Sunday, 24 January 2016

Wainwright away

Between 1955 and 1966, Alfred Wainwright published seven volumes of a pocket-sized walkers' guidebook called "A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells". In the course of doing so, he identified 214 hills and mountains (known as "fells") in the Lake District in Northern England which have come to be known, collectively, as "the Wainwrights". For those of us who are so inclined, myself included, it has become a common past time to walk or "bag" those fells and to "do the Wainwrights".

Not all of us, however, have ready access to the Lake District, and so the process of walking all 214 fells can take several years. Fitter and, for the slower among us, more annoying people have achieved the same thing in six or seven days, but I like to think that they could hardly have savoured the experience. Another advantage about the process being more drawn out is that each time I return to the Lakes, I experience anew the sensation of joy and happiness that comes from the effort of propelling myself over beautiful landscape, with often even more stunning views around me.

And so it was this weekend, when I returned to the hills, almost ten months after my last visit. Having started my car journey pleasingly early, I arrived in the North Lakes in good time to climb Binsey, a low Wainwright, somewhat detached from the main bulk of fells that he catalogued. As it can take me at least five hours' driving to get to the Lakes (sometimes as much as seven or eight, if the traffic is against me), I have occasionally considered some Wainwrights as "expensive", meaning that the effort required to get to and then walk them is relatively great.

If I were to have travelled here to climb Binsey on its own, and nothing more, it would have been an extremely "expensive" hill, being only 447 m (1,467 ft) high, and so removed from its neighbours that it would not have been particularly practical to combine it with any other hills. As it was, I had a longer walk planned for the next day, so this was a bonus. Being only a pleasing 50 minute climb there and back from the car, this gently walk was also exactly what I needed after my drive.

Looking back south over the Skiddaw massif and Bassenthwaite Lake (the only "lake" in the Lake District, trivia fans; the others have "mere" or "water" in their names) having reached the modest summit, I felt refreshed and renewed, almost instantly. The fresh air, the bright sunlight, the endorphins, all combined to blow away the cobwebs that can accumulate, living predominantly indoors over winter, and I found myself grinning broadly, despite myself.

The next day, I walked and walked and walked. I had been planning to climb two other Wainwrights, but as I wandered over the fells, and saw the proximity of several others, I ended up climbing five. I turned back from a possible sixth, as the wintery wind filled with razor-sharp droplets of freezing rain, which pinged harshly against my face, but I was still satisfied. Looking back, on my way off the hill, the wind and rain having abated and the sun breaking through the clouds again, I wished, for a moment, that I had pressed on, but you never know what the weather will do in the Lakes, and it could easily have got worse.

The hills will still be there another day, I considered, and it's always good to have something to come back to.

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