (not many more, actually: I was like a record stuck in the groove of running from Derwent Water up Cat Bells to Dale Head each day. I couldn’t get enough of that particular view. It seemed the perfect workout). Meanwhile, we had fallen in love with the sensitivity to nature and the sense of humour of a guy called Alfred Wainwright whose Coast to Coast and The Penine Way books we’d chucklingly devoured when we did those walks, so we now bought the whole of his collection on the English peaks, called after him, the Wainwrights. A Wainwright is, quite simply, a mountain that has made it into his books. It seems that a lot more people than just us liked this guy’s taste when it came to beauty.


After I bought the books (2012), I began ticking in the index at the back the ones I’d climbed. Uh oh. You guessed. I decided I wanted no black spaces in those indexes. I became a collector of Wainwrights. 2014 was the first trip where I actually began systematically to mop up spare mountains lying, accidentally neglected, about the place. I continued my cleaning operations last year and again this year, managing around 35 or so new mountains each eight-day visit. 

 Steel Knotts

A wonderful aspect of this completing game, both in Tasmania and England, is that it propels you to climb peaks that you might otherwise dismiss as being too easy, too foreboding, too boring or too far away. They must all be climbed, and ultimately, each one, however dull it may seem before you get to meet it properly, has a story which is worth knowing. So, in 2014 I found myself climbing mountains that had looked formidably steep or high from face on. Both abroad and at home, I have had to have a massive redefinition of “can’t do”. With map and compass I go out in any weather; after all, clouds are interesting, and mist is wonderfully moody. There’s a Wuthering Heights-type wildness up there alone in the windswept tops by yourself. 

Beginning my final peak for this morning: Hallin Fell, looking back at Beda Fell, which I would climb the next day (for the second time) before breakfast.

I am now in the endgame of this mission. This 2016 trip was carefully planned, and next year’s trip is mapped out already. I know the order in which I’ll climb my remaining peaks, and the particular base I’ll use for each cluster.

Setting out for Beda Fell as the sun peeps around the corner. Ullswater below.
You have to be systematic in the endgame, as accidentally leaving one mountain out could require an extra trip to the UK – a rather expensive omission – or, even if you’ve allowed enough additional days for error, if you’ve planned for and booked the next base, you might be geographically stuck. Also, of course, it’s unnecessary to pay for fourteen days when you can get the job finished in nine. I have treated the whole matter as a quasi rogaining exercise, and I believe I’ve grouped the residue mountains in the best way. Had I known I would end up collecting Wainwrights, I would have been a lot less random and haphazard at the start, when I just chose the shapes that pleased and went up them.
On Beda Fell
I’ve really enjoyed being challenged to climb mountains that didn’t initially appeal. Life and nature are full of variety, and it’s not good to only do our single favourite activity, or eat our most preferred dinner each night – or to only mix with a single kind of person. We become narrow and unhealthy in several ways. Fresh elements are required in any system to keep it functioning well, Climbing mountains that I thought were too dull is part of imbibing life’s variety. Sometimes these “ugly ducklings” offered an unexpected surprise; they were always an experience to be valued as enriching my life with their tiny dose of added complexity. As Niklas Luhmann correctly says, there is nothing with absolutely no meaning: even “meaningless” has a meaning.
The moody lower slopes of Blencathra, stage lit on the ridge with a single shaft of light.

 My favourite mountain this year was Blencathra, full of drama and mystique, shrouded in thick cloud. A popular mountain due to its height and bulk, I had it all to myself that day (as long as you don’t count sheep). The monster drop over the sharp edge of the summit ridge, should you get careless and accidentally step off the mountain, would be every bit as deadly as falling off the Matterhorn (I am not actually sure how people manage to accidentally step off a mountain, even in thick mist, but I have a friend who died that way, so it is possible, even if beyond my comprehension). 

This is not the steep drop to which I was referring, but you can see that even the “gentle” slopes of Blencathra are pretty steep.

My two favourite routes were the Kentmere Seven (in which I climbed eight, so I’m not sure which one gets kicked out of the in-group), and a route I did above Ullswater that took in Arthurs Pike, Bonscale Pike, Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill, (Brownthwaite Crag), Steel Knotts and Hallin Fell (starting from Sharrow Bay), with brilliant vistas nearly the whole way. For all routes, I was back at base for lunch with my husband who had left home so stressed that not even the beauty of England and removal from his work could help him regain his composure. Sadly, he only climbed three of my thirty-seven mountains, and spent many days sleeping. He was anxious and uncomfortable away from home, and wanted to return, so I arranged for him to go back early. It is with huge sadness that I realise this was probably our last attempt at travelling together. He was always an intrepid adventurer, but now his illness is catching up with him. Thank goodness we did so very much together while we could.

Across the road from our accommodation at Bassenthwaite
On the first day in England, I met my counterpart, David Purchase, who keeps records of the completers of the Wainwrights, who had helped me as I researched information for my recent article in Wild magazine (issue 153 if you’d like to get a copy). It was fun to meet him in the flesh after writing emails for half a year. When I complete the Wainwrights next visit, I will be the first non-European to do so, and David will climb my final mountain with me. That will be fun.
The scenery on my final cluster of three mountains for this visit, and my husband is with me. 
And here he is at the summit of his third and final mountain for the trip. He then went back to the car while I continued to do more.
If you’re planning on being in England June next year, maybe you’d like to join us on top to celebrate. I’ve chosen a nice doable mountain for the final one, just in case Bruce decides he can cope with Europe, just in case … whatever.

Post script. I have realised, a week after publishing this, that I have not expressed my gratitude to a person I have never met, but to whom I am greatly indebted in this venture: David Hall of http://www.davidhalllakedistrictwalks.co.uk. The old name for his site was walkthefells. David publishes his various routes up each fell (with times and distances), and gives advice on parking. Not knowing the area, I find his parking hints to be indispensable, and his routes always make interesting (map) reading. I love staring at maps, imagining myself walking along the route indicated by the colourful line crossing its features. His pictures are wonderful. The site makes great browsing, even if you don’t ever want to visit the Lakes.

ENGLAND Lake District 2015

Helm Crag. A pre-breakfast climb to begin our trip

I am trying to climb all the Wainwrights (Lakeland Fells). “Isn’t it perverse,” I hear you say, “going to the Lake District to climb peaks when Tassie has so many mountains of its own?” It can seem so, certainly, especially to those who judge a mountain’s worth by its height. If this is your criterion then, yes, forget it. And if lakes are to be judged by volume and impressive dimensions, then forget them too. This is not the country for that kind of importunate drama. However, if you find beauty in subtle shifts of colour and form, in lines and patterns in the landscape, in amusing lumps and bumps as the land progresses upwards; if you love the mixture of verdant green with blue or steely grey, then you might begin to understand the allure.

Seat Sandal

And if you have a head full of English Literature (especially that of ancient times) as my husband and I do, then you might understand even more.

Descending Seat Sandal

“OK,” you say, “a holiday, sure. But why bag peaks (Wainwrights) there when there are great Abels and other mountains to collect in Tasmania?”
“Why not do both?”, I retort.
And why did I get started on this idea of wanting to climb all the Wainwrights in addition to as many of the Abels as I can? We were drawn to the Lakes initially because of what the area meant to the poets who claimed part of our imagination, and have continued to return for what it means to us in its own right: for the nuanced beauty it contains. We lived in England for a while before we had children, and have returned since for a term to do some research at Oxford; as an athlete I trained in the Lakes for a month in preparation for the World Championships in 1993, and competed on the fells I now walk over.
Somewhere along the line I began ticking the ones I’d climbed in the index to my Wainwright books, and from there developed the idea of ticking the lot.

Fleetwith Pike

We adore our lifestyle in Tassie, and the bushwalking we do here, but we also treasure the Lakes and the regime we adopt while there. I am a completer of things I begin, and now that I have commenced this mission to climb every Wainwright, I won’t stop until I’m finished. And then I’ll turn around and begin all over again, just like I do with a good book. These mountains are now my friends and, having got to know them, I want to keep seeing them. Once will not be enough, but I want to taste everything on the smorgasbord before I go back for seconds in any systematic way.

Rannerdale Knotts

Although the view from a peak in Tassie stretches further in many cases, and although the scenes tend to be more wild and rugged, the view from a Lakeland peak still has the capacity to thrill and to connect the soul to the infinite.

Rannerdale Knotts to Loweswater

And if you think the fells are too tame and unchallenging (which is what some say to me), then perhaps you haven’t done them justice, or are judging them without having been there. You can die just as easily in the fells as you can in Tassie (if that’s the level of excitement you’re seeking); in fact, due to population differences, there are more Fell deaths than Tassie wilderness ones. If you find them unchallenging, I suggest you walk faster, or choose routes that are more direct – straight up the face if you will. One creates one’s own challenges in the fells, just as here. I know I have led us into some pretty precarious situations in thick mist over the years, especially on the day a few years ago on Swirl How when my compass said that every direction was north and the ground said nothing helpful at all. That day, a young guy (25) died within a kilometre of where we were, falling off a precipice.

My husband trying hard not to kill himself on the way to Causey Pike. As you can see, there are opportunities for this activity off to the right, especially if you have Parkinson’s Disease. My husband finds ridges like this to be very challenging. Logic says if he fell to the right exactly now, he would not fall down the mountain, but that is not how his emotions feel it.


Loweswater. Plenty of scope for a gentle walk after dinner.

The Fells and Tasmanian mountains each demand a different type of fitness. In Tassie, as you are fighting bush down lower to get to your peak, the going is often very slow. You need strength and endurance. In England, you can run up the fells with your heart pounding (as long as you are not lugging a full-frame camera). You can do ten or more Wainrights before lunch if you choose the right ones (even with said camera) and are very fit – unthinkable in Tassie. Ten Abels might take you a year if you’re nearing the end of the count and have left all the far-flung ones to last. I have a strong, fit friend whose experienced party took ten days to get a single mountain, and it was only 800 ms high (thus not an Abel. Only mountains over 1100 ms are Abels). This variance does not make one type of mountain superior to the other; it just means that the style of walking (and the gear) required is different.

Climbing Long Side
In Tassie, if you are collecting Abels, as said, you must be very strong, as you can’t do it without carrying a heavy pack for the multi-day excursions required to reach some of the peaks. In England, a day pack is all you need. Both types of mountain require map and compass skills.
I love my heavy pack as a symbol of freedom and adventure, but I also love this cushy daypack business for a pleasant break, and I adore being able to move much faster. I feel great pleasure moving quickly, especially in nature.
Crummock Waters – a little walk with friends before dinner at the end of the day in the mountains 

My husband loves being filled to bursting point every breakfast (which never happens at home), and I don’t mind climbing a mountain or two waiting for the very late – agonising – hour of 8 a.m. when this breakfast is finally served.

Crummock Waters

And it’s pleasantly sociable climbing in the fells without it being crowded (but then, I have long since climbed the icons like Helvellyn). That said, we had Scafell Pike to ourselves last year on a return visit. We climbed it yet again, just because the sun was shining when I suggested we go up, and although I’d climbed it four times, I’d never seen the view. Alas, I still haven’t. As in Tassie, the weather changes very quickly. I have an excellent collection of photos of my husband surrounded by grey, all claiming to be taken at different times on the top of Scafell Pike.

The famous waters of Buttermere (whilst waiting for one of the notoriously late breakfasts).

I enjoy the fact that on the most horrid of days, in a spot that you think is totally outré, you can still come across a fellow traveller. Of course you have a chat. I love to meet people who are as crazy as I am. They’re my type. You have a short exchange and then diverge, for there are endless possible routes in the fells. Sometimes you just give and receive a smile of complicity, a recognition that here is another person smitten with the same disease and the same penchant of going out into wild nature even when it’s furious – sometimes precisely because it’s so raging, as there’s something fun about being out there when nature is trying its best to destroy you. That is wildness as opposed to wilderness. I love both. So did my “friend” Goethe. King Lear’s rages in the storm suggest to me that even Shakespeare knew what it was like to be out there in the inclement elements. It is exhilarating (not that Lear found it so). Elizabeth Bennett loved it too, and I love her (and Jane Austen, her creator who loved to walk).

Buttermere again

And where else in the world does a sheep beat you to the summit?
Where else does a sheep show you that here is a possible route down when you’re in a fix?
I love a summit cairn that materialises out of the gloom with the shape of a welcoming member of ovis aries beside it. Unfortunately, they seem very camera shy, and the minute I pull my lens cap off, they’re away.

Walla Crag
From Raven Crag, looking towards Thirlmere

Tassie’s weather is wild, especially along the tops of the southern ranges, and yet it is only in England that I have been reduced to worming my way along the ground in order to touch the summit cairn. Only in England have I been a mere two meters (horizontal) from my destination yet been in serious doubt about making it. Each centimetre was a fight against a blast that threatened to lift me right off the mountain and deposit me somewhere a long way below. If you think there’s no adventure to be had in England, then you just haven’t tried.

High Rigg. This was the windiest summit my husband climbed. The one where I crawled, I had to do solo while he sat in the car and counted the pairs who began and gave up after five minutes.
Friendly sheep near the summit en route to Sail

A note on planning: Another factor required by both areas if you are actually trying to collect all the peaks, is careful planning. I spend multiple hours at home before we leave with maps spread all over the bedroom floor, plotting the circular routes we’ll do each day. Sometimes I think I spend more time planning than climbing. It’s like a mini rogaining competition. Once you’re into the end game, you can’t just haphazardly do a mountain here and then decide which one to do in the afternoon. Clusters have to be worked out to minimise or avoid unnecessary travel. When you’re just beginning, this is not so essential, although it makes sense to have a base and climb as much as possible from that point. Now I am discovering isolated mountains carelessly left behind when I was in an area. In two more trips of one week each I’ll have finished my Wainwrights, and one of these trips will be a kind of mop up operation, like a wife tidying up, picking up the strewn bits left here and there by a neglectful husband or kids. At least these strewn bits are beautiful mountains, but on this trip I will have more than the usual amount of driving. I already have it planned. It is feasible.

In Tassie, the planning has more to do with weather and finding the best route up the mountain, which usually equates to extracting from somewhere information about patches of thick scrub and how to get around cliff lines on the ground but not on the map. In Tassie, other walkers and bushwalk.com are both indispensable. In England, when researching routes, the site I use, which has fantastic information not only about routes, but also has wonderful pictures and information about the best place to leave your car, is the blog put together by David Hall: http://www.walkthefells.net/ . Unfortunately there is no listed way to contact David. I would so dearly love to write and thank him for the fabulous help he has been in my little quest, but there is no email. He has been swamped.

ENGLAND Lake District 2014

Heron Pike (view)

As in many previous years, I used England as a warm-up for my husband – a kind of transition between his semi-sedentary job and the demands of walking all day, every day over mountain passes on the continent.

Grasmoor view

This year, I chose to go “peak bagging” in the Lake District. I use that verb as a shorthand to describe our activity, but as I look at my four maps of the area, with the routes we’ve done highlighted in yellow or orange in a spiderweb configuration, I realise that it’s far more about ridges and routes than the summits themselves, even though we visited each summit in question. The best views and the most exhilarating experiences of nature’s wonderland are often to be had on the way rather than near the summit cairn.

Mellbreak as seen from our window

Before we left, I pored over my existing highlighted routes, plotting the best bases for filling in the gaps that remained. The Buttermere area was a definite, but as that village is either booked out at the cheap end, or too expensive at the other, I selected nearby Loweswater as our first base. Kirkstile Inn, with its wonderful view out our window of Mellbreak, a fabulous fell, was my choice, and we loved our time there.

Climbing Mellbreak

I didn’t want our whole twelve days in the one spot, so also opted for bases in Patterdale and Skelwith Bridge for variety of peaks and experiences (the latter being chosen more on grounds of nostalgia than access to unclimbed peaks).

Loweswater, dawn

We arrived excited to be there at last after 40 hours’ travel. We weren’t really hungry, but had some soup just to call it dinner; we were far more eager to stretch our legs after such a long time sitting, before official bedtime claimed us. Heron Pike didn’t seem all that far away and the evenings are long … off we set, straight up a direct line from Grasmere, where we were spending the first  night.

Climbing Low Fell (the face of Whiteside dominates the left half of the scene)

The next morning we were up at 4.30 with the approaching dawn, so set out walking with no particular plan. We just wanted to enjoy being there and to see whatever we would see. I can’t resist going up when it’s an option, so put up with ‘flat’ for about ten minutes before the allure of an adjacent sharp climb dragged me with irresistible pull and we began a steep ascent of Heron Pike from a different approach, through the bracken and up rocky crags. I wondered if I was leading us straight into an impassable cliff face, but soon enough a sheep appeared and we were on the ridge line shortly afterwards to enjoy a much more scenic approach to the summit that we’d had the night before. We climbed two more peaks before dropping down, starving, for a hearty English breakfast. I’m surprised we weren’t rebuked for gluttony as we had multiple servings of everything available, and cleaned them out of prunes, grapefruit and muesli before beginning on the hot food. The English don’t serve breakfast until the late hour of 8 a.m., so this (early walk + edacity) became a fairly regular pattern. Our behaviour was either tolerated or not noticed, and no one saw fit to expel us.

Climbing Whiteless Pike

As we climbed over forty new peaks (in addition to many repeat climbs) in our eleven days there, I won’t give an account of each one, but will sect a few favourites from the mix.

Descending Whiteless later

In previous trips to this area, we have climbed the peaks (Haystacks, High Crag, High Stile, Red Pike) in the vicinity of Scarth Gap, on the southern side of Buttermere more times than I can remember, as we love that area, but we have never climbed any of the ones on the other (more northerly) side. I’ve always eyed them up and thought them a little imposing; they look very steep and quite sheer from the front. Thanks to the notion of peak bagging, however, we were challenged to try new mountains, rather than keep summiting familiar friends, and I’m so glad to have been prodded to do this.


Climbing Whiteside. Grasmoor provides the immediate backdrop.

Whiteless Pike is due north of the hamlet of Buttermere and looks over the lakes Buttermere and Crummock Water, presenting a rather inhospitable face to both. A direct approach is marked on the map, but not exactly visible on the ground. My husband did not dare a direct approach, and I selected a route that went up the Rannerdal Valley beside the crags of that name and that then climbed steeply from that direction. It was a beautiful way, with a fabulous, narrow ridge before the summit that offered extensive views of shining waters below and layers of mountains above. The grass was lurid green. My husband was rather unnerved by the ridge, but tolerated it, whilst opting not to return home in that direction. Once was enough. Still, there were other peaks to climb before that became an issue, and we enjoyed the views from four more before I showed him how he could get down on a less confronting route. I wanted to see the ridge from the uphill direction and see the lakes with a now lower sun, so I arranged his pickup point and set out to climb some more before dropping and joining him. It worked well. The possibilities for that kind of separation make England very suitable for us.

Grasmoor as seen from Whiteside

The third peak in this foreshore lineup, Whiteside, lies to the NE of nearby Crummock Water and flanks the other side of Grasmoor, yet another hulk with fabulous water and mountain views. This one we did take head on, with Bruce tolerating the mild level of exposure very well. It was the peak beyond, Hopegill Head that had him challenged as we approached. “Where are we going?”, he kept asking, as I headed him for it. I knew it would be much less threatening at close quarters when he could see the route up, so just kept responding vaguely, “Oh, ahead”, (waving my arm broadly), “in this direction.”

And this is taken whilst descending Grasmoor, looking towards Whiteside
As predicted, the actual route was less confronting than his fears. The next question was: “Are we going back down the same way?”
“No. You’ve done all the tricky stuff now. We’re just going to climb that nice one ahead and then drop back down the valley using Liza Beck.”
He knew Liza Beck from the day before, so gained in confidence. From the top of Grisedale Pike, we could see not only Keswick way below, but peaks that I used to run up from Keswick when I was training there (Cat Bells, Maiden Moor, High Spy and Dale Head). It was pleasing to greet old friends unexpectedly, out of context as it were. I hadn’t bothered to look at the map to see what lay beyond my present focus of interest.
Sheffield Pike

My third favourite peak was also done from our Loweswater base, and was the peak we looked at out our bedroom window at Kirkstile Inn. We woke up seeing it and went to bed staring at it, and said “Hi” to it any time we happened to visit our room. The side that faced it was another “in your face” slope, and I knew there was a route that went straight up that slope, so that was what I’d chosen for our first afternoon there. B attempted to come, but gave up when the route became somewhere near ninety degrees and he wasn’t comfortable with the distance he’d fall if he started sliding. He doesn’t have full control of arms or hands, so it was a good decision. He opted to wait for me on a spot we named below and just enjoy the scenery while I played above.

Elter Water
Before I close my account of the Lakes, I must put in a good word for Ian at the Old Water View, Patterdale. When we arrived there, he told us our daughter wanted us to call her. Ominous. This is not her habit. I jumped to conclusions that were correct. Bruce’s dad, aged 92, had died that day. Whilst the death of a person that old may well be expected, it brings closure on a whole relationship that has been treasured for a lifetime: in the words of a beautiful song by Celtic Thunder, “I never will forget him, for he made me what I am.” Dad was an amazing father – a wonderful person – and his model of how it can be done inspired my own husband, in his turn, to be a superlative father. Naturally, our children wanted to cry over the phone and to talk to us, just to hear our voices at length, as they adored their poppa. Ian made his whole bar area our private quarters so we could send and receive Skype messages and conversations, not only with our daughters, but also with Bruce’s brothers who wanted to talk arrangements. Even after we had checked out, Ian declared his place open to us – just pop by any time we wanted to use wifi and use his facilities. He was very supportive, and refused to appear put out by the fact that most of these conversations were taking place at midnight English time, and that he was being inconvenienced by it. The staff at Skelwith Bridge Hotel, two days later, were similarly very understanding and tolerant of phone calls coming into their hotel (and being conducted in the lobby) at odd hours. (Wifi in England usually only works near the main computer).
Pensive son. Glenridding Dodd
I should also mention that, if you’re in the Lakes and wondering about where to park to climb a mountain, or about the various possibilities for climbing, a website that I found indispensable, and which offered wonderful photos without overkill, was David Hall’s site, to be found at http://www.davidhalllakedistrictwalks.co.uk