Series in which Julia Bradbury explores the work of fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright. Julia is in the Borrowdale Valley to climb to the summit of Castle Crag.
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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.
Today I'm in the jaws of the Borrowdale Valley to walk to the summit of Castle Crag,
a small but spectacular fell in the north-western area of the Lakes.
What makes this fell so special is that it is the only fell under 1,000ft
to make it into Wainwright's guides.
Today, I want to discover what makes it worthy of inclusion.
The crag itself is like a mini-mountain.
It has this lush tree-covered top.
A bit Harry Potter, actually.
Perfect for a family walk of about a mile and a half.
My walk begins in the pretty village of Grange, in the heart of Borrowdale.
Now although I'm enjoying my walks in the Lakes,
it would take years to become any sort of expert,
'so to find out a bit more about Castle Crag and the history of this wonderful corner in England,
'I'm meeting Sarah Woodcock, the National Trust's senior curator for the Lake District.'
Sarah, what sort of presence does the Trust have in the Lake District?
Well, the National Trust has been here for over 100 years.
We look after 25%, a quarter of the Lake District.
Conservation is one of the main things everyone knows about the Trust.
Absolutely. Conservation is our main activity, as well as giving access.
We work with volunteers preserving the landscapes and the buildings.
So they come here for a week, for a year?
They can come here for a week and do footpath work
or work with our wardens in the forests.
Any sort of things, all sorts of things, work that needs doing.
So it can be a short-term project, or if they want to get more stuck in...
They can come regularly, they can work with our learning staff
and learn about the properties, learn new skills. There are all sorts of things people can do.
Let's talk a bit about numbers. How many people come to the Lake District every year?
How many potential volunteers?
There are 19 million visitors to the Lake District.
I wonder what Wainwright would make of that?! 19 million!
I think he would be really shocked, very surprised.
He loved the peacefulness of the Lake District, so that would be a shock.
Is there any way you can monitor what we're all doing,
how many of us make it to the summits or where we're all going to?
It's difficult to do that because it's open access.
You can't really measure how many people are here.
So one of the ways we do it is through the car parks.
-For instance, the car park we've just come from,
there are over 200,000 visitors through that car park each year.
-That's like a big London car park in a shopping mall or something.
Tourism is obviously the big industry,
but it wasn't always that way.
No, you can see in the landscape the history of activity here,
starting with the sheep farming, working through quarrying and mining.
The quarrying and mining industry was really on an industrial scale in Borrowdale.
That would have been happening in Wainwright's day.
It was, it was at its height, the slate quarrying.
Over 100 people were employed just in this quarry up here.
Same with the mining again.
Over 500 people employed in the mining industry.
Seems hard to imagine that you'd be taking a peaceful stroll through the Lakes
-and there would be this hive of activity.
-Yes, very different.
Now, I'm up to Castle Crag, as you know, today.
What sort of thing should I look out for?
Look out for the Herdwick sheep,
particular to the Lake District and introduced by the Vikings.
-Are they scary?
-They're very friendly.
And look out for the wonderful caves.
Ooh, caves! I'll watch out for those.
I won't do potholing, though!
-All right, Sarah, thanks for your help this morning.
Before I head off, let's take a moment to look at the route ahead.
Castle Crag is situated in the north-western area of the Lakeland Fells.
It lies on the edge of Derwentwater, and unlike my other walks,
this is a low-level valley walk, progressing through Borrowdale.
My journey begins at the picturesque village of Grange.
The first stage of the route is covered by woodland and follows the edge of the river.
I'll make my way across the National Trust campsite at Hollows Farm,
before the woodland opens out at the mouth of the river.
Next, the path turns off
and heads southward towards the old quarry road.
Here, the route is swamped by the imposing crags on either side.
Then the path splits off
and I follow a short, sharp ascent up the cragside,
navigating my way through a zig-zag path
carved out of the slate spoil heap,
before making my final ascent to the grass-covered plateau
and reaching the professionally-made summit cairn.
This is a very nice, gentle walk.
Half a mile in, we're still on the road.
But there it is, the lost world waiting for us.
When Wainwright wrote book six,
the Ordnance Survey hadn't determined the altitude of the summit at Castle Crag.
By comparing the horizontal planes of surrounding fells to the east and west,
Wainwright quoted the height as 985ft
in book six of his pictorial guides.
But the official height today is recorded as 951ft.
Hey, what's 30ft between friends?
But that is exactly the kind of detail that Wainwright was obsessed with.
