Back On It
Back On It – 214 summits in 214 days
I couldn’t resist the siren call of Wainwright bagging. With a good forecast, I made plans to finish work early and see if my feet could handle a few minor peaks after my recent “Joss” run. By the time I left my home in Kendal, clouds had gathered and the promised sunshine looked unlikely. I took the steep Wrynose Pass route to the head of the Duddon Valley, marvelling at how quickly the Lake District becomes wilder as soon as you reach the top of the pass.
I parked up near the pretty packhorse bridge near Hinning House, bluebells still in flower and bracken fronds unfurling. I had been for a few short runs over the last four days, and this would be the first time in my fell studs since the “Joss” almost two weeks ago. It felt good putting my studs on, although as I flexed up on my toes, there was something amiss.
They felt loose and were pressing against my damaged toes. I looked more closely and saw the reason – both shoes were coming away at the toe cap, debris crammed between the sole and the upper. The penny dropped. So this is why my feet got so battered, they’d done one scree run too many during the “Joss”. With the sole coming loose, the toe box was giving too much, explaining how the small stones that caused me so much pain had got in, creating the blisters and bruising.
Yet they didn’t fall apart and held together until the finish on Greendale Bridge. I had run in them for a whole year, on every single fell run, through rough terrain, with micro spikes in snow, through bogs, down rocky screes, across rivers. I reckon around 500 hours of running. They have been the best pair of fell shoes I’ve ever had by a country mile.
Fortunately I’d brought another pair of running shoes, my lightweight “slippers”. Named not just because they’re comfortable to wear, they also have next to no grip. I’ll have to take it cautiously, especially on the steep descents.
Crossing an ancient packhorse bridge, I cut through old, damp, mossy plantation trees, hurdling some of the fallen trunks. A rough scramble up through scrub and onto the forest road. A buzzard wheeled overhead. It seemed to be tracking me, using the thermals to keep just behind me. I wondered if it had a nest in the nearby cliffs, if it was one of those that likes to defend it’s territory. I don’t know why I felt that way, and remembered reading about one that attacked runners and mountain bikers near Garburn Pass, but not walkers. So I walked, and watched it warily.
Once out of it’s territory, I could run again, jogging up the trail through stunted birch trees, making a bee line for Hardknott Pass. I took a direct route across the haphazard boulders of Raven Crags, following trods winding round tarns, small knolls and the edge of bogs to the summit of Hard Knott, the Scafells making a moody backdrop.
A different route back to Hardknott Pass, finding a nice, steep grassy shelf, taking it nice and easy in my “slippers”. It was still overcast, although cloud base was nice and high, and the views of Eskdale opened up on the climb to Harter Fell.
Three walkers at the summit taking photographs, a dad with his two sons. Another careful descent, then suddenly a Meadow Pipit flew out from under my feet. I stopped to look for it’s nest, spending ages looking amongst every tussock, driven by the call of a distant cuckoo. I’d never in my life found a cuckoo’s egg or nestling, and this looked like prime habitat. The nest evaded me, making me smile. I like it when I can’t find them. Hidden nests having more chance of success against predators than ones that are easier to find.
I took a vague line through heather and tussock grass around the lower slopes of Crook Crag, patches of blue sky now appearing behind me. I stopped to take photos, the distant peaks now basked in late afternoon sunshine. I picked up the worn trod to the summit of Green Crag, my third and final Wainwright for this run.
It was wet bogland on the descent, cotton grass in flower, a single white orchid. Onto the forest road below Kepple Crag, the sun now warm, lighting up the spring green leaves of birch tress and casting shadows on the surrounding hillside. Another meadow pipit flew from the path side by my feet, this one with newly hatched nestlings.
Approaching Birks, the buzzard appeared again in the same place. I was convinced it was lining up for an attack. The thermals were strong, yet it angled it’s wings to keep behind me, maybe twenty metres above me. I walked again, this time taking my running pack off and putting it on my head! It escorted me off it’s territory without incident. I put my pack back on, tracing my steps back through the mossy plantation back to my van.
I drove through the bluebells in the late sunshine, down the Duddon Valley, over Corney Fell and into Nether Wasdale for dinner and a couple of pints.
I parked up by the minor road above Ennerdale Water, watching the sun set behind the clear outline of the Isle of Man. It feels great to be back on it!
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 141 down, 73 to go.
© Graham Patten