Wainwright And The Lake District Wednesday August 1, 2007

Julia’s Bradbury’s back!! Series two of the wonderful Wainwright’s Walks series.

One of the crew contacted me after my previous article on Wainwright’s Walks, and told me the second series was forthcoming. I didn’t expect it quite so soon, but what a treat: more BBC programmes, beginning with Helvellyn which is what I thought should have been the next BBC trip. Well done fellas, and Julia: it was the obvious next choice. It’s just great to see a TV documentary complete with aerial footage about Lake District walking.

Programme One: Helvellyn

Helvellyn was my very first major walk, many years ago, though not along Striding Edge but up from Thirlmere which as Wainwright notes in his books, and Julia recounted, is not the most rewarding ascent. It was also in rainy cloud with visibility of just a hundred feet or so, much as Julia experiences along Striding Edge.

Looking back on the famous Striding Edge on an exceptional winter’s day:

Overlooking Red Tarn:

Down the other side, Swirral Edge to Catsycam:

And the view back to Catsycam from further along the Helvellyn ridge:

The ridge in winter, looking towards Fairfield:

Down the other side of the ridge, looking towards Keswick:

A photo-audio presentation based on Striding Edge

Programme 2: Catbells

Another good choice for a programme. Surpsingly, Catbells is one of the worst places for accidents in the Lake District. A Mountain Rescue guy told me this, and it’s not because it’s challenging – simply that large numbers of people do the walk, who have little or no experience of the fells and suffer minor problems like twisted ankles that are, nontheless, difficult to deal with without some help.

It’s a nice walk, with great views across Derwentwater and down to the Newlands Valley on the other side, which a lovely prospect in late afternoon light. Here you see the ridge with distant Skiddaw still with a dusting of February snow:

Derwentwater looking towards Skiddaw:

Beautiful Derwentwater, early one February morning:

Catbells across Derwentwater:

Julia took the boat across the lake which, while it has its undoubted pleasures, failed to show off Derwentwater as it deserves. The programme wasn’t only about Catbells; the lake, inevitably, also featured.

Programme Three: Crinkle Crags and Bowfell

I met someone once who described this as his very favourite Lakeland walk. I once did the Langdale Horsehoe, of which the Crinkles is just a part, taking 12 hours which is the longest I’ve walked in one day – though plenty of times it’s been 8, 9 or 10 hours. The start from Langdale is a good one, if you go up to Red Tarn; there’s a wonderful ravine area full of interest. The walk up The Band is a lot quicker, taking you to Three Tarns. Or you can start from the other side, Cockley Beck near Eskdale or indeed from Upper Eskdale. However you do it, the principle pleasures are the Scafells in one direction and Langdale the other way. It’s quite rough, rocky and bouldery, which poses no problem for anyone steady on their feet but it’s not my favourite kind of walking.

Three Tarns, one end of Crinkle Crags, looking at the Scafells:

Same place, looking the other way in the direction of Langdale:

Bowfell from High Gait Crags:

Bowfell looking towards Langdale and the south, with Windermere a tiny patch of distant blue. You don’t get the benefit of this path, which is delightful, if you take the Climber’s Traverse route up to Bowfell as Julia did:

Crinkle Crags to Scafells and Bowfell:

Programme Four: Helm Crag

Hmm, well I can understand why the BBC featured this mini peak, having as it does a certain narrative interest. Wainwright never quite made it to the top, but that was really no big deal – just a small upward scramble from the summit ridge – and considering the real and bountiful drama easily identified and enjoyed in the Lake District, I think it was quite a weak programme regardless of the fact that Wainwright names Helm Crag as one of his best favourites.

Julia was milking it with ‘I can see why Wainwright enjoyed it’ and ‘it looks easy but it’s not’ and all the rest of it, but it’s not convincing for anyone familiar with the subject. It would, no doubt, enthrall the novice and entice them into going there to explore for themselves but if there’s more drama, excitement, and beauty to be found – and there is – why not raise the standards?

I’ve never quite summited Helm Crag myself, because it’s no big deal. I went up to nearby Easedale Tarn, then went wandering around exploring leading me up unto the Helm Crag ridge, then came down again (using the path Julia uses) satisfied with just that. There is a delectable viewpoint looking down into a quiet relatively unknown valley but the other stuff – views to the Langdales for example – are better enjoyed elsewhere. Probably the best fun, when you first experience it, is the views back down to Grasmere which are quite pretty.

I once went trekking around there in winter with barely any breakfast to sustain me, no food or water, and found myself wading through waist deep snow with rapidly diminishing stamina and disappearing warmth. It took a great effort of will to drive myself on, crossing a wild area you wouldn’t normally visit if it were just grass and rock, but which snow transforms into a different terrain. I’m irresistibly drawn to a beautiful prospect, and quite a few times have not been prepared for it. In Crete once my predicament was similar but the challenge was different: with sunburning heat, no water or food, no idea where I was etc but that, as they say, is another story…

I’ll put up some photos of Easedale Tarn and the latter views, from a better and closer viewpoint. The area between Easedale Tarn/Helm Crag and the Langdales is what I would recommend, for anyone visiting this area. Firstly when you reach the latter, above Pavey Ark, the outlook is very attractive and interesting if you’ve not seen that viewpoint – and it’s not the most popular excursion. Secondly it’s interesting terrain, wild, remote, and small-scale hilly with peaty ground and heather, such that you feel far from civilisation very quickly and easily in a notably silent area.

Programme Five: High Street

Good programme by depicting the far Eastern region of Haweswater and the route up to High Street, since this an edge of the Lakes thus giving a balanced appraisal of the area. I don’t think though, they made the best of what High Street has to offer; notably the views down to the Ullswater area. Partly because of rain when they got there – but considering that Griff Rhyss Jones went up Ben Nevis three times for his part on the BBC series Mountain, I think that’s quite bad show. Julia, you should have waited and done it again.

I’ll post some photos when I have time…

Programme Six: Pillar

Apparently this is the last walk. Interestingly, as I reflected on their choices and what they lacked and what they should encompass, I immediately thought of Pillar. Julia will presumably ascend from Wasdale, and its a terrific walk I’ve done many times and most recently about two months ago. It was, for a time, my very favourite; the views down to Buttermere one side and Wasdale and distant Eskdale the other side are exceptional. I reckon though, she’ll take the High Level Traverse which runs above the Ennerdale valley and is shady and quite enclosed, unlike the ridge along the top going up to Pillar…

Lake District Photos


  1. Pete Selwood · Mar 16, 12:03 AM · §

  2. James Lomax · Mar 20, 05:46 PM · §