Julia Bradbury explores the work of Britain's well-known fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright. She is in the Western Lakes to walk to the summit of the Haystacks fell.
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Nestled in the far north-west of England, this is the Lake District.
A land defined by its natural beauty.
And known to millions who love the Lakes was
the late Alfred Wainwright - author, guide-writer and talented artist.
But, above all, he was the greatest fell walker.
Wainwright's guides have inspired generations of walkers to roam these glorious fells
and now, a century after his birth,
it's my turn to go in search of the real Wainwright experience.
I'm here in the Lake District to experience the magic of the fells
that inspired a lifetime of work from the late Alfred Wainwright.
My first challenge is arguably Wainwright's favourite.
It's the place he chose as his final resting place, and the fell on which he took his last walk...
Haystacks stands at 1,900ft in the western area of the Lakes on the edge of Buttermere.
Wainwright made no secret of his fondness for this fell, so
I'm hoping to discover just why it captured his heart and imagination.
These guides have made the fells accessible to hundreds of thousands of walkers.
I've got to admit, when I first saw one, it was on my dad's bookshelf when I was a teenager.
I didn't pay it much attention then.
But now, at first glance, what you notice is the incredible
attention to detail, which I hope I don't find too confusing.
In 1930, aged 23, Wainwright left the industrial landscape
of his home town in Blackburn and made his first visit to the Lakes.
It was to change his life forever,
inspiring a lifetime of work in Lakeland.
Before I head off, I'm going to meet a Lake District local, broadcaster
and friend of Alfred Wainwright, Eric Robson.
-Hello. Nice to see you, Eric.
-Look, we've got the weather.
I know! As long as the rain stays off, we're in good shape.
And I've brought the symbol of Haystacks, of course.
-The shaggy terrier!
-The shaggy terrier among foxhounds.
'Twenty years ago Eric Robson made four series with Alfred Wainwright,
'or AW, as he was know to his friends,
'including the North Country, Scotland, Coast to Coast and AW's final walk, here on Haystacks.'
What was it about Haystacks that captivated Wainwright so?
I think because it's a very special mountain.
It's in a wonderful place in the Lake District.
The views from it are tremendous in every direction.
It's on a route between Buttermere and the great mountains of Gavel and Scafell.
It's just got a...spirit.
It's got a real spirit.
I've been up there lots and lots of times.
It really does capture
the changing light,
those little bits of water on the top, Innominate Tarn, places like that.
Why do you think people still like the Wainwright guides so much?
There's so much choice out there now.
You could argue they're not the most up-to-date, not the most modern,
yet still hundreds of thousands of people use his words and pictures to guide themselves across the fells.
Because nobody has interpreted mountain landscapes better.
As you say, you can pick up any number of daft guide books -
glossy colour jobs. But colour photography doesn't
fillet the mountain the way Wainwright's drawings do.
He devised a unique way of turning a three-dimensional image
into a two-dimensional image that was still understandable.
You can actually see your way through the mountain.
But it wasn't just that.
The big mistake he made was calling these pictorial guides.
Any fool can write a guidebook. I've written guidebooks!
These are not guidebooks. They're works of philosophy and poetry.
He encapsulates all those things in his writing and also he was
fascinated by the relationship between man and landscape.
That was really at the core of his work.
He knew this wasn't a wilderness.
He knew this was a landscape generated by man.
The fingerprints of man are all over it.
It was that inter-link between man and landscape that really made his books special.
He revelled in that and he drew those strands out.
He brought those mountains to life.
-Part of his books as well is that there was no one right way up or down a mountain.
He gave you many options.
All his pictorial guides were...were an indication that you could do it.
Because, when Wainwright started writing his books in the '50s,
the vast majority of people who visited the Lake District thought, "I can't get up there."
Suddenly he produced these books that proved they could.
If you can't go that way, go the other way.
He was going up in a pair of old boots, scruffy sweater and an old anorak.
He wasn't kitted out.
You might be able to help me here. There's one half of me that likes Wainwright - the poetic, romantic,
descriptive man who was in love with the fells.
There's another side of me that thinks he was just a bit of a grumpy old man, a bit old-fashioned.
He wasn't a grumpy old man.
Legend has him being so,
but actually he was a gentle, generous chap.
He didn't say a lot.
He engaged his brain before he opened his mouth, which is a very endearing characteristic.
He thought very deeply and cared very deeply about the landscapes he was in. These places mattered to him.
They were not places to gabble.
They were places to savour.
He taught me a huge amount about how to appreciate these hills,
to actually get yourself out there, time and again perhaps,
to one particular place, just enjoying what's there.
He was this mystery character.
The cult started very early on. People started to look for him.
It was like sightings of the great white whale.
He managed to be the ghost in the machine for so many years, because, yes, there were little
line drawings in his book, but then he started doing the coffee-table books,
where the photographs of him were there.
People could recognise him instantly.
Out on the hill, you could see out of the corner of your eye...
I'd be doing an interview with him and there'd be people saying...
-There he is!
-They'd be straight towards us. The only other thing,
something he did grump about, was people
misusing the hills, misusing the mountains.
He hated organised parties.
He hated great swarms of people walking together. He didn't approve of that.
-Go discover on your own.
-Go discover on your own.
The solitary quality of this place is what he tried to capture for himself
and I think what he communicates so well in those books.
It's that communication that echoes down the decades.
I shall go and discover, see if he's up there.
Maybe I'll see him up there!
-Enjoy your walk.
-Nice to meet you. Bye-bye.
Before I head off, let's take a moment to look at the route ahead.
Haystacks rises between the deep hollow of Warnscale Bottom and Ennerdale.
I'll start at a point known as Gatesgarth Farm,
nestled on the edge of Buttermere.
The path takes me across farmland
along the southern edge of the water.
The initial ascent is a steep climb northwest before the path
turns sharply and heads southward through the bracken-covered hill.
The path takes me along the edge of the hillside,
giving spectacular views into the valley below,
before reaching the flatter parts known as Low and High Wax Knot.
I'll head across the zigzag path at Scarth Gap, where the terrain becomes rocky underfoot,
before reaching a grassy saddle,
from where I have a clear view of the summit ascent.
I'll then approach the peak via a small unnamed tarn...
..before reaching the breathtaking views from the summit cairn.
This nice gentle path isn't in the book.
This steep one is,
so that must be the way,
which is a bit unfortunate really, isn't it?
Start with a bang.
Hope I don't get lost.
Embarrassing to get lost from the start of the walk!
I have to admit, I was expecting
a more gradual climb from the beginning.
This is hard work - already!
This is just a few minutes into the walk proper.
About 500ft up now and already
the view is just spectacular.
Buttermere looking mellifluous.
Beautiful. You just want to dive in, part the water.
And I think the weather's gonna hold.
Over there is a chink of beautiful blue sky.
Lakeland is known for its changeable weather patterns,
each valley almost having its own microclimate.
Even the most experienced of walkers can be caught unawares
by a sudden burst of rain or low mist creeping in.
I'm really looking forward to getting to the top
to find out exactly why Wainwright found this fell so special.
Assuming I make it, of course!
Fell walking means "rough walking".
Those who take to the hills, whatever their motivation, are rewarded with
a variety of spectacular views and distant panoramas,
from where the lakes below
are transformed into sparkling jewels in the sunlight.
Look at that shaft of sunlight!
It's almost godly.
I've been going for about 25 minutes now, so I think it's time
to soak in some more of the views.
And see exactly what Wainwright's got in store for me.
'Interestingly, Wainwright maps are not strictly plan or elevation views.
'He deliberately distorted perspectives and scales
'in order to get in all the information he thought would be valuable for any walker.'
You wouldn't think the same view could get any better, but it does.
Now, this, according to AW, is Low Wax Knott.
There are meant to be lots of boulders in your way.
Clearly someone has got here before me and moved them all, which is very kind of them.
'Wainwright describes his passion for this landscape
'in the first of his pictorial guides.'
The magical atmosphere of the Lakes,
the silence of lonely hills, the dawn chorus of birdsong,
silver cascades dancing and leaping down bracken steeps
and the symphonies of murmuring streams.
It's easy to see why Wainwright, who was office-bound all week,
loved to escape to this, the peace and the quiet and the scenery.
But he always argued that you should walk alone.
He didn't like other people, it was a distraction.
He especially didn't like schoolchildren, gangs of them.
And you could say that was a bit unsociable,
but actually being here alone now,
it is so serene and so peaceful,
and it's a real luxury to have all this space to yourself.
It's beautiful, really beautiful.
If you take a peek across the valley there, you can see
two different paths to get to the top of Haystacks.
In the book there are actually six different ways to get to the top,
so no chance of getting bored.
'Wainwright indicates in book six
'that his preferred route up Haystacks
'was the ascent from Gatesgarth, where I started,
'but via this path at Wharnscale Bottom.
'This takes you on a longer ascent of two-and-three-quarter miles.
'Wainwright liked the imposing crag overhanging the path.
'He would then enjoy the views on my walk
'as he made his leisurely descent.
'It's already becoming clearer to me just what an achievement it was
'to finish seven hand-drawn books like these in only 13 years.
'The more I look at them, and around me,
'the more I can appreciate his work, his passion and sheer dedication.'
I'm approaching Scarth Gap now,
and suddenly the terrain's become much rougher underfoot and also the path has just widened.
Actually, you can't really see the path.
