It was cold last night in my makeshift bed in the back of the van. I had to keep getting up to put extra clothes on, the summer duvet wasn’t warm enough, and the cold north easterly wind buffeted the van, finding it’s way through gaps in the door.
I woke feeling the whole van moving violently from side to side. I looked at my watch, 4.45am. There must be a storm outside, yet there was no sound of rain on the roof. If anything, the van was swaying even more and I peeped outside into the early morning light. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The huge rear end of a big horse was rubbing itself against the side of the van! I opened the side door and two jet black horse heads peered in at me.
Surreal, there were maybe 30 or 40 in total, some of them huge, most were black and brown, and the three next to the van kept me company whilst I made some strong coffee. I’d planned to get an early start, although not quite as early as my equine friends wake up call.
The wind had dropped, although it was still coming from the north, feeling cold. I changed into my running tights, thermal, wind top and beanie, put my cagoule in my backpack, and tied up the laces of my wet, smelly “slippers”. I had a meeting in Cockermouth before lunch, and my plan was to bag three more outlying Wainwrights to make the most of my long drive west. I set off, away before 6am, feeling slightly stiff and sore from yesterday.
I soon loosened up. It was easy running, the main difficulty with these minor peaks is in their remoteness. It made a lot of sense to tick them off whilst I was in this neck of the woods. Huge divots were carved out of the grassy ground on the first small descent, the horses had obviously been galloping down here when it was softer.
The going was officially “soft” for me too, ploughing through wet bogs whilst climbing the first one, Lank Rigg. Cloud hanging over the bigger western fells and views towards the sinister sprawl of Sellafield on the coast.
Jogging down the well worn trod from the summit, then taking it easy up the lesser peak of Whoap. From here, another easy descent down to old sun bleached tree stumps, picking my way over a bridge over the dark, peaty mire, made of old fence posts.
The sun broke through on the short climb to Crag Fell, and I took photos of my shadow as I was running along. Great panoramic views of Ennerdale Water, shining below, with the skyline in stark relief. My phone battery decided to pack up with the cold, so the best views remain only in my memory.
It wasn’t far to the next summit, Grike, an ugly mobile phone mast next to the footpath, keeping people connected, whatever that means. I soon reached the top, loving the grassy descent to a forest road, winding round to another small climb through cotton grass in flower.
As I neared my van, the alarm call of a male Stonechat, a chinking of pebbles, perched in front of me in some stunted gorse. I slowed to take in his bright features, admiring his white collar and orange red chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I caught sight of the female, then as another fluttered in amongst the bushes, I realised they were fledglings. Judging by the crash landings, probably making their first short flights. I counted four of them, a full clutch hatched out and making their way in the world.
I changed and had some breakfast back at the van, early morning commuters driving fast along the narrow lane. I made another coffee and sat outside, soaking up the views, reflecting on how Wainwright bagging makes you visit these out of the way places.
When it comes to summits, size isn’t everything, and small is beautiful.
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 144 down, 70 to go.
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.
Late spring snow has hampered my Joss Naylor Challenge preparations, much of the higher route lying hidden under a white blanket for months. Now I’m nearing the end of my training and I still haven’t checked the route from Great End to Pillar. This evening, my final chance arrived. Finishing work early, I drove over to Wasdale Head.
I love nothing more than killing two birds with one stone, and I’d already planned a good route to Great End, first taking in Lingmell then Scafell Pike, bagging an extra two Wainwright summits.
Longer evenings mean setting off for a run in the mountains late in the day is such a liberating experience, as everyone else has gone home. It’s a steep climb out of the Wasdale valley to Lingmell. I followed a sheep trod, rounding a scree slope and joining the main path high up the ridge.
The summit was cloaked with cloud, and I needed a compass bearing to find the correct direction off towards the main path up Scafell Pike.
I’d never been on this path before. The boulders worn smooth and polished from use, reminding me of Croagh Patrick in Ireland, where religious pilgrims climb the mountain path, many of them barefoot. Tonight, I had England’s highest mountain all to myself, alone amongst the clouds. Another compass bearing off, down a rocky scramble to the col, then a short climb to the shoulder of Broad Crag, boulder hopping, choosing the biggest and most stable ones as my stepping stones.
I reached Great End, and the cloud started to lift, Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns sparkling down below. The descent looked suicidal. A sheer, vertical, boulder strewn drop, requiring nerves of steel and the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, not really skills a man of my age has anymore. It was a relief to find the final scree slope, then the more gentle grassy slope to Styhead Pass.
