|I have been visiting and walking in the Lake District of England on and off for well over 20 years now. One of my first childhood memories is of being in a canoe on Ullswater with my mother. I am reliable informed that when my mother was 6 months pregnant with me, we (like I did all the hard work) stayed at the Black Sail Hut. This must have had a lasting impression on myself, as I always find myself drawn back to the Lake District time and time again.
I can remember going with my Uncle and Cousin over Striding Edge to Helvellyn (30th May 1979) when I was about 15, wearing black Wellington boots. Why do I remember that I was wearing wellies? On family holidays in Scotland we climbed Ben Nevis. But what really gave me the bug for hill walking?
Well two things really. As a young apprentice with I.C.I. as well as training you for a skilled job, they also tried to develop personal skills. Their way of doing this was to send you individually to help out for two weeks at either a mentally or physically handicapped holiday home. These places allowed the carer of the person with the disability to have a rest while the staff and helpers took care of the people with the disability. I spent two weeks at the Winged Fellowship Trust holiday home at South Nuffield in Surrey.
These two weeks made me realize just how lucky people with no disabilities are. It was amazing to see people with MS, Stroke victims and young lads disabled from the waist down from motorcycle accidents. These people had an outlook on life that to this day still amazes me; I have never seen such a zest for life in a group like this.
The second part of the personal development was three weeks at the Outward Bound center at Ullswater. Three weeks of intensive map reading, mountain skills, survival skills, planning expeditions, climbing, abseiling, canoeing, assault courses. We did everything. Up at six in the mourning and running down to the lake, jumping in the lake (what a way to wake you up!) that was the summer of 1981. What a glorious three weeks of weather we had. The culmination of this was a three-day expedition leaving from the Outward Bound center and climbing Helvellyn, Scafell Pike, and Skiddaw, before returning to the center. We had to carry all our camping equipment; food, water and cooking equipment for three days, boy were those rucksacks heavy!
Many years were to pass before I ventured back to the fells. Whilst clearing out my Grandmothers house I came across a strange little book about the hills of the Lake District. Questioning my parents they said that it was a Wainwright. They went on to explain about AW and his books. Reading his descriptions of Coniston Old Man summit made me laugh. I can remember being up on those fells, but I can’t remember being able to describe them as he so eloquently did. This got me intrigued again.
After completing various low level walks with friends my eyes began to wander upwards. Soon we were walking along the ridges and summits of Lakeland. We always chose routes with a point of interest, usually one recommended as being one of the best by AW, who I had by now become an avid reader. Helvellyn by the edges, Pillar via the Shamrock traverse, Skiddaw via Ullock Pike, the Fairfield horseshoe.
Soon we began to try our own routes using two cars to get away from the “rounds”. We had some great walks along ridges that you could not normally do due to lack of transport links. During this time I completed the Three Peak’s, Ben Nevis – Scafell – Snowdon. I did this with my brother in law Phil and a good friend Tony. We spent most weekends prior to the three peaks out and about on the fells with various friends trying to get fit for the event.
Again it was a few years before I ventured up onto the tops again. I started to arrange an annual camping trip for colleagues of mine. These mainly started out as an excuse for a night out somewhere different. We always managed to do something outdoors, mountain biking, horse ridding or a gentle walk. The complaints that I received (good natured ones) made me want to do something more. Unfortunately not many people shared my yearnings for the more adventurous walks that I wanted to do. That was until I met John.
On one of these camping trips I planned a nice gentle stroll to Haystacks from the top of Honister pass. After this we were supposed to go up to Whinlatter for a bike ride (most of us had brought our bikes on carriers on the cars) on arriving back at Honister pass I was presented with the prospect of a rebellion if I tried to get my friends to go on a bike ride, worn out all they wanted to do was go back to the campsite and get ready for Saturday night in the pub!
Suddenly John spoke up. Would anyone mind driving his car back as he wanted to ride back to the campsite? That ride was 25 miles in anyone’s language. I tried to explain to him how far it was, he seemed quite happy with this. Here was someone that needed further watching, could he be as daft as me, a bit of an adrenalin junkie? So he and another colleague set of to ride back. We eventually passed them half way down Borrowdale; they were certainly not hanging about!
The rest of us arrived back at the campsite by Ullswater. I kid you not, within 30 minutes John rode up looking a bit concerned. He had had to leave Mike miles back at a pub; he was struggling to make it back. So of we set back to pick Mike up, John was not even out of breath. I was impressed; here was someone who definitely had the bug for the outside as I did!
Perhaps John was the person who I was looking for? Someone who shared the pure joy of the Lake District hills, someone who was not put of if the weather was bad. Further camping trips enforced this idea. It was me who had to restrain John, thinking about the abilities of other people in the group.
So that was that. In 2001 we decided that once every month we would go for a walk up on the fells. That lasted all of three months until the Foot and Mouth epidemic put a stop to our fun.
