Bagging a Wainwright (or three).
It has been a long, long time since we undertook any serious travelling. The relentless nature of Covid infections, lockdowns and restrictions don’t need any repeating here. We have all been through some very tough times but there are some glimmers of hope. The vaccine programme in the UK has been very successful and whilst infection levels are still high hospitalisation has declined.
On a personal level we have started mixing more and realise that we need to learn to live with this virus. We went to Shrewsbury Folk Festival at the end of August and spent four happy days sitting, socially distanced, in a field with several thousand other people listening to some brilliant folk musicians. So now it is time for us to stretch our wings a little and go on a journey. Not, as we have done in the past, to some far flung place but somewhat closer to home. Up into the wilds of Scotland and even across the sea to a remote(ish) island.
It is possible to drive all the way from our home in Gloucester to the Highlands of Scotland in a day but that is something we would have done in our youthful past. These days we prefer to take things slower and when planning our trip we considered a number of options. Driving up the M5/M6 to stop off in Longtown just short of the border or hopping over it and making it to Moffat on the Scottish side before resting for the night. But the option which appealed the most was to divert off the M6 motorway just shy of Carlisle to go and stay with our great friends Mike and Annie who live near the small settlement of Dalston.
We knew that it would be a great start to our Scottish odyssey when we rocked up to their delightful house set in the middle of the Cumbrian countryside and were greeted enthusiastically by Mike and Annie. It was so nice to have a hug – that all important human bonding which we have all missed these last months.
Ever since they moved to these parts some years back Mike and Annie have been ‘bagging Wainwrights’. Back in the 1950/60’s Arthur Wainwright published the seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells describing in detail routes up 214 peaks all lying within the Lakeland National Park. The record for climbing all of these peaks is 6 days and 13 hrs. Mike and Annie are taking it a lot slower thank goodness and have so far bagged about two thirds of them over several years.
This leaves quite a number still to go and it’s no surprise that, every time we visit their Lakeland home, Mike whips out a map and suggests we ‘might go for a little walk tomorrow’. And on this particular morrow Mike’s carefully highlighted map showed not one but three Wainwrights linked quite nicely into a circular route. It comes as no surprise. We have bagged a number of peaks with Mike and Annie so we just shrug our shoulders and say ‘see you bright and early in the morning’. It’s going to be good training for walks in Scotland.
The day dawned fair if rather cloudy and parking the car at Scaly Moss we began a quite gentle ascent to Grike (488 mtrs). I did notice on the map that we could equally have climbed Flat Fell but at only 272 mtrs neither Wainwright nor Mike considered it worth their scrutiny. Presumably too flat for their liking. I think anything below 300 mtrs (1,000 ft) is reckoned a bit ‘woofter’ by Wainwright enthusiasts.
Grike, our first Wainwright of the day, was an easy walk and so we pushed on to Crag Fell which has fabulous views down into Ennerdale Water with its ring of mountains surrounding it. And there are some fearsome peaks sheltering Ennerdale. Mike pointed out to us The Pillar, another Wainwright which he and Annie have yet to tackle. At nearly 900 mtrs (3,000 ft) high it definitely looks a serious challenge. We told them we wouldn’t be coming with them on that one.
Our descent from Crag Fell led into a valley which had been logged out followed by a gentle ascent to Whoap, a peak at 511 mtrs but one which Wainwright declines to mention in his guides for some reason. Perhaps because he had his eyes set on Lank Rigg which was to be our final Wainwright of the day. From Whoap Beck the Rigg is quite a pull up a very steep slope, easily the hardest climb of the day.
At the top of the peak is a trig point and a pile of stones and it is underneath the latter where you will find a treasure trove. Back in April 1965 Wainwright hid two shilling coins here to celebrate his completion of the pictorial guides and for a future traveller to find. The tradition has subsequently grown up that you take a few coins but replace them with your own. A tradition which we were happy to keep up.
The view from the top of Lank Rigg isn’t exactly inspiring, especially in cloudy weather, encompassing as it does the Nuclear reactor plant of Sellafield. So we turned our backs on the plant and made shelter from the sharp breeze to eat our lunchtime sarnies. Suitably refreshed, and with Mike and Annie happy to be able to colour in another three peaks on their Wainwright map, we descended to Whoap Beck, past White Esk and along the bank of the young river Calder. As we walked the cloudy northern skies opened up and the sun suddenly shone down on us. Wainright must have been happy at that 50p I left on the summit!
We were all tired by the time we got back to the car. Annie’s Fitbit recorded we had taken more than 25,000 steps and it felt every bit of the 9 or so miles Mike calculated we had walked. But what a great way to shake out the old bones ready for a long day’s drive into the Highlands. But, more importantly, what a great way to spend some quality time with some people very dear to us.