The Wainwrights (Part 1)…


Either I’m going slightly senile or I’m not well read (probably both), but in good faith I believed that it was Wainwright who wrote “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, a poem penned centuries ago amongst the rolling fells of the Lake District in Cumbria, arguably the most majestic of all landscapes in England.

It was during a review of Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” last time out that revealed that it was in fact Wordsworth and not (Alfred) Wainwright that surfed the stratosphere between Coniston and Keswick.

Then the recall kicked in, one of my friends had turned sixty in July and informed me (in our semi-inebriated state), that a friend of his had bought him a set of seven Wainwright books, and gentleman who I had never heard of before, so clearly my ageing brain had mixed up the two.

To the uninitiated, myself included, Alfred Wainwright was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven volume “Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells” was published between 1955 and 1966 and consisted entirely of reproductions from his manuscript and associated etchings, an output that went on to become the bible on how to navigate and bimble over the not-so insignificant amount of two hundred and fourteen fells of Cumbria’s Lake District.

At sixty and having no walking experience, my friend’s mid-life crisis (sixty is the new forty!) was to attempt to cross off all Wainwrights by the time he meets our maker.

He started that journey in June with just a few chalked off, and as part of his birthday celebrations (he had six different events!), he suggested that I accompany him and his friends on a mission to bag several more this weekend.

Never willing to let a friend down or refuse a physical challenge, I willingly accepted his invitation to join his bimbling ensemble (after securing the mandatory pass out from the significant other) and subsequently did the needful by booking a small cottage in Witherslack, not too far from our challenging walk known as The Greater Kentmere Horseshoe, a hike that would attempt to reduce his remaining tally by nine.

We safely arrived at the old and rustic cottage, decanted the car and packed in the twenty bottles of real ale at the epicentre and coldest part of the fridge. I was delighted to see a secluded garden with a natural seating area where I would take my morning yoga and Wim Hof practices whilst we were there.

As is customary, once everything was in it’s right place (to quote Thom Yorke), we took to the tracks and found the local pub, The Derby Arms, and loaded up on carbs, fats and a little beer to ready us for our journey into Wainwright County.

Leaving early so that we could guarantee a car parking space due to the limited availability in the hamlet of Kentmere, we took a light breakfast and arrived at seven, loading up our backpacks with sandwiches, coffee, jelly snakes and blister patches and headed for the hills.

The last serious walk I had taken was the Wirral Way, a thirteen mile hike up an old disused railway line several years ago, and I went into the weekend with no training as such, just a dogged British spirit of stubbornness and arrogance.

It was clear from the outset that the arrogance was going to dissipate quicker than a fart in a jacuzzi as we started our first incline, with most if not all of the group struggling for a steady pace, with weak legs and a puffing chest, but we made it to the top of the first ridge successfully and then started for the first of the nine peaks.

As we did, a few things happened. Firstly, I realised that the Wim Hof breathing techniques I have semi-mastered over the last twelve months have more benefits, out on the hills inclines are easier if the mind is set to calm and the belly, chest and head are synchronised with leg movement.

Secondly, I realised that the significant effort I had put in over the last three weeks in mind, body and soul control had paid off, as I found the walk relatively easy.

Lastly, it was clear why Alfred Wainwright was compelled to travel from Leeds to the Lake District every weekend to document and catalog each crag, nook and vale, and why Wordsworth felt compelled to scribe poetry and palatable prose.

With the exception of Scafell Pike which I climbed in the twilight, fog and drizzle back in 2010, I had only ever seen the Lake District from terra firma, mostly around the tourist honey pots of Bowness and Windermere. Whilst I knew it was an area of outstanding natural beauty, the view of Cumbria from the ridge and the horseshoe of fells around Kentmere gave me an insight to inside the heads of Messrs Wainwright and Wordsworth. Here we had vivid vistas and luscious landscapes, inspiring writers and artists alike to put pen and pencil to paper to share with those less fortunate to not experience the sights first hand, and what sights they were.

We took the route in our stride and no one fell behind or took ill, quite remarkable really with no real preparation and two hundred and sixteen years of age spread across just four ageing/aged bodies.

We took our lunch and I was glad to fire up my trust Coleman stove which had not been used for several years, it’s beauty personified in the roar of its flame in abject silence atop peak number four.

What was more disappointing was the fact that I had left the freshly ground coffee beans in the cottage, so the inaugural cup of “Aeropress at Altitude” would have to wait another twenty four hours.

With lunch safely tucked away inside of us rather than outside of us, we headed over the connecting ridge to bag peaks five to nine, a tremendous achievement for our new rambling posse, clocking up thirty seven thousand steps over twenty five kilometres and spinning the Apple health circles faster than a Catherine Wheel on bonfire night.

It is, apparently, customary to document evidence of the successful bagging of a Wainwright, so we decided to do that via the medium of selfies and fingers:

W1: Yoke
W2: Ill Bell
W3: Froswick
W4: Thornethwaite Crag
W5: High Street
W6: Mardale Ill Bell
W7: Harter Fell
W8: Kentmere Pike
W9: Shipman Knotts

Technology does have a tendency to kick you in the nuts from time to time and it did that at the end of day one. The OS map decided to give up the ghost and there were no markers to get us through what is now known as “Bracken Jungle”, chest high foliage at the end of a nine-hour hike. We found the exit point (eventually) and the sight of a Mazda CX-5 never was so good as we collapsed and drifted back to the cottage and the Derby Arms for beers and a well earned pizza.

Needless to say the gang started to flag around eight thirty so we took ourselves back to the cottage, finished off the remaining ale and took in a late showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Day two started off with a bang(ers), with me knocking out the mother of all Full English breakfasts for the gang, and after packing up and waving a fond farewell to the cottage, we took to the road and Troutbeck for a quick three hour trek, to bag our final Wainwright of the weekend, Wansfell.

W10: Wansfell

With the disappointment on the lack of Aeropress Altitude weighing heavily on my mind still from the previous day, I quickly set up my tropospheric barista to try and regain some respect from party members and I did not disappoint, the Smoking Hot Java coffee oozing through the press with an air of aristocracy about it, with the end product fit for kings and queens.

And with that, our journey was over, a whirlwind tour of the Far Eastern Fells was done and we had bagged ten Wainwrights in the first weekend.

So there we have it, first weekend, which roughly translates as “I’m going to bag all two hundred and fourteen Wainwrights, only two hundred and three to go”…

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