When I started walking in the Lake District many years ago I embedded the days in my mind. I would say, this is one of them. Two months later I would say, this is another. They were days of utter contentment, idyllic joy, which I sought to remember as reference points.
Many years later I don’t recall those days precisely, because they are surrounded by so many more. I have vague memories now, descending Great Gable back to Wasdale one summer evening with glorious orange light illuminating the fells. An astonishing day walking the Dale Head circuit between Derwentwater and Newlands Valley, not quite sure if it was Buttermere peeping through in the distance. It was the first long snowy walk I’d ever undertaken. I’d planned a wander around Maiden Moor only, but seeing the ridge stretching out before me was irresistible. I came down in dangerous darkness down icy slopes. There was a bright moon, fortunately, because I had no head torch. I’d had no food for the long day either. I stopped to talk with a few people and they gave me some spare snacks.
I remember my first ascent of Scafell Pike. I was worried if I had the time to do it because my book advised caution. It took me twenty minutes to find Cam Spout because the path isn’t obvious if you’ve never walked it. Now, as with all of the Lake District, I wander freely not bothered if mist reduces the view to ten feet. I don’t remember the experience of summiting Scafell Pike but I do remember, clearly, the moment where you leave the track from Brotherilkeld and see the Scafells in the distance across Great Moss. I didn’t know they were the Scafells. I’d never walked across Great Moss. That too was a joy: such a quiet, remote, secluded plateau which is simultaneously tame and protected but wild. A year or two later I remember looking back at Great Moss from halfway up Cam Spout, thinking it wasn’t especially exciting and wondering about the change and what why it occurred. Novelty, excitement and discovery is always the best. For a few years, maybe five years ago, I felt sad and flat at the prospect of the Lake District because there was no longer any excitement. Walk up Pillar ten times, Gable ten or fifteen, Scafell and Scafell Pike ten more, Helvellyn maybe fifteen, Great End, Bowfell, Fairfield, you get the idea, I’ve done it all. So many memories. I wasn’t convinced Alfred Wainwright retained the joy of the Lake District as he said he did. His revelatory discovery at Orrest Head, on his first trip, was like me gazing down to Borrowdale from Catbells. It wasn’t my first visit to the Lakes but it was my first moment of poignant appreciation: this place is delectable and I want more of it.
The last big walk I undertook is, I now realise, one of the best. I waited for a good day. I gazed up at Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag above Buttermere and decided the grey skies were not suitable for it. I wandered the valley and came back home. The walk could wait. When I eventually did the walk it was bright and sunny but with a ferocious wind at the top which meant I didn’t get the full enjoyment. I took a longer route turning right at the beginning of the path, going around the back of the hills leading towards Crummock Water. The usual way is straight up to Bleaberry Tarn. I walked that route several times; it takes you up beside a pretty hidden river and opens again with gently undulating slopes. Only then do you reach the ridge, Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag.
The winter of 2013 was strangely protracted, not with the bitter temperatures of two or three years ago but with month after month of moderate cold and snow. I camped at Buttermere with minus two degrees at night, craving sunshine as I ate breakfast and prepared to walk. The sunshine arrived, peeping above the fells and spreading across the valley. It was a cold but remarkable day with clean winter air devoid of haze. The peaks and the long wonderful ridge – the best kind of walking – were covered in snow. There was little or no ice, which makes you mentally and physically tense. The skies were blue.
I’ve undertaken this walk possibly six or eight times, two or three times with idyllic summer conditions. Everyone says, but it really is true, the Lake District is exquisitely beautiful. I say that after numerous trips to both Scotland and the Pyrenees. This is one of my best days.
The strange thing about video is I almost don’t want to watch this too often. It’s so realistic, provides you with such a rich connection to the walk, that it dulls me for when I go there again. If I watch this video, it sits in my imagination and when I see these fells again they’re not so fresh.
For you however, if you’ve not walked here, or did it years ago and have forgotten it, my video will hopefully inspire you. Go and do this walk if you haven’t, do it again if it was a few years ago. It’s one of the best.