I ran back down the valley, the late evening sunshine filtering through, lighting up the patchwork of stone walls and green fields. I changed, then drove out to the Screes Inn at Nether Wasdale, for good food and good beer.
As there’s no mobile phone coverage in the valley and I knew the pub had WiFi. I could email home to let them know I was safe and sound.
I had an early night too, camping in the back of my van, parked up near to Joss’s farm at Greendale Bridge.
I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, and made a strong coffee. I hid my bike behind a stone wall near Greendale Bridge, and drove to Wasdale Head. It was early, just after 7am, clouds hung low and the westerly wind was tearing across the lake, making huge white caps. At Styhead Pass, I started the climb up the stone path to Great Gable, stopping in cloud near the summit to get out my map and compass.
This is the final leg of the “Joss”. I would now find out what it was like to run it with tired legs. A good rehearsal for when my time comes. The wind was very strong on the summit, and the rocks had a sheen of moisture from the thick cloud, making them as slippery as ice. I took a bearing into the full force of the wind and soon found myself on steep scree slope, making the most of gravity.
On to Kirk Fell, wandering off bearing slightly, cloud as thick as pea soup. Another scree run in the tight gully down to Black Sail Pass, then the long, long climb to Pillar. I got completely blown off my feet nearing the col at the bottom of the rocky descent, the wind at gale force in the compression zone. Stoat Fell, then Steeple were both in cloud, and I made good progress to Haycock.
Another mistake coming off the summit, getting pulled off my bearing by the sheer force of the wind, having to contour back around to get on the right track, then suddenly out of cloud and Seatallan clear in the distance. It was hard work on the final short, steep climb, before another descent to Greendale Tarn and the final climb to the summit of Middle Fell.
I wondered what I’ll feel like when I get here in a week or two, when I do the whole 48 mile challenge. Joss’s farm looked very small way down below. It was a relief to finally stop running when I reached the bridge.
I found my bike, and cycled along the narrow lane back to Wasdale Head, the strong wind pushing me along, making it feel effortless. As I started the long drive home, the sun came out, and the cloud lifted off all the tops.
6 new Wainwright summits, that’s 138 down, 76 to go.
Appalling weather over the Bank Holiday weekend forced us to make our way back home to Kendal earlier than planned. As the afternoon wore on, the rain finally stopped. I had an unplanned chance to make the most of it.
I drove against the traffic into the heart of the Lakes, a steady stream of cars heading the other way. I reached the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale to find plenty of places to park, and headed off, contouring under the crags, jumping over all the puddles.
Water was streaming off the hillside, streams in full spate, from a combination of melting snow and the incessant rain. I crossed the footbridge and jogged up the steep path to Stickle Tarn, a single tent near the weir marking a great place for a wild camp.
The clouds were breaking up, blue sky was showing through. I’d hoped for clear tops, as I wanted to recce the Joss Naylor Challenge route from High Raise to Great End and this evening was perfect.
I found a faint path next to a small, lively stream, making a bee line for Sergeant Man, great views of the Langdale valley opening up below, patches of old snow scattered about. The summit stuck out, an obvious rocky lump amongst an expanse of flat wetland and bog.
It was hard to believe the last time I was here was in a whiteout and I couldn’t even find the summit first time around. It was a short, more or less flat run on to the plateau of High Raise.
New territory for me from here. I’d not been on this section of the “Joss” through to Rosset Pike, and a thin brown trod line marked the route, winding in and out of gullies. It was fast running, and I was soon at Stake Pass, then along the ridge with Mickleden stretched out below, watched over by the near vertical Langdale Pikes.
Someone’s been busy. Small cairns marked the route up to Bowfell, a mixture of steep sheep trods and scree, the views making the tough hands on knees effort worthwhile. It seemed to go on much further than I remembered from all my training runs for the “Bob” last year.
A scramble over the final summit rocks, the jagged Scafells outlined clearly. Familiar territory through to Esk Pike, following the ramp of horizontal rock jutting out of the hillside, a natural road.
Great End was shrouded in cloud, so at the col of Esk Hause, I decided to give this a miss, and veered off right to bag the small summit of Allen Crags.
More dark cloud was gathering now and looking ominous above the higher peaks. I made good time on the descent to Angle Tarn, short cutting the stone path zig zagging alongside Rossett Gill, taking the steep grassy option instead. I ran alongside the path, weaving in and out of small rocks, jumping over streams.
