Wainwright’s Favourite Lakeland Mountains

View after ascending Red Gill on the way to Grasmoor
View after ascending Red Gill on the way to Grasmoor

“I love the mountains of Lakeland. They have been good friends to me over a long life, always there when wanted, always reliable, always welcoming. I have often sung their praises in an attempt to repay the debt I feel I owe them.”

So said Alfred Wainwright in the introduction to his book “Wainwright’s Favourite Lakeland Mountains” an illustrated book with photos by Derry Brabbs. In the book he describes his favourite 20 (at least at the time) lakeland peaks. It’s not a guidebook, rather it provides some evocative text and photos for each of the mountains along with suggestions for various ascent routes.

The twenty peaks are as follows:

1. Blencathra

2. Bowfell

3. Coniston Old Man

4. Crinkle Crags

5. Dale Head

6. Eel Crag

7. Fairfield

8. Glaramara

9. Grasmoor

10. Great Gable

11. Haystacks

12. Helvellyn

13. High Stile

14. High Street

15. Hopegill Head

16. Langdale Pikes

17. Pillar

18. Scafell

19. Scafell Pike

20. Skiddaw

Walks to all of these can be highly recommended for any keen walker; do all 20 and you will a gain a great overview of, as well as probably a great love for, the Lake District, certainly one of my favourite corners of the world.

Fellwalking: Skiddaw

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“Skiddaw is the fourth highest peak in Lakeland and geographically the most important. Completely isolated by the Vale of Keswick and surrounded by lesser supporters which form a close-knit family group, it rises proudly in their midst like an old hen with a brood of chicks.”

Wainwright’s Favourite Lakeland Mountains

Yet another walk from the archives – and this is the last of my brief descriptions of ascents of Wainwight’s favourite 20 lakeland peaks. An appealing walk close to Keswick, for this walk I used the Pathfinder “More Lake District Walks” guidebook (note: the Pathfinder Lake District walk guides have been completely re-written since this post was first published and this route is now in the new guide The High Fells of Lakeland (Pathfinder Guides)).

The walk commences at a car park at the end of the Gale Road from Applethwaite. It follows a well worn path north-westwards that in contrast to most ascents, starts steeply and then eases off.

The summit of Skiddaw is labelled Skiddaw Man on the OL map and is marked with an ordnance survey marker and a view indicator. After visiting the summit you can return via the same route or alternatively descend the screes towards Carl Side and then follow the path to Millbeck (the Allerdale Ramble). The latter route requires a 2 mile walk along the road back to the car park.

My rating: A
Map: OL4 – The English Lakes: North Western area (1:25,000)
Wainwright’s guides: The Northern Fells (Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells): Book 5

Fellwalking: Coniston Old Man

View from summit of Coniston Old Man

“I once wrote, in a spasm of exuberance, that the Old Man is to Coniston as the Matterhorn is to Zermatt, a gross exaggeration of course. Yet there is the same affinity between mountain and village: one without the other is unthinkable, and both are integral to the public’s image.”

Wainwright’s Favourite Lakeland Mountains

Haven’t been able to get out recently, so yet another walk from the archives – this one I did several years ago. It’s an enjoyable day walk that takes in the summit of Coniston Old Man and finishes with a pleasant stroll on the western shores of Coniston Water.

For this walk I used the Pathfinder “Lake District Walks” guidebook. Commencing in the village of Coniston, the path soon starts climbing the eastern flank of The Old Man getting steadily steeper as it approaches the summit and passing considerable evidence of the mountain’s industrial history – particularly slate mining. While somewhat aesthetically unappealing, the old quarries are to me an important part of the history of the area and do add some interest to the walk.

After the summit, the path drops down and passes Goat’s Water before descending steadily towards Torver.  From here the way proceeds through some woods to Coniston Water, and thence back to Consiton.

My rating: A
Map: OL6 – The English Lakes: South Western Area (1:25,000)
Wainwright’s guides: The Wainwright Anniversary: The Southern Fells (50th Anniversary Edition): BOOK FOUR (A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells)

Fellwalking: Eel Crag (Crag Hill)

Summit of Eel Crag (Crag Hill)

“The great feature of the mountain is the north-east flank, steeply descending in a wild confusion of crags and outcrops and runs of scree that repel exploration; the south face, too, is defended by a line of cliffs and only westwards is there a slope of easy gradient”

Wainwright’s Favourite Lakeland Mountains

Another day in the Lakes marred by rather poor weather – not much rain, but not much of a view either due to a very low cloud base, although the sun came out for long enough to give me a bit of sunburn! Notwithstanding this, an enjoyable walk that would be even better on a clear day.

