Julia Bradbury explores the work of fell walker Alfred Wainwright. She faces Scafell Pike, England's highest peak, and must reach the 978m summit before darkness falls.
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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.
Now, a century after his birth, it's my turn to go in search of the real Wainwright experience.
Today I'm setting my sights on the toughest of all Wainwright's challenges.
I've had a cooked breakfast, I've packed my lunch,
you can see I've got my waterproofs, and it's not even eight o'clock.
At 3,210 feet, Scafell Pike tops the charts of English peaks.
I can't fully appreciate Wainwright's Lakeland until I've tackled its greