Guest article by Lewis Jevons
Despite growing up in a walking family, ‘bagging the Wainwrights’ is something that I was completely unaware of and accidentally stumbled into at 25. I was brought up around Shropshire and the Brecon Beacons and spent a lot of my childhood rambling and dog walking. Several family holidays were spent walking the West Highland Way, the Cumbria Way and the Coast to Coast. However, upon entering the ‘moody-teenage’ phase, I lost the interest, and it was only after graduating from university that the interest was re-ignited after taking a casual YHA break to Ambleside in a week off work from my home in Aberystwyth. Whilst the weather was entirely predictable and typical for mid-March, and not much walking was done, I remember looking up in awe at the outline of the fells. It was there that I first saw the word ‘Wainwright’ on a number of shop windows and pubs.
After returning home and doing some googling, I was keen to return and have a good go at the fells. At this point, I didn’t own a car and was probably spurred on, in part, by my naivety: I had no idea how remote some parts of the National Park are, and whilst 214 sounded like a large number, my lack of familiarity with the area meant that I didn’t really comprehend the scale of the challenge.
This is how the project started: no fanfare, no singular moment of inspiration, and no profound awareness of Wainwright. I didn’t even know that he also almost exclusively used the buses. I set out to have a few walking holidays in which ticking off the Wainwrights was a useful way of nudging me to visit different areas during each visit. It was only after the first few trips that it dawned on me how difficult this would be-particularly when trying to access the further reaches of the National Park.
Funnily enough, during this first year, I did actually pass my driving test and buy my first car, but by this point, the concept had formed into an obsessive labour of love, and I began branching out from the Central Fells. I fell in love with the problem-solving and adventure of only using public transport. I was seeing so much more of Lakeland when walking along valleys, following streams and trekking through hamlets back to bus stops – all things that drivers tend not to see. I loved the journey, not just the peaks, and I think a number of fell-baggers get tunnel vision and don’t fully appreciate the whole of the landscape.
Through this approach, I found myself enjoying the guides far more than if I were to have driven to the fells. Guides are usually written by and for drivers, and I often found myself reaching for Wainwrights’ pictorial guides as they contained useful tips or additional approaches from a longer walk-in that weren’t considered by others. These became invaluable when stitching together uncommon routes between fells to get to remote bus stops, and it was no surprise to subsequently discover that Wainwright didn’t use a car. This discovery added a further appreciation for the guides, and I felt a lot closer to the spirit and story of the Wainwrights. What better way to experience the fells than how AW did himself?
It was almost exactly halfway through my first round that the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the ‘staycation’ insanity started. I usually visit outside school holidays, and Lakeland had always felt busy to me, but this was on a whole new level. I remember reading that Seathwaite Farm campsite closed voluntarily because of the treatment they were receiving and stories of Mountain Rescue teams who were unable to get to call-outs due to congestion. I became increasingly aware of my footprint and responsibility as a guest in this area and that local people still need to live their lives as normally as possible. Using public transport was a key way of minimising my impact on the local community whilst supporting a key service.
I also felt it important to use public transport to support future walkers. In Wainwright’s time, there used to be a small shuttle minibus that occasionally served Wasdale Head, but this was cut due to lack of use. There are other areas that are likewise not served by public transport, and the National Park has now started running park-and-ride to honeypot areas, like Wasdale Head, to reduce congestion. I felt keenly that we all have a part to play in shaping the future of public transport networks in Cumbria, particularly as public transport usage is monitored to determine future provision and coverage.
Some of the more memorable experiences from the five years have come about as a direct result of not using the car. I bagged most of the fells around Boot in November, and in order to get to the campsite, I walked along the Esk Trail from Ravenglass. The colours on the leaves were golden, and the frost along the river bank was lit up in the morning sun. I had the most magical 6-mile walk over while drivers were following the roads and missing all that I was experiencing.
I have also had to backpack and spend several nights high on the fells in order to reach remote areas, and one of my favourite nights was spent watching the sunset from Esk Hause before walking over to Wasdale Head in the morning. However, contrary to what the internet suggests, wild camping isn’t always picturesque or glamorous. On another occasion, I got the bus to Cleator Moor with the intention of an overnight camp on the way to Wasdale. Unfortunately, I was caught in a storm with nowhere to shelter and eventually found a ditch to spend the night in, holding the tent up from the inside before walking back to the bus the next morning. I returned home from that trip with only a bag of Grasmere gingerbread in return for my £60 train ticket. I now look back on that evening, like all of the miserable moments, such as seeing buses whizz by with ‘bus full’ displayed on the electronic display, with immense affection and a lot of laughter. Battling through them has made the accomplishment that much more rewarding.
What’s next? A second round?
Whilst the Wainwrights will always have a special place in my heart, ticking them off started primarily as a means and motivation to keep exploring and not get too comfortable repeating the same walks. Ticking them off a second time for the sake of it lacks the feeling of discovery and purpose that the first round had, as the primary goal of standing on the top of each has now been achieved.
On the other hand, I barely feel like I have scratched the surface. The fells were formed by glacial activity and are inextricably linked to the many tarns that are the residual leftovers of the retreat. I often bypassed these as I would walk up the side of one fell and along the tops before coming down at the end of a walk, but now want to explore the landscape from a different perspective whilst undertaking a more casual second round of Wainwrights: I will visit each of the tarns outlined in Heaton Cooper’s book The Tarns of Lakeland.
One of the main draws to Wainwright’s pictorial guides is the personality that shines through the pages. They’re not just a list of peaks and elevations but a character and story. There are many lists of tarns, hotly debated to be the ‘true’ list in forums, but Heaton Cooper’s book is absent from that debate because it simply isn’t splitting hairs over being the most correct. Instead, Cooper sketched or painted around 126 tarns (depending on whether you count several now dry) that were meaningful to himself and accompanied them with personal anecdotes and stories.
This resonates with what I began to see in the Wainwright pictorial guides towards the end of my first round of Wainwrights, and using both in conjunction will be the foundation of a much slower and more contemplative second round, where I explore the writers as much as the landscape.
Main Photo – Lewis Jevons celebrates the completion of his #214 on Rannerdale Knotts.Back to top of page