A flash of a small brown bird from under my feet, and I stopped, finding the Meadow Pipit’s nest hidden under dead bracken stalks. Four olive brown eggs in the tiny cup lined with dried grass.
Along the side of Mickleden beck a half remembered bird call. A sandpiper? Could they be back from Africa already? I slowed down, thinking I must be imagining things, then caught sight of two common sandpiper, already staking out their nesting territory.
Huge hailstones pelted me on the final section, urging me to run faster back to my van, then the clouds parted again and sunshine streamed through.
I changed into warm dry clothes and set off for home, feeling an enormous sense of gratitude for being able to live in such a fantastic part of the world. I saw no-one on my evening run and had the mountains to myself. The roads were quiet too all the way back to Kendal, one of the bonuses of setting off to Langdale late in the day.
My little boy Ash had just gone to bed, although he was still awake, so there was still time for another bedtime story.
4 Wainwright summits today, that’s 132 down, 82 to go.
Thick, dark grey cloud hung over the tops like a blanket. It didn’t look promising at all. Yet first thing this morning it all looked so good when I left my home in Kendal. The Kentmere peaks white with late spring snow. Clear blue skies and not a cloud in sight.
This morning was my only window of opportunity to get a long run in, before a family trip to the West Coast over the Bank Holiday weekend. So I’d set off early, and was now parked up in Little Town in the Newlands Valley, jogging up the road, wondering what the morning had in store for me.
Deep snow lay amongst the heather and had drifted onto the narrow path running along the ridge up to the first summit of Ard Crags.
It was shin deep, the top few centimetres were frozen, making the going hard work. Running was impossible. So it was hands on knees, post holing upwards. I’d hoped the snow was windblown along the ridge, making progress easier, yet it had drifted into a deep cornice.
The views made up for the difficult underfoot conditions. Sunlight was streaming over the Catbells ridge, warming the air. Creating spectacular thermal clouds, quickly rising and enveloping the higher tops.
The going became slightly easier along to Knott Rigg, and running became child’s play. I had a huge smile on my face.
Robinson was shrouded in thick white cloud. Wet bog lay under the soft snow. All I could do was keep pushing on as best I could, round Buttermere Moss, then up the steeper slopes, into the mire. There were great views behind me.
Then as I neared the summit, a total white out, the cairn just about the only dark object around. I needed a compass bearing to find my way off to the col of Littledale Edge, following the fence and bounding downhill in huge steps in the deep snow.
I stopped, mesmerised. The cloud was lifting, sunlight was getting through. In seconds the sky was bright blue and the whole of Hindscarth appeared out of nowhere. Again, the climb to the top was an effort, then the fun of the downhill, and a nice ridge run to Dale Head.
Slabs of snow came loose on the descent to Dalehead Tarn, rolling away into huge snowballs. Another grunt up High Spy, thermal cloud swirling around the cairn.
The final run for home along the ridge down to Maiden Moor was a blast, the snow wasn’t as deep, and patches of heather and grass were showing through. The first walkers of the morning appeared, all wrapped up, overloaded with big rucksacs, ice axes strapped on the back.
Catbells was my final summit, looking stunning with the late spring snow.
I changed back at my van, and drove to Rheged, to my friend Peter Sidwell’s cafe, for a strong flat white coffee, and eggy muffins with crispy pancetta.
I flicked through the photos. This is surely my favourite Lakeland horeshoe, and this morning, a lucky one at that.
I got back home to Kendal just after midday. My little boy Ash excited about heading off soon for a train ride on La’al Ratty, and wild camping somewhere nearby on the coast.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 128 down, 86 to go.
I had no appetite when I got up. It was so early. A strong coffee, and I was off, driving away in the darkness. Breakfast could wait until after my run.
This morning I was heading to Wasdale, making the most of my day off work. The plan being to run over the final leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge route. The fields were white with frost. A bright half moon in the clear sky overhead, although there was a lot of cloud about. An osprey at the estuary near Greenod, labouring for lift whilst clutching it’s catch. A nice surprise at this early hour.
I took the short cut over Corney Fell, the single track lane over the moor busy with traffic, everyone driving like lunatics, flashing their lights, overtaking on blind bends, oblivious to the ice on the road. It was only as I crested the hill and saw the bulk of Sellafield in the distance that the penny dropped. They must be on the early morning shift, racing to get to work on time.
Sunrise was dramatic through the clouds. Soon I was heading off on foot, leaving my van near Joss’s house, close to Greendale bridge. My legs already tired from a heavy training schedule. The higher peaks were blanketed in thick cloud. So I reverted to plan B, a new route taking in the lower peaks and a complete circuit of the lake.
The woodland track from Greendale bridge along the stream was edged with primroses, in the far distance the call of a cuckoo. I crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and started the steep climb to Whin Rigg, views of the famous Wasdale screes opening up as I gained height.
A snow flurry near the summit, the first of many throughout the morning. The ground was dry, and the cold northerly breeze was refreshing to run in, although I was well wrapped up. Glimpses of the lake between snow showers, soon reaching the summit of Illgill Head. My legs were loosening up, and I was enjoying myself, making good time on the descent to the National Trust car park at the head of the lake. Gorse was in flower, bright yellow, and suddenly the sun came out.
Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow, familiar from last year’s Bob Graham, the sky now bright blue. My technique here is simply not to look up until I’ve counted 500 double steps. By this time, I’m nearing the summit.
Another brief snow shower along the ridge, then I contoured around the rocky slopes of Stirrup Crag to the col at Dore Head, the rocks icy and dangerous.
By Red Pike, there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Rocks now patterned with green lichens and white snow flakes.
There were dramatic views from Scoat Fell, the northern grassy slopes crusted with snow and ice, rock glazed with a veneer of frost.
Cloud was building up on the arrete to Steeple. Another shower of snow flakes on the fast descent towards Haycock, the summit cloud playing games.
Now you see me, now you don’t. Ennerdale glimmering in the distance.
Caw Fell sticks out, a lonely summit at the end of the ridge, overlooking the sprawl of Sellafield. The Isle of Man clearly outlined out to sea on the horizon. I was thirsty, so descended, taking a contouring route amongst boulder fields around Gowder Crag. Coming up trumps with clean, clear springs, the water cool and refreshing.
There’s a great fast downhill trod towards Seatallan through the tussocks, I caught a toe on a hidden rock, almost face planting, although my momentum saved me, first speeding up then staggering back upright from a near horizontal running position.
A steep, grassy line down avoiding the eroded trod, Greendale Tarn a shining level down below. Two walkers were at the summit of Middle Fell as I jogged up the final climb to the summit cairn. “Go on, how long did it take you to run up here then?” I looked at my watch – “Over four hours”, I replied, “Although I went the long way round!”
Buckbarrow was my final summit of the morning and I couldn’t resist running down to the small cairn perched on the crag itself, overlooking the valley.
I found a route around the crags, taking care down the steep slope amongst the gorse, admiring the many stone wall sculptures, testament to the living legend of Joss Naylor.
A frenzy of small birds were making a racket in the garden by the farm. I stopped and waited, and a sleepy tawny owl flew across the road, chased by a noisy mob of blue tits, chaffinches and blackbirds.
What a morning run – now I was ready for breakfast.
11 Wainwright summits today, that’s 120 down, 94 to go.
I was the only one on the bus. Understandable really, as it left Kendal bus station at 5.45am. It was surprising that I was actually on it myself. A rare night out with Claire, drinking far too much white wine with our meal. Then “one for the road” at Burgundy’s Wine Bar. This turned into another bottle of red with friends we hadn’t seen for years, ending up a very late night.
Remembering a vague plan to catch the early morning bus. With a sore head, I thought I’d spend some time power napping on the way. The friendly bus driver had other ideas, keeping up a constant stream of chatter, with me in full view of his mirror, sitting in the back.
Amazing to see how much engineering work had been done already around Thirlmere, since the devastation by Storm Desmond. I couldn’t believe the scale of the landslides on the east side of the lake.
My new friend dropped me off at the footpath near the dam. Jogging up the steep climb through the forest, many trees fallen over like skittles. It was a gorgeous morning. There was a cold, northerly breeze. Blue skies and hardly a cloud in the sky.
Sunlight filtered through the trees, the air having an Alpine feel. As I neared the summit of Raven Crag, there were new wooden steps and a boardwalk, frosted white. The view down towards Thirlmere was breathtaking.
On the switch backs, preferring the rough, underfoot conditions of the steep woodland, to the monotony of the graded forest road.
I run through the quiet campsite of Shoulthwaite. Crossing the deserted A591, I follow an ancient trail around the corrugated mound of High Rigg.
