I’ve been out hiking in the Lakes literally hundreds of weekend now. The first time I headed up there without the whole family was to do a Wainwright and start ‘The Wainwrights’.
I took my willing son Jack with me and we summitted Wansfell (Baystones). We camped a couple of nights and did some canoeing on the lake. It was awesome!
Having completed the 214 Wainwright fells of Lakeland I’m now a mountain Leader teaching navigation and taking people out of their comfort zone, wild camping on an expedition in the same mountains. This too is awesome.
Wainwright’s Challenge – The Pictorial Guide
Alfred Wainwright created us a challenge back in 1952 when he started writing the 7 books that make up The Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells. When the first book was published in 1955 it was a success and readers couldn’t wait for the next book. The final ‘Western Fells’ book 7 wasn’t published until 11 years later in 1966! Of course, I got mine in a box set, all together over 50 years later. I also ‘did’ the Wainwrights in a fraction of the time it took AW.
There are only a thousand or so people registered as having done the Wainwrights on the Long Distance Walking Association register and about the same on the other register of the Wainwrights Society, but belonging to such clubs is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I’m a member of one of them and still haven’t registered my achievement. I’m sure there are many who haven’t.
What’s more important I believe than ticking boxes and completing lists, is the enjoyment one gets from summitting even a little hill never mind Scafell Pike, Great Gable or Blencathra. Not only that but without knowing it most walkers, runners and mountaineers who scale these beasts, these beauties, find a freedom that they don’t have Monday to Friday. In fact, when the repressed Victorian folk started protesting over a century ago to gain freedom on the high ground to wander, they would start a ball rolling which would become the formation of the National Parks in the early 1950’s and a need for a much better, happier guide to Lakeland with the free spirit of those very people.
Many Lakeland guides proceeded AW’s masterpiece but this visionary, this obsessed accountant from Blackburn would produce something that could never be outdone.
It’s not the Guide’s perfection that I propose we celebrate. Wainwright’s Guide is not important to us just because it’s a piece of art, it doesn’t simply matter in our world because of it’s fine detail, it’s wit or the soul that is encased in it’s bindings. Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells should be celebrated for the joy that it brings it’s readers and those that take up the challenge. Alfred Wainwright’s work should be rejoiced for the freedom that’s created, the stress it relieves, the friendships it forms.
For years the 17th of January (Wainwright’s birthday) and the 20th (Wainwright’s ‘anniversary’) have come and gone with a post on social. I think this is a shame.
I suggest we celebrate Wainwright Weekend every year how AW and his protesting freedom fighters before him would have liked us to, wandering the fells unrestrained.
Wainwright Weekend 2019
On the 20th of January this year, after a wild camp the night before under a tarp at Innominate Tarn in freezing temperatures, I took 8 now friends from the Honister Slate Mine on the Hause up to the tarn and onto Haystacks, AW’s favourite Wainwright. We followed the route his ashes were taken by his wife Betty in 1991 via Dubs Bothy, Green Crag and Black Beck.
There was snow on the ground and the temperatures fresh but there was no sign of wind and the heavens stayed dry; the small group had varying ages and nationality but we were united in our purpose. Having a quiet moment at Innominate Tarn where AW’s ashes were scattered we were joined by a group ascending the fell to sing songs in Wainwright’s memory, it was surprising and emotional.
We summitted Wainwright’s favourite of the Lakeland Fells, Haystacks, of which he said, ‘This is in fact the best fell-top of all – a place of great charm and fairyland attractiveness.’
There was laughter and tears, excitement, adventure and love on the fells that day but then this is often the case. I neglected to perform a speech at the Tarn, read passages from the book and crack open a bottle of bubbly to raise a glass but…
I can’t wait for next year when the group may be 9 or 14 or 214! Even if the group is 1 it will be worth it.
I’ll finish with a quote from the good man himself, topical today as it seemed to be in Wainwright’s life back then (although to me he may well have been talking of any of the fells)…
‘For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure.’Alfred Wainwright