We parked by the south of the narrow road that leads south from Braithwaite, just after a junction with Stoneycroft and took the path westwards along sleet Hause and over Causey Pike, climbing steadily to reach Sail and then across The Scar to Eel Head (Crag Hill on the OS maps).

From the summit you could return the same way, but we decided to drop down to the west and then loop around north-east towards Force Crag mine before taking the faint footpath south by Birkthwaite Beck to the footpath that passes High Moss and Outerside. Alas, the weather had closed in completely at this point and we ended up curving too far to the south-west, climbing the screes to meet the path close to Sail.

After this short detour, we picked up the correct path and headed eastwards past Outerside and then by Stonycroft Gill back to the start. The Swinside Inn is not far down the road and provides a good place to relax afterwards.

My rating: B+
Map: OL4 – The English Lakes: North Western Area (1:25,000)
Wainwright’s guides: The North Western Fells (50th Anniversary Edition): Book Six (A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells)

Fellwalking: Bowfell

Summit of Bow Fell (I think...)

“…the majestic peak at the head of the valley, the dominant height on a lofty, encircling skyline, its rocky summit pyramid set on a plinth of grassy slopes. This is Bowfell, unassuming and rather withdrawn from public attention yet a commanding presence.”

Wainwright’s Favourite Lakeland Mountains

It rains a lot in the Lakes – something you have to get used to if you are to enjoy walking in the area. This was (another) one of those days with the rain not letting up for the whole walk, preventing any decent views (or photographs).

Parking in the parking area at the end of the B 5343, we walked towards Stool End and then took the steady climb up The Band, passing White Stones and eventually joining the ridge at Three Tarns to the south-east of Bowfell (Bow Fell on the OLS map). From here its a shortish but steep scramble to the summit.

After a rather miserable lunch break we dropped back to Three Tarns but this time took the path that drops by the side of Hell Gill and then into Oxendale before arriving back at Stool End.

Not the greatest day out due to the weather, but that’s how it goes…

My rating: B (probably weather affected)
Map: OL6 – The English Lakes: South Western Area (1:25,000)
Wainwright’s guides: The Wainwright Anniversary: The Southern Fells (50th Anniversary Edition):(A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells): Book 4

UPDATE:

I did this walk again in 2011 and had much better weather.

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Coast to Coast Wrap-Up

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A great walk. If you enjoy walking then this long distance path should definitely be on your list of walks to do.

Stages:
We did the walk over 13 days, breaking the Rosthwaite to Patterdale leg into two by staying at Grasmere, roughly the half-way point between the two and would certainly recommend doing this to allow more time to enjoy the Lake district section and try the alternative high-level routes.

Although tired after some of the longer days, I found the walk quite manageable over the 13 days. The stages we did were as follows (all distances are approximate only):

1. St. Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – 14 miles
2. Ennerdale Bridge to Rosthwaite – 14.5 miles
3. Rosthwaite to Grasmere – 9 miles
4. Grasmere to Patterdale – 8.5 miles
5. Patterdale to Shap – 16 miles
6. Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 21 miles
7. Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 12 miles
8. Keld to Marrick – 15 miles
9. Marrick to Catterick Bridge – 10.5 miles
10. Catterick Bridge to Osmotherly – 21.5 miles
11. Osmotherly to Blakey Ridge – 19 miles
12. Blakey Ridge to Littlebeck – 17 miles
13. Littlebeck to Robin Hoods Bay – 12 miles

Getting there and away:
The walk traditionally starts at St Bees. Access to St Bees is pretty easy via train from Carlisle station which is on the West Coast Main Line – there are regular Virgin trains from London Euston to Carlisle. For example, during the week the 0958 from Euston will get you to St Bees at 1534 (with a 35 min wait at Carlisle); the 1113 will get you there at 1749 (but this requires a one hour wait at Carlisle).

If you are using a baggage service (as we did – see below) they may offer parking at a central point and transport to the start and from the end. Coast to Coast Packhorse offer parking at Kirkby Stephen and minibus transport to the start and finish points.