Veering off the trail, climbing steeply through snow flattened orange-brown bracken stalks.
Reaching the summit, with spectacular view of Blencathra and Skiddaw. I run down to St Johns in the Vale church, taking photos of the daffodils in the pretty graveyard.
I find a path meandering down to St Johns Beck. A dipper flying out from under the new footbridge. It’s domed nest crammed full of youngsters, balanced on the new steel bars underneath.
Skylarks serenaded me along the Old Coach Road to the climb of Clough Head. The last time I was here was during my Bob Graham Round last May, when it was pitch dark.
This morning the ground was white with frost. Leaning into the steep climb, pushing on my thighs to keep up momentum.
From the summit, a lovely run down towards Calfhow Pike. The ground rock hard up to Great Dodd. Clumps of grass, white with frost near the summit.
An easy run to Watson’s Dodd. Along the ridge, visiting Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside and Helvellyn Lower Man.
The mesmerising ridge line of Helvellyn, edged with snow, getting ever closer.
Old snow marked the descent down Swirral Edge. Crouching down, skiing the short, steep slope on my studs, using my hands as brakes.
The haphazard, broken rocks were scored by winter crampons. I run along trying to bring life to my freezing cold hands. From the small cairn on Catstycam, a steep grassy descent down to Red Tarn.
Suddenly I’m spreadeagled on the ground, sprawled amongst rocks, bleeding from my hand. I pick myself up, my toes bruised and sore, my fingers red with blood.
I take a great route off Birkhouse Moor, straight off The Nab, amongst steep rock, picking my way down through the rough terrain. Eventually meeting the rocky path near Mires Beck.
Refuelling at the Helvellyn Country Kitchen Cafe, with a late brunch, a full cooked breakfast, with a flat white coffee.
I found out they’d only recently re-opened after the floods. Michelle, the owner, showed me photos on her iPad, with flood water one metre deep inside the cafe.
Missing the bus to Ambleside by a few minutes, I find out the next one is nearly two hours away. I look at my map, seeing a line from Hartsop, climbing up to Thornthwaite Crag, and along my favourite ridge, Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke.
I shouldered my pack, and set off on my long run home.
7 Wainwright summits today, that’s 109 down, 105 to go.
There was ice on the windscreen, ruling out Kirkstone Pass, so I’d have no option but to go the long way round on the M6. It was 5.15am and I was heading for Braithwaite, near Keswick. There was no need for me to set an alarm. I was in bed and asleep by 8.30pm last night. Knowing I’d wake up eight hours later, give or take. I’d already packed my gear, and my running kit was next to the bed.
I crept downstairs in the darkness. First a strong coffee. A bowl of porridge, then I was away. The sun burst over the horizon as I neared Penrith. Soon I was driving along the quiet road into Braithwaite. Two early morning runners heading towards the fells, one wearing a Lakeland Trails tee shirt, making me smile.
Grisedale Pike from Braithwaite, is my favourite climb in the whole Lake District. I love the way it varies from hands on knees steepness, to easy gradients that are great for running.
The ascent quickly takes you right into the heart of these fells, with 360′ panoramic views. There was still frost in the shady patches.
Low sun made spectacular shadows, silvering the meandering ribbon of Coledale Beck far below.
Coach wanted me to keep up a good pace today. I’m in my final training block for the Joss Naylor Challenge, which I hope to attempt sometime in May. “And don’t keep stopping to take photos!”
A lovely ridge run from Grisedale Pike summit, first to Hopegill Head, then along to Whiteside. The rising sun bringing Gasgale Crags and the steep slopes of Grasmoor into sharp relief.
From Whiteside, it would be new territory.
Descending the rocky ridge, with loose scree, all the way down to Crummock Water far below.
Mist steaming as the first rays of sun caught the inverted air.
It was coach’s idea to drop all this height, then contour round Grasmoor End. Setting up a nice, short steep climb to Rannerdale Knotts. Then climbing all the way up to the whale back summit of Grasmoor itself. There were misgivings about the plan, designed for an extra hour on my feet.
I don’t know if I have to thank the local Herdwick sheep or fellow Wainwright baggers, or both. There is the most brilliant, grassy trod contouring all the way to Rannerdale.
The views, with the first light shining on the new yellow gorse blossom, fields green with spring growth, and Buttermere with it’s impressive backdrop of fells, were simply jaw dropping beautiful.
