It all started in March 1999. My then girlfriend and I had just got together and she wanted to go away for a week in the Lakes. I’d not been to the lakes since I was a kid, but the promise of homely pubs and great food convinced me!
I didn’t even have a pair of walking boots, so the first stop was a walking shop in Hawkshead where I was treated to a par of walking boots for around £40. It seemed strange to me that I couldn’t just wear my trainers but I went along with it.
Having had a couple of low level walks around Ambleside (she wasn’t really into mountain walks) and the boots seemed comfortable enough, but I still wasn’t really convinced.
She wanted to take me to Buttermere, her favourite place, to walk round the lake. The place blew me away! I couldn’t take my eyes of the surrounding fells as we walked anti-clockwise round the lake from the Bridge Hotel, the outward view being towards Fleetwith Pike.
Upon return to Buttermere Village, we called into St James’ Church. Whilst in the church I came across the memorial stone to Alfred Wainwright, a name I’d never heard of before. The stone read “Pause and Remember Alfred Wainwright – Fellwalker, guide book author and illustrator who loved this valley – lift your eyes to Haystacks, his favourite place”.
“Guide book author eh?” I thought! Over a pint in the Bridge Hotel I decided to hunt out his guide book that described the Buttermere Valley. A helpful shopkeeper in an Ambleside bookshop pointed me in the direction of AW’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Book 7, The Western Fells. I was really surprised by what I found! A book full of incredibly detailed sketches (I was really expecting photographs for some reason) coupled with descriptions written in quite a dry humorous way that appealed to my sense of humour (his description of being lost on Haystacks in mist still being one of my favourites).
Upon returning to Manchester, I soon had the full collection of AW’s pictorial guides, and began planning!
Despite my early enthusiasm, it wasn’t until October 2005 that I bagged my first Wainwright, Black Crag. I also threw in Holme Fell for good measure. It nearly killed me! I was still a beer swilling, motorbike riding football watching overweight northerner!
My trips into the lakes were pretty few and far between for the following few years. They weren’t uneventful though! In June 2006 I slid approximately 10 – 15 feet down the red scree slope on the approach to the summit of Red Pike from Buttermere (an injury to my hand has never properly healed and still causes me problems in winter). I also had to turn back a few times after suffering from mild vertigo, most memorably on Halls Fell ridge whilst ascending Blencathra. I got within 100 ft of the top and lost my bottle. I wondered if it would ever be possible to complete the 214 at all!
It wasn’t until about 3 years ago, when my serious attempt on the Wainwrights really kicked off. I completed the best part of 200 fells in this time. Iit really did become an obsession!
I got over my vertigo on Striding Edge in July 2008 (although it still rears its head every now and again), and had some fantastic days on the fells!
In the winter of 2009 / 2010, I bought some crampons and an ice axe and ventured into the snow. My first winter walk was in incredibly windy conditions on Pike O' Blisco and I was surprised at how secure crampons really are! I’ve fallen in love with winter walking as a result and can’t wait to get out there in the snow at every opportunity!!!
On Sunday 20 February 2011, I DID IT! I completed the Wainwrights on Castle Crag!
Happy on Castle Crag!
And what about that “then girlfriend” who bought me my first pair of walking boots?
Well…..she was stood by my side with our daughter on the summit of Castle Crag!
So…..thanks Cath, for introducing me to Alfred Wainwright, and for putting up with me whilst I made my way round the 214…… but don’t think I’m stopping now!