What was once an "S" shape up the mountain has just,
in the words of Wainwright, "been butchered by short-cutters".
You see, people just walk straight up the middle and create this mess.
'Wainwright described this route in book six.
The ascent of Haystacks via the pass of Scarth Gap
is a prelude of much merit and beauty
to a mountain walk of unique character.
After an hour and a half, I am into the rhythm of this Lakeland walk.
I have been looking forward to this because this is the last cairn at the top of Scarth Gap,
and Wainwright marks significant cairns with triangles, and it's definitely here.
But it also means it's been here since 1966, because that's when
this book was published, so a lot of tired legs have wandered past,
and right now mine are no exception.
'Cairns like this are familiar sights across the Lakes,
'made by the simple act of adding a stone as you pass.
'Now, I've been incredibly lucky with the weather so far,
'but imagine trying to navigate your way in the mist and rain.
'The cairns are an invaluable tool for helping you stick to the path.
'From this grassy saddle,
'I can now get a clear view of all the surrounding fells.
'Wainwright captures the character of this walk
'in the opening sentence of his introduction.'
Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the midst of a circle
of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds.
It's lovely and soft underfoot here, on this saddle that's nestled in between the mountains.
That way is Kirk Fell, but more importantly,
up there is my first clear view of the climb to the summit.
'In his first guide Wainwright acknowledged...'
Many are they who have fallen under the spell of Lakeland,
and so many are they who have been moved to tell of their affection,
in story and verse and picture and song.
That is a cracking view of Buttermere
and Crummock water behind it.
I'm not sure if that's Grasmoor or not, the big mountain.
Because this is the view from the summit, but there isn't a definitive page from here. I think it is.
It's lovely anyway.
'This is such a clear day that I can see
'all the way beyond Crummock Water to the Solway Firth in Scotland.
'Wainwright always maintained that he began writing the guidebooks
'for his own memory of the places he had visited and loved.
'Something to look back on when he could no longer walk the fells.
'It was on Haystacks that AW took his final walk, with eyesight
'that had deteriorated too far for it to be safe any longer.
'He famously said...'
Haystacks wept tears for me that day.
It's amazing to think that Wainwright was still walking when he was nearly 80.
'From the opening sentence of book one, his motivation was clear...
Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland.
No other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming,
no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance.
All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.
I can appreciate why Wainwright was so enchanted with Haystacks, and he never travelled abroad.
And I suppose when you've got this on your doorstep,
why would you?
Wainwright says that, "For a man trying to get persistent worry
"out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure."
I like that.
We've all got persistent worries, haven't we?
As tempting as it is to linger, it's only 20 minutes to go,
I'm reliably informed, to the top,
so let's get going.
Oh! That is my first view of the summit,
and there's the beautiful Ennerdale Valley,
which is a particularly quiet spot of the Lakes,
because there's no vehicle access.
But enough of that...more of that!
Here we are,
my first Lakeland summit.
And there's the cairn.
It's an incredible feeling.
It's exhilarating, exciting, to have made it to your first proper summit.
'On reaching the top, what I've discovered and can appreciate
'is that this summit is more than a peak and a cairn.
'There are the three tarns, plunging edges of the rocky crags,
'and sumptuous views from every vantage point.'
Wainwright described this as, in fact, "The best fell top of all.
"A place of great charm and fairyland attractiveness.
"For beauty, variety and interesting detail, for sheer fascination
"and unique individuality, the summit of Haystacks is supreme.
"One can forget even a raging toothache on Haystacks."
But we're not gonna end our walk here, we're gonna head over that way
to his final destination,
'Such was his love of Haystacks,
'it was the place where he chose to have his ashes scattered.
'Alfred Wainwright died in 1991 aged 84.'
This is a fantastic introduction to the Lakeland Fells.
Of all 214 fells in the Lake District,
Haystacks clearly captured his heart and his imagination,
and it's easy to see why.
"All I ask for at the end is a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn on Haystacks,
"where the water gently laps on the gravelly shore and the heather blooms,
"and Pillar and Gable keep unfailing watch.
"A quiet place, a lonely place.
"I shall go to it for the last time, and be carried.
"Someone who knew me in life will take me there and empty me out of a little box and leave me there alone.
"And if you, dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boots
"as you are crossing Haystacks in years to come, please treat it with respect.
"It might be me."
In the end, Wainwright's widow, Betty, and his best friend granted his last wish.
Wainwright said, "A walk in Lakeland is like a walk in Heaven,"
and I'm inclined to agree.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd - 2007
E-mail [email protected]
Julia Bradbury is in the Western Lakes to walk to the summit of Wainwright's favourite fell, Haystacks. With a little help and advice from local broadcaster and friend of Wainwright's, Eric Robson, Bradbury sets out to discover what makes this fell so special and why Wainwright chose it as his final resting place.