A photographer’s Lakeland dream.
The ridge from Rannerdale summit was another new one. Soon I was back on more familiar territory. Making the big climb to Whitless Pike, everywhere I looked, a picture postcard.
Nearing Wandope a wheatear with a bill full of flies. Proof of newly hatched young in her nest under a rock somewhere nearby. The short grass on Grasmoor a delight to run on, the ground hard and dry.
An easy climb to Eel Crag. The trig point in a poor state, looking as though it had fallen over, then propped back up again, leaning slightly.
Dry rocks on the ridge to the summit of Sail. A a straight line between the new zig zag walker’s path to Scar Crags. Causey Pike marked my 100th Wainwright of the year. Also the first thermal cloud of the morning, bringing texture to the blue of the sky.
It’s often wet and boggy on the descent to Outerside. Today didn’t disappoint, and by Barrow I was being greeted “good morning” by the first walkers. I had to laugh to myself. They were just starting out, and my adventure was nearly finished.
Yellow green new leaf was budding out on the oak trees on the track near Braithwaite Lodge, and swallows were everywhere.
Back at my van, I got changed and looked at my camera. I’d somehow managed to take 189 photos during the run. I’ve absolutely no idea how I’m going to keep that a secret from coach. But that’s the disadvantage of being self coached, I guess.
I had kept a good pace going though, in between taking photos. I thought about all the hours of training I’ve done through the cold, wet, winter months, and realised. It was for days like this.
13 Wainwright summits today, that’s 102 down, 112 to go.
Living and working in the Lakes sometimes means finding yourself in areas seldom visited. A meeting at Rheged, near Penrith, provided an excuse for this little jaunt on my way home afterwards.
Parking up amongst daffodils by the bridge at Dockray, I set off with a map, in sunshine. This run perfectly illustrates the pure joy of Wainwright bagging. Giving a reason to explore new routes, linking up the three rounded outlying hills. I certainly wouldn’t be here otherwise.
Bird song was everywhere. I left the track and started the climb across rough pasture. The first curlew of the year making that lovely warbling call which always makes me feel spring is finally here. I found a trod through the heather, a kestrel hovering overhead.
Climbing over a dry stone wall, I ran the short climb to the summit cairn of Gowbarrow Fell. The views from this little peak are spectacular, Ullswater framed by the steep surrounding fells, capped with snow.
A winding path invites you to run along the rolling grassy ridge, towards the next Wainwright, Little Mell Fell. It then reaches a dense conifer plantation. I startled a roe deer stag. It pranced across the wet bogland back towards the safety of the trees. I stopped and waited for the best bit. An effortless single bound over the barbed wire fence. Then it was gone.
The path was very boggy around the wood. I enjoy the game of trying to pick out the dry spots as I was running. Every now and again misjudging, my foot getting sucked into the mire.
Crossing the road by the weather station, powered by a solar panel, I was soon bent over, pushing on my thighs. Up the steep, short climb and after a few minutes effort the trig point appeared.
Again, for such a small hill, the views all around were fantastic. A fast grassy descent heading towards the final Wainwright, Great Mell Fell. Getting stuck amongst gorse thickets on the final drop down to the road, making a big detour to get round them.
An old friend I haven’t seen for years was walking up the hill with his daughter and mum, so I stopped to have a chat. The last time I’d seen Owain was in Chamonix, where he was living and working as an Alpine guide. Now he was back in the Lakes, having recently moved to nearby Greystoke.
With an audience, I had no option but to keep a good pace going up the rest of the steep climb. As the gradient eases, the trail takes you through stunted pine trees, pushed over by the westerly winds.
I was now on peat. Wet and black underfoot. The summit marked with a small pile of stones. Ribbons of snow decorated the jagged ridges of Blencathra in the distance.
Choosing the most direct route steeply down and over big tussocks, wild like Knoydart in Scotland. I reached an old mucky track, frogspawn in every puddle.
A short section of tarmac, then an ancient, lichen covered footpath sign marking the way. Across a very wet bog, alive with birds. Meadow pipits, skylarks and reed buntings flying out from under my feet.
Soon I was running around the base of Gowbarrow Fell, joining up with the bridleway where I started an hour and a half ago. I slowed to a gentle jog, taking in all the signs of spring. Bright green new leaf bud, pale yellow primroses and the pungent smell of wild garlic.
I looked back for a few moments at the three little beauties, then rounded a corner.
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 89 down, 125 to go.
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All my best adventures start in darkness. When this one started at 4.30am this morning, it was pitch black. After a strong coffee and porridge for breakfast, I was out of the door, driving towards Shap in the gathering light along deserted roads. I always smile at the ‘Welcome to Shap’ road sign. It reminds me of when I first moved to Kendal. My friend Chewy asked me “do you know why they call it Shap?” I had no idea, and he answered after a suitable pause “because they couldn’t decide between Shit and Crap”.
There was a Roe Deer on the road just before Pooley Bridge. It was in no hurry. I had to almost stop the van. I reached for my camera and as I did so, it squeezed through a beech hedge into someone’s garden.
I parked up by St Peter’s Church, near Howtown. In less than nine minutes I was at the huge summit cairn of the baby peak of Hallin Fell. It was clear, although hazy, with very little wind. The reason for my early start was last night’s weather maps. A front was due to move in from the west around midday. So I wanted to make the most of the dry morning on my day off work.
Steel Knotts was my next summit. A toddler peak this time, startling the first skylark of the year. I took a lovely, inviting ridge line down towards Howtown, one I’d not run before. Then the steep vertical climb of Bonscale Pike, taking a detour past a huge badger sett, hoping to see one. Arthur’s Pike was only a few minutes away, overlooking Ullswater, and for the next hour or so, I’d be on the Joss Naylor Challenge route.
The ground was dry as a bone, and I enjoyed running on the firm peat. A splendid male hen harrier was quartering the ground ahead, unaware of me as I was into wind. It’s silver grey wings tipped with black, then suddenly, with a tilt, it was up and away. A magic moment for me, a first, as I’ve never seen a male hen harrier in the Lakes before.
It was fast, easy running up Loadpot Hill then Wether Fell. I found it easier to hold my poles rather than use them. The ridge was disappearing into mist. I stopped to get out my map, then followed the dry stone wall, crunching through old snowdrifts, towards the summit of High Raise. The nearby summits of Kidsty Pike and Rampsgill Head were also in light cloud. Brief glimpses of the view towards Riggendale Crags, the home of the Lake District’s only golden eagle.
Running down out of cloud, up back up the short climb to The Knott. Across tussock grass, looking for a way across an old snow filled gulley, not liking the look of it one bit. I found a narrow section to cross without snow. Looking up at the dark cave of eroded snow drift above, a man trap.
A herd of red deer, maybe twenty strong, watched me run towards them. They let me get quite close before they were off, heads held high.
I contoured around the steep rocky slopes of Rest Dodd on one of their trods, littered with deer shit. Leaving my poles and running pack by the stile, I ran up the easy slope to The Nab. Across dried up peat hags, back collecting my gear again before the short, steep climb to Rest Dodd.
My legs were tiring, although I was still going well. My spirits lifting by the views from Brock Crags towards Brotherswater.
I could see the cloud was moving in from the west, and with just three summits left, hoped I would have enough time. Canada geese echoed across the still waters of Angle Tarn.
On the summit of Angletarn Pikes, my first humans, three Wainwright baggers from Leeds. “Go on then, how many?” one of them asked me. I loved the look on his face when I replied “Fourteen so far this morning”.
Hard going up Place Fell, with more walkers at the summit cairn. Down the steep grassy slopes to Boredale Hause. I follow a deer trod, contouring to the ridge line of Beda Fell. My final, and sixteenth summit of the morning. From here, I run down the lovely single track path, winding along the rocky ridge, all the way to Howegrain Beck. I couldn’t resist the cold water of the river. Wading in up to my knees, standing in the flow for a few minutes by the bridge. Soothing my tired legs, a natural spa.
Walking up the final tarmac lane to my van, my studs squelching and oozing water. I changed into dry clothes, and as soon as I fired up the engine, it started to rain. I drove off, heading to the farm cafe at Tebay Services, for good coffee and local food, not fancying a Shap lunch.
As I was eating, I gazed through the big windows of the cafe at the misty moorland outside. As I did so, a merlin flew past, almost touching the ground. Another first for me in the Lakes.
16 Wainwright summits today, that’s 86 down, 128 to go.
Sign up to my blog to have a chance to win FREE trail running goodies. There are some great gifts on offer, such as trail running product, entries to the Lakeland Trails events and lots of other items too. On the 15th of each month, everyone on my subscribers list will go into a prize draw and the winner announced on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page, as well as by email.