In 2002 we decided to carry on. That got of to a great start, but ended in disaster. January was Blencathra, never done it before, but well worth the wait. February was Crinkle Crags. Starting from the top of Wrynose Pass, over Crinkle Crags, down the band to the other car at the New Dungeon Ghyll. Disaster struck. The top of the Crinkles was a complete white out. Knee deep in snow and blizzard conditions. Took the wrong way from the first to the second crinkle and ended up in Eskdale. Because of the weather and the condition of the party I decided to carry on and walk out of Eskdale instead of going back up into the bad weather and down to Langdale. By this time my map had been blown away in the wind and I was relying on my knowledge of the district alone, not a good idea. We walked out of Eskdale and arrived at Brotherkield farm in pitch-blackness. I will be eternally grateful to the farmer there for giving us a lift back to our car. This was a double blow for me, it was the first time that I had seriously gone wrong, and the first time I had taken my daughter Charlotte aged 10 out onto the high fells. I hope that I have not put her of for good!
April came and I wanted a change. The Snowdon horseshoe was just the thing. A long drive down to Pen-Y-Pass and off myself and John went. The original idea was to do the complete horseshoe, but when we arrived at Bwlch y Moch we could hardly stand upright due to the wind. The thought of traversing Grib Goch did not appeal to us in these conditions; my last trip up Crinkle Crags had reinforced some serious safety points! So deciding on the sensible option we went up to Snowdon along the Pyg track instead. After reaching Snowdon’s summit we were still quite up for a challenge, so we decided that as the wind had dropped somewhat, we would go back via Garnedd Ugain and Crib Goch. The first part of this descent was interesting to say the least. The wind had picked up again and it made for an exiting traverse. By the time we arrived at Bwlch Goch and started to climb up towards Crib Goch and we could see close up the ridge line and the first pinnacle. As we climbed this first pinnacle (I apologize for not knowing the exact name)and came to the top, we realized that this was an area more suited for climbers, rather than us mere walkers. We had to descend around this pinnacle to carry on onto the ridge of Crib Goch. John went down and around, I went around. We eventually met up at a small level piece of ground (about 2 feet square!). It was during this time that I felt for the first time that I was out of my depth. I did not feel safe. To our left was the near vertical drop down to Cwm Uchaf. To the right the long slope down to the Pyg path. If there had been no wind this would have been totally exhilarating, but with the gusts that we were experiencing it was just too much.
As I turned to John to talk about the way forward I somehow managed to fall over and sprain my ankle. If John had not been in the way and manage to stop me, I do not know how far I would have fallen down ( I am sure it would have been the quickest descent of Crib Gogh on record !). I was in absolute agony. it took a good 10 minutes before I could speak, and a further 10 minutes for me to try and put any weight onto my ankle. I was in trouble, I could hardly put any weight on my right foot. Faced with our location the only way to get back to safety was forwards, so I actually traversed the summit of Crib Gogh on my backside (I probably hold the record for the slowest traverse !). Somehow I managed to get back to the car by a combination of crawling, shuffling on my backside and eventually hobbling. John of course thought I was a big softie (John does not do sympathy!) and gave me no help at all, apart from verbal suggestions that can not be repeated here!
John drove back to his house and it was time for me to drive myself back home. After collapsing in a heap when I tried to stand up, I somehow managed to drive home. My wife kindly took me to the local hospital and I discovered that I had torn the lateral ligaments in my right ankle. Two weeks on crutches and I was totally fed up. Wales had been fun, but was dangerous, I longed for the safety of the Lake District. After another camping trip and later a walk up High Street I felt the need to do something that was both a challenge and at the same time enjoyable. It had been at the back of my mind to do all of the Wainwright Fells for quite a while, but for some reason I had never voiced these opinions aloud. I mentioned this to John, and was gratified to find he had a similar opinion. So that was that. A challenge was to be undertaken, something that we could get our teeth into. Unknown to me at the time, John had mentioned to another friend Sarah about this challenge and suddenly the two became three!
Sarah had been with John and myself on numerous walks, even the debacle on Crinkle Crags, and did not seem put off, so the three became the terrible trio and the Lakeland Fells were to be visited on a regular basis by a thirty something male (probably having a mid life crisis to do this in the first place), a thirty something adrenaline junkie and a twenty something blonde who keeps my faith in human nature alive !
So, that is my story. What it does not tell you is why walking and scrambling appeal to me. How can one describe the sense of achievement that you get when you reach a summit that you have struggled to reach, how can you describe the views of the most beautiful part of England, how can you describe how nothing else matters when you are looking for your next handhold on a crag ?
When I go walking, it clears the mind of any problems or worries that you might have. It leaves you mentally relaxed (apart from trips to Wales of course!) and physically worn out, BUT with an overwhelming sense of wellbeing, you just can’t beat a good day on the hills!
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