by Caroline Wood
Surrounded by a mess of pegs, guy ropes and canvas, I realised that it had been a long time since I last put up a tent. On all sides, the Lakeland Fells brooded against the evening sun, their high ridges beckoning. I’d come to Buttermere looking for adventure and I’d certainly found it…
Ever since I lost my Mum to brain cancer earlier this year, I had been searching for a new challenge to give me purpose again. One day I spotted a striking poster in a friend’s flat: all 214 of the Lake District ‘Wainwright’ mountains arranged in the style of the London Tube Map. Each of these hills was described by celebrated poet Alfred Wainwright in his seven-volume A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, hence the name. What the map lacked in strict geographical accuracy, it made up for in visual appeal. I immediately bought a copy for myself and gradually became obsessed with the thought of ticking off all the summits with a permanent marker pen. As I am not based in the Lake District myself, I knew the only real way to tackle them was through intense fell walking breaks, using big walks to take in several summits in one go. For my first foray, I chose YHA Buttermere, nestled between the beautiful lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water. Arriving Friday evening, I couldn’t believe my luck: a beautiful forest to pitch my tent in and dry conditions fore-casted for the next two days.
I woke early the following morning to make the most of the good weather. Tearing my eyes away from the abundant bird life cavorting on the hostel’s feeders, I headed through the village and across the valley towards Scale Force. It was worth stumbling through the bogs and scrabbling up the rocky path to admire the gleaming cataract, shooting straight down like an arrow from the heights. On reaching the ridge, I made a detour to take in Starling Dodd and the view towards the sea, then turned back to walk the famous route of Red Pike, High Crag and Haystacks. It was easy to see why Haystacks was Wainwright’s favourite Lake District mountain, with the jumbled rock escarpments matching their name perfectly and giving gorgeous views over the valley.
I carried on up to Dubs and Hopper quarries, where the piles of slate gave the impression that the workers had only just left. Then up to Fleetworth Pike, my last summit of the day, before a calf-juddering rapid descent back to valley-level. Bathed in the evening light, the final stretch along the shore of Buttermere was balm for my soul as well as my now-aching legs. My evening entertainment that night turned out to be watching my fellow hostellers transform a haul of foraged mushrooms into a salivating stew!
The next day, I tackled the other side of the valley: the imposing fells behind YHA Buttermere. Pushing upwards through the heather, I made it to Whiteless Pike, despite a sudden gust of wind nearly snatching the map clean out of my hands. Fortunately, the weather calmed by the time I reached the crossroads, so I headed up to Grasmoor, my highest summit of the day. Determined to get as many Wainwrights as possible, I then turned back on myself to take in Crag Hill and Sail. Then it was on to Grisedale Pike, which made a fine lunch stop with its views towards Keswick and Derwent Water. My route then took me along the ridge from Hopegill Head to Whiteside – a real highlight, with stunning scenery on all sides and the feeling of being on top of the world. I couldn’t resist making a detour to take in Ladyside Pike as well, despite the steep scramble back. Descending back to the valley, I then headed back towards the hostel via Rannerdale Knotts, described by Wainwright as “a mountain in miniature” and thought to be the site of a battle between native Cumbrians and invading Norsemen in the 11th or 12th century. Wonderfully exhausted, I was content that evening to get cosy in the dining room and be regaled by a hosteller’s reminisces of an epic snowstorm on top of Great Gable. When I finally headed out to my tent, the clouds cleared and gave me a sudden glimpse of infinity: a host of stars, more than I had even seen. A beautiful, abiding memory which perfectly summed up the weekend: one of adventure and seeking new heights.
Now where’s that marker pen?!