Chapter 1 Arnison Crag
Naked Ramblers, Churdle Snigging, Pink Sheep, Scree Surfers, Sheep Tipping, all this was to come… it is June 2007 and my Lake District fell-walking experience is virtually nil.
I had climbed one Lake District peak and had done the ‘Three Peaks of Yorkshire’ (Ingleborough, Penyghent and Whernside) many years ago.
I should be able to manage a few Lake District Fells at least. After all, hadn’t there been a nine-year old boy on the news just the other day who had completed all 214 Wainwright’s?
What would the climbs be like? How rocky and dangerous would the journey be? I had absolutely no idea.
In my posession previously was one volume of A W Wainwright’s ‘Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells’ It was book four, ‘The Southern Fells,’ and there was a little tick against the ‘Crinkle Crags’ which I had climbed in 1986. I now had all seven volumes, I was committed.
Since then I had been absent from the Lakes, but I had decided that it would be nice to have a go and see what I could achieve. I didn’t have a plan, I would just do it.
I liked the idea of a walk near Ullswater which was one of my favourite areas. So, for my first peak I chose a reasonably small Wainwright, Arnison Crag. This was near to the bottom of the list of ‘peaks by height’ and so shouldn’t be a problem. There were also other reasons, I was very unfit (due to my driving job). I had some sciatica at present and I wasn’t sure that I was even capable of the climb. The leg and back pain had been lurking around for a few months now, even after ten sessions of Physio, but felt reasonably OK at the moment.
I had kitted myself out with hiking trousers, fleece etc.and had all the safety items I would need. First aid kit, painkillers, compass. map, the Wainwright book of this fell, some cola, tuna sandwiches, a couple of choc bars, an apple, waterproof coat, waterproof trousers, stick, small penknife, whistle, mobile phone, camera and spare batteries for the camera. The Minolta camera was a recent one with 4 megapixels and a zoom lens, the digital age had arrived and my old Nikon SLR cameras were languishing in a box somewhere.
Arnison Crag isn’t the best known crag in the lakes and the day looked a bit rainy. I headed off anyway. There were lovely views over Ullswater on the way and quite soon had to go left under a massive tree and the directions took me alongside a substantial drystone wall which seemed to be going to the summit also. The climb was quite steep, there was a rocky outcrop halfway up, but this was not the summit, more of a view-point.
I was feeling dizzy and faint by now, so the viewpoint was welcome. There was a familiar twinge of Sciatica so I swallowed a 200mg Ibuprofen. Was this all going to be too much for me? I recalled a team-building exercise I had been on in the Brecon Beacons climbing Pen y Fan (the highest peak in South Wales) and one of the group had also had a lack of energy which had been helped by chocolate. I ate a mars bar and had a drink of sugary cola, thinking that I should have had these earlier in the walk.
When I was on the farm in my childhood, my dad had a saying “what’ll fatch a thing on will tak it off'” which (roughly translated) meant that if you had backache etc., then ‘keep working and it will mend.’ Whether this was to stop us getting out of our chores or not I’m not sure, but recently there has been more and more emphasis in the medical press to keep exercising with virtually any condition and it will stop the muscles getting lax. Recently there was an article which said that if you keep walking on rough terrain then it may help hip joints as the muscle will build up at the top of the legs.
The weather stayed dry as I got to the summit. There were Swaledale sheep around and Herdwicks, also quite a bit of bracken. I ate my tuna sandwiches and the apple. Far away the tiny white-sailed yachts were scudding around on Ullswater, in and out of the cloud shadows. Another yacht had a brownish sail. I took some pictures of the area and wondered at all the peaks. What were they, would I ever get to know them ‘off by heart,’ would I ever climb them all? Was Arnison Crag my first and last Wainwright?
Shafts of sunlight angled down the Patterdale fells highlighting Hartsop village, the peaks were highlighted in turns by the ever-shifting bands of light. The whole area was very atmospheric and I was the only person on this (minor) hill enjoying the spectacle of nature. I wondered if it was OK to do more than one peak at a time, for instance if there were a few in a row – would this count as climbing the mountain? I supposed that as long as I said that I was ‘peak bagging’ as opposed to climbing each mountain in the Lakes individually then I could not be accused on bending the truth.
Suitably refreshed, I detoured to another small hill adjacent – Aiken Crag – on the way down (not a Wainwright).
I had considered that I would do Birkhouse Moor for my next walk. It had been visible from Arnison Crag.
Birkhouse Moor was half-way to Helvellyn, maybe I could continue to Helvellyn if I was feeling up to it and the weather was OK.
At the back of my mind though, was the thought of ‘Striding Edge.’ This is a notorious ridge leading up to Helvellyn. As far as I knew this was the only way up. This had been mentioned to me by a manager many years ago. He had described that on a very misty walk to Helvellyn along Striding Edge the mist had cleared, thus showing a 1000 foot drop on either side. That memory both scared me and in a strange sort of way attracted me to it at the same time. I would have to look at the Wainwright book carefully to see if there were any other paths as I was a Lake District novice.
It was starting to rain as I passed the immense tree once more. I continued along the rocky path which also doubled as a stream. There were a couple of walkers coming towards me from the road. At that point I thought that early in the day was better for parking, being on my own, the light in the morning and the dew was so much better and to top it all there was a certain sort of satisfaction of seeing people just on their way up as I was completing the walk.
I felt good about the day as I drove back from Ullswater and Arnison Crag.
Just another 213 ‘Wainwright Walks’ to go…