These are Wainwright's own enthusiastic thoughts on this diminutive fell:
"If a visitor to Lakeland has only two or three hours to spare, poor fellow,
"yet desperately wants to reach a summit and take back
"an enduring memory of beauty and atmosphere of the district,
"let him climb Castle Crag."
The path runs alongside the River Derwent, which winds its way through the Borrowdale Valley.
Wainwright calls Castle Crag "an obstruction in the throat of Borrowdale",
as it forces the river through a narrow gap
before widening so it can continue on to feed into Derwentwater.
The weather in the Lake District is so changeable
that sometimes a short walk with spectacular views is perfect.
With this one, you get to reach a summit as well!
All that and back in time for lunch.
Quite sweet, really.
Just look at it.
If you're a Lakeland poet, how could you not be inspired?
There's something fairy-tale-like about the appearance of this place.
That's the great thing I've come to realise on my walks so far - no two are the same.
Even the same fell can be experienced in so many different ways.
I am sure there are one or two of those Viking sheep here I 'm supposed to be looking out for.
Well, I thought I might see one or two, not a full herd!
Wainwright was a huge animal lover,
so much so he even dedicated book four of his pictorial guides
-"the hardiest of all fellwalkers, the sheep of Lakeland.
"The truest lovers of the mountains,
"their natural homes and providers of their food and shelter."
Getting a bit hot now.
Just listen to that.
That is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.
I'm only ten minutes away from the road,
but as I head through the woods, out of the foot of the valley,
I can feel that this gentle ascent has begun.
There's just so much to take in visually and so much to listen to.
Too much to commit to memory.
What Wainwright used to do was take photographs
on all those walks, which if you think about it, in the 1950s and '60s, that was pretty impressive.
Whilst out walking, Wainwright would make notes, but he never drew in situ.
He would painstakingly create sketches from his photographs,
fitting them together to get the whole view of a mountain range or the entire summit view.
Using just pen and ink, he was able to bring to life his Lakeland walks as detailed illustrations.
Always watch where you're going!
That's what Wainwright said.
Although Wainwright was a solitary and fiercely private man,
some might even say "curmudgeonly", he also had a well-known sense of humour, quite a dry sense of humour,
and he occasionally dropped this into his writing.
This is book six and the walk's included in it,
the north-western fells, and there's an interesting dedication.
"To those unlovely twins, my right leg and my left leg,
"staunch supporters that have carried me about for over half a century,
"endured much without complaint, and never once let me down.
"Nevertheless, they are unsuitable subjects for illustration."
It's amazing how the light changes.
We come from this dark, densely packed forest into this.
Look at the craggy grey open rock face.
It's beautiful, but so different. The landscape changes.
You go through a gate and that's it.
It's a really different experience walking in the valley
because I can't see great views around me
as with the higher-level walks.
Instead, these imposing crags are towering over me.
Look at that view! Beautiful!
Derwentwater, glistening in the valleys.
This isn't a big walk by any means,
but you feel small in this valley.
You can really feel a sense of walking into the V, into the neck of it.
As a civil servant,
Wainwright was able to enjoy the fells for pleasure.
For the local quarrymen, the Lakes were part of the industrial landscape -
a place where they would work long and gruelling hours
for the equivalent of 12 pence a day in today's money.
This is really where you get a sense of the history of this part of the Lakes.
Formerly a stone quarry,
Castle Crag is now a silent reminder of a once thriving industry.
This is what Wainwright says about the spot.
"It's pitted with cuttings and caverns and levels, every hole having its tell-tale spoil heap."
If these fells could talk, huh?
It's actually quite moody as well. You can see the shards of slate.
I think there's a bit of a moody change in the air as well.
I can feel rain.
With more than 3,500 kilometres of rights of way,
there is plenty to explore in the Lake District.
This mountainous area in England is however known for its temperamental weather.
The Borrowdale valley is in fact the wettest valley in England,
with an average rainfall of 140 inches per year.
The fell tops can give fantastic views of the surrounding landscapes,
but also have more severe weather conditions than in the valleys.
Mist, cloud and horizontal rain, all familiar to the Lake District, can make any walk hazardous.
As is customary around these parts,
I shall make my mark at the top of the cairn.
It might be small,
but it's on the top!
And that is where we are heading.
This is only a baby walk, but I feel tiny!
It may be the wettest valley in England,
but the rain is holding off, although the wind is biting cold.
We are still only about 400ft up here,
the climb is getting steeper, but already the views are amazing.
Derwentwater is over that way and Rosthwaite through there.
This barren landscape is just beautiful, all the grey slate.
A lone tree just in the middle here.
This is a lovely spot
and it appears that other people have thought it was special, too.
A perfect little pit stop.
