For work I’ve been experimenting with visual facilitation techniques recently and early in 2020 I did a sketch of some ideas I had for the year ahead; climbing Mont Blanc, trekking with my buddy Marianne through the Vanoise; going wild camping with the kids; bird-watching; doing a sub 21 min 5km; racing the 3 peaks; living more sustainably; growing veg down my allotment and having a second crack at the Abraham’s Tea Round (mental note: don’t lose Miyako this time).
That drawing included a question-mark about completing my Wainwrights – it looks from the drawing like I had only 44 to go at the point but I wasn’t sure I really wanted to invest the time required to complete that challenge. The ones I had left were not glamourous or interesting, definitely ‘B-side’ mountains. I mean, who lists Grike among their favourite fells or Dodd? Wainwright refuses to even illustrate routes up Mungrisdale Common claiming its ‘natural attractions are of the type that appeal only to sheep […] There is little point in providing diagrams of ascent that will never be used.’ This wasn’t really ‘selling’ it to me…
But then CV19 hit and all those exotic plans had to be shelved, and my work dried up almost completely for 4-5 months. So with time on my hands I focussed on what I could do and decided to pick a few fells off over the summer when our family trip to the alps turned into a wet week by Ullswater and to spend a solo week in September ‘mopping up’ those hitherto overlooked mounds.
It took Paul Tierney 6 days to run all the 214 summits listed in the 7 volumes of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. My first Wainwright was Cat Bells in 1979, and my final one will hopefully be in November 2020 (pending CV19). Some might say that taking 41 years is a bit lazy in comparison, but I like to think I’ve savoured them. And to be fair, there was a 20+ year gap when I did no hiking in the Lakes and I have also climbed many of those 214 many, many times.
I climbed the first 90 or so between the ages of 5 and 16, walking with my parents and brother. My Dad completed his Wainwrights about 10 years ago and invited the whole family (which by then had expanded to include my two kids) to climb his final fell – Binsey – with him. I’m planning to invite the same crew to climb my 214th later this Autumn if CV19 allows us to stay overnight in the Lakes.
You are supposed to choose a significant one to leave to last – lots of people chose Yewbarrow as it’s the final fell in the final volume. Or ‘Great End’ because of its name; or Scafell Pike because it’s the highest. I had never really planned doing the Wainwrights so there wasn’t much left to choose from by the stage I thought about a grand finale – so I chose Arnison Crag which is:
- Small and accessible so the family can come along
- Has lovely views
- Is the first fell in book one – so is suitably contrary to do last
- I also know a nice bunk-bank nearby where we can stay when we go to climb it
It was only when I started climbing hills with my own kids – and my Dad started keeping a tally on an epic spreadsheet of which fells each family member had conquered – that the idea of completing them all even occurred to me. I remember reaching the 100 milestone a few years ago when I took Miyako up Pike O Blisco before a race we were doing the following day (our first Ultra I think – the Lakeland 55km in 2017).
Since then I’d half-heartedly do a few new ones when I was in the Lakes, but I didn’t really like the idea of ‘ticking them off’. Why go to Mungrisdale Common when you could climb Pillar, I tended to think.
Fleetwith Pike might have been the turning point – I remember climbing it on a long hot June day in 2018 when I’d walked the entire length of the Ennerdale-Buttermere ridge from Great Borne. I’d not done Fleetwith Pike before and so continued onto what looked (from Haystacks) like a bit of a runty fell. But it was a little cracker – and the view from the top is one of my favourites – plus the views as you descend the ‘nose’ back to Buttermere. I don’t think I’d have bothered with it, had it not been a new one – so I decided to keep trying new ones in the hope I’d find some more gems.
Ullscarf was not one of those gems. To be fair, I didn’t have high expectations. I’d done a jigsaw of the Harvey Map of the Lakes during LockDown and noticed Ullscarf was a large featureless lump. When we reached the summit plateau in low cloud and read the book for guidance on how to find the true summit, Wainwright wasn’t very helpful either claiming the summit is ‘utterly bleak even on a fine summer’s day’. On a wet and windy Autumn one, in low cloud, it’s drab. But the best part of that day was still to come – when the faint ‘path’ we were following down Ullscarf towards Dock Tarn disappeared into knee-deep heather and bogs. A few peat hags too. My Dad – who’d bravely tagged along – kept muttering something about last having been here in 1975 and feeling no need to come back for another 40 years.
But for every Ullscarf there’s been a Bannerdale Crags or Great Calva – maybe not as dramatic as Fleetwith Pike or the real A-listers like Great Gable or Blencathra but a decent little fell and definitely worth a visit – at least once. I also, accidentally, became the Queen of Strava for Great Mell Fell which I scrambled up quickly one morning whilst on holiday recently.
And – just between us – Mungrisdale Common wasn’t as bad as they said. Yes, we got our feet wet and yes, there’s not much to see in terms of a ‘summit’, but so long as you approach via Hall’s Ridge on Blencathra (which I admit is a bit of a long-way round) it’s a lovely walk. And it has nice views onto other fells. And it’s soft and grassy should you fancy doing a bit of yoga.
Lank Rigg was another much maligned fell – but we quite liked it. Quiet, grassy and remote. I’m not saying I’d chose it over Pillar as my favourite Western Fell, but it was a nice day out.
So there’s one left, and I suspect it might be a while before I am able to climb it with the whole family – what with the pandemic – but what’s another few months when it’s taken 41 years so far…