“How many have you done?” asked Andy. “No idea” I replied. Ten minutes later Ged had the OS maps spread out and all seven of the guidebook series, A Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells by Alfred Wainwright, off the bookshelf. We were in a Youth Hostel in Cumbria, it was lashing down with rain and we were supposed to be out training for our next Himalayan trip.
The Wainwrights are a selection of 214 Lakeland fells (hills and mountains) described in 7 pictorial guidebooks written by Alfred Wainwright in the 1950s-1960s. He walked up, over, around and between them all as he sketched them from every angle with notes on footpaths, routes, distances and surrounding features. It has since become an obsession with many hikers and fell walkers to “complete all the Wainwrights and there is now even a Wainwright’s Society “!
The Wainright Challenge
The answer to Andy’s question was “80”, with a few having been done several times, some being done with my children when they were young, and many being done during my own childhood growing up in The Lake District. Then Ged dropped the challenge, “you’re retiring next year at 60 so your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to finish the lot before your birthday”! So, I’d done 80 over the first 59 years of my life and had now been challenged to complete the remaining 134 in one year. Bloody hell, this would need some careful planning!
On April 14th a year later, a small group of us, including Andy and Ged set off from Wasdale Head up the “Hollow Stones” route towards Mickledore, the gap between Scafell and Scafell Pike. Our goal is to CLIMB to the summit of Scafell via Broad Stand a notorious “black spot of accidents” for walkers who think it’s a short hike between the two mountains. This is a technical climb, albeit an easy one for experienced mountaineers, but where some basic equipment including a rope is recommended.
At the base of Broad Stand in fantastic sunshine we rope up led by Michael my son in law, and an hour later with my daughter Sharon we are all standing on top of Scafell, the final Wainwright I had saved till last and with all 214 of them completed by my 60th birthday. Time to get down and celebrate at the Wasdale Inn with Ged’s challenge having been met.
I now write this 10 years on, sadly Andy is no longer with us having died from cancer 5 months ago. Ged is having the same battle, but the memory of the three of us creating and completing the challenge together lives on as do many of our mountaineering adventures together.
It was a bit of a mindless challenge as I had to get to the top of 11 Lakeland Fells every month for a whole year, and by the way ……… I live a 5 hour drive away and I was running my own business at the time. But it is possible to do several at a time with some being connected into circular routes or horseshoes such as Coledale, Mosedale and Fairfield. Once you’ve gained some height best to stay high and walk up nearby neighbours. Yet overall I had many great experiences, met lots of interesting people, explored a few parts of Cumbria I didn’t know about, slept in lots of Youth Hostels, and became extremely fit. On quite a few of the weekends Andy and Ged were with me, often larking about like errant teenagers. It was only right and proper that they should be with me for the final weekend too, even if I did have to buy all the beer!