I had hired a car a week earlier so arranged a one-way hire (an extra ₤40), dropping off in Carlisle (I used National Car – I’ve used them a few times now with no complaints). The walk to the station from the garage was around 15 minutes.

Access to/from Robin Hoods Bay is a little more tricky if you are not using the services of Packhorse or equivalent. The nearest train stations are Scarborough or Whitby, both of which link to the East Coast Main Line. There’s a bus service, but it takes a while to make the trip. Probably the easiest option is to hire a mini-cab. We did this and got a lift into Scarborough (₤25) where we hired a car (I’d prefer to catch the train but the cost of one day car hire + petrol + one-way fee was less than two train tickets).

Accommodation:
This can be a bit tricky – some places do not have an over abundance of options, and the need to organise 12-15 consecutive nights, each in a different location, adds to the degree of difficulty. Nonetheless we met a few people on the trail who had organised their accommodation themselves without too many problems.

The other option, which we used as I didn’t particularly feel like trying to organise lodgings long-distance from Oz, is to use an accommodation booking service. I used the aforementioned Coast to Coast Packhorse, and have no complaints about the rooms they booked which were a good mixture of pubs/B&B’s, ranging from acceptable to excellent.

Of course, you can always camp – we met some walkers doing this, but as I didn’t camp I can’t really say much about how easy or hard it is to find acceptable campsites. Most of the walk is through cultivated land so wild camping is out of the question.

Baggage transfer:
Maybe I’m going soft as I get older, but the thought of humping a full rucksack for two weeks didn’t attract me at all. As a result, I arranged for our bags to be transferred each day, thus requiring only a day pack while walking.

Again we used Coast to Coast Packhorse and had a very good experience – they were quietly efficient and our bags were always at our lodgings when we arrived. Other options for both baggage transfer and accommodation booking are Sherpavan, Mickledore Travel, Contours Walking Holidays and Discovery Travel – I haven’t used any of these however, so can’t comment on their service.

Maps/Guidebooks:
I used the two maps from Harvey that cover the whole route and would recommend them. They were generally pretty good – although not up to Ordnance Survey map standards. This is a moot point though as the only other choice is to carry a case full of OS maps. They claim to be waterproof, but we didn’t get enough rain to test this out, and personally I’d carry a waterproof map case.

For the Lake District sections I also carried the two relevant OS maps (OL 4 and 5) as the extra detail offered is useful especially if you try the alternative high-level routes and/or are stuck in bad weather. They also provide a bit more context, if you have good weather and views and are wondering what you are looking at.

In addition to the maps we also carried the Trailblazer Coast to coast path guidebook by Harry Stedman. This was good for a bit of background as well as assisting in those places where the map wasn’t entirely clear (generally due to the scale of 1:40,000 being a bit too large for walkers – the OL 1:25,000 scale is much better). The hand drawn maps did leave a little to be desired in some instances (note we used an earlier edition – they may have improved in the latest edition).

The original guide by Wainwright is probably best for inspiration before you go and reflection after you return – the route information is going to be a bit dated now.

Gear:
Gear is very much a personal choice so for what it’s worth, I’ll simply list what I carried in my daypack, which was a Berghaus 64Zero, a very simple and light daypack:

* Beanie and/or sun-hat
* Gloves
* Thin long-sleeved top
* Windstopper Soft-Shell jacket (by Paddy Pallin – the current model is the Catalyst)
* Lightweight Gore-Tex waterproof jacket (Berghaus Extreme Light)
* Gore-tex waterproof over trousers (by Paddy Pallin)

In addition I carried a vacuum flask for a morning cuppa + water and food for lunch and some sunscreen. Round my neck was a Nikon D40 SLR camera fitted with Nikon’s superb 18-200mm DX VR lens.

All of this gear was used at some point during the walk. The soft-shell jacket and waterproof jacket were used quite frequently; the gloves got used once (up on Helvellyn).

I wore Brasher Supalite boots on days 2-5, the other days I wore a pair of Scarpa Enigma XCR shoes which also served as a pair of casual shoes for the rest of my holiday. I could have easily survived with just the Scarpa shoes, which come highly recommended. The extra ankle support and sturdiness of the Brasher boots was helpful during the Lakes sections but not essential for me – your mileage may vary.

I intend to write a bit more about the gear in future posts.