Just what you need, although, of course, it's dangerous to sit down on a big walk or a small walk
cos you never want to get up again!
Sarah told me about the caves, and I can spot one over there on the other side of the valley,
but that's gonna be too much of a detour for me.
I've still got all that way to go.
The detour from the quarry road leads to a series of caverns,
the most famous of all being known as Millican Dalton's Cave.
He abandoned his job as an insurance clerk in London
for a life of adventure and freedom.
The call of the wild led him to take up summer residence
in a massive cave on Castle Crag.
He was a self-titled "professor of adventure" -
a vegetarian, a pacifist and a teetotaller.
He became known as the Borrowdale Hermit.
The humorous words carved on to his cave still read, "Don't waste words, jump to conclusions."
That's not exactly what you would expect to see up here, a ladder.
I guess there's no elegant way to do this!
Interestingly, Wainwright acknowledges that Castle Crag isn't a fell in its own right.
He describes it as a "protuberance on the rough breast of Scawdel"
- that's a bit harsh!
In his sixth book, Wainwright offers these words of wisdom to the novice walker:
"The first lesson that every fell walker learns and learns afresh every time he goes onto the hills
"is that summits are almost invariably more distant,
"a good deal higher and require greater effort than expected.
"Fell walking and wishful thinking have nothing in common."
It's getting steep now. Shouldn't have had those fish and chips.
I'm pleased my mum didn't come with me.
Look at that!
This is incredible.
I'm a bit puffed now. I can't believe we've got to get to the top of that.
It's like some sort of computer game.
This precarious spoil heap represents exactly one of the aspects of the fells
that Wainwright was fascinated by -
the traces of man on the landscape.
Castle Crag quarry was still working as late as the '60s,
with the quarrymen using gunpowder to blast the slate.
This impressive spoil heap would have developed over decades
as the fell was excavated.
This is a climb certainly worthy of a bigger fell.
I'm at about 600ft here, not even at the summit, but look at the views!
That's the village of Rosthwaite.
That of course is where the quarrymen would have lived.
Snaking through the middle of the village is the road that Wainwright would have travelled along.
Famously, he didn't drive,
so he travelled all around the Lake District on the buses.
Wainwright's passion for this lovely valley was abundantly clear in his chapter on Castle Crag.
"It encloses one mile of country
"containing no high mountain, no lake, no famous crag, no tarn,
"but in the author's humble submission,
"it encloses the loveliest square mile in Lakeland -
"the Jaws of Borrowdale."
I've finally reached the quarry and this is not what I was expecting at all.
This is just really strange.
It's like the Statue Park in Budapest, actually,
or a graveyard.
But just weird and eerie.
In fact, no-one is really sure if the stones were ever laid out like this for a reason,
or even when they appeared.
They are regularly cleared away,
but nevertheless mysteriously continue to reappear!
If you take a peek around here,
you can see where the quarrymen have carved into the summit.
They have taken a big old chunk out!
This is the bit that's always so exciting.
You make it to the top!
Already, the views are magnificent.
This is it!
And there looks to be the cairn, so that is the proper top, really.
And here is the big old crevice, chopped out of the rock.
It's just so picturesque.
It's like a little magic kingdom up here.
Look at this!
Wainwright was very unimpressed by the size of Castle Crag,
but for a bijou little mountain...
..I think it's pretty top rate.
It's got views, you can do it very easily in a day, half a day.
You've got incredible scenery when you're down below, making your way up.
Once you're up here, what can you complain about?
At the highest point is a boss of rock, and at the top is a professionally-made cairn
and this is a war memorial to the men of Borrowdale.
Wainwright suggests in book six
that this rock was where an ancient British fort once stood.
"One man armed with a stick could prevent its occupation by others,
"whatever their number - there being only one strategic point
"where passage upwards is restricted to single file."
You're not at the top till you get to the very top.
The view is restricted to the north,
but there is a spectacular view of Derwentwater, backed by Skiddaw.
What I've learnt today is that Castle Crag may be less than 1000ft,
and covered by the scars left by man, but it's a perfect little gem,
and I think it's truly deserving of its special status
as the smallest of 214 fells to make it into Wainwright's seven pictorial guides.
Wainwright says that "Castle Crag is so magnificently independent,
"so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches".
And quite right too!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2007
E-mail [email protected]
Julia Bradbury is in Britain's wettest vale, the Borrowdale Valley, to climb to the summit of Castle Crag. Of all 214 fells in Wainwright's pictorial guides, Castle Crag is the only one under 1,000ft to be included. Bradbury's goal is to determine what makes it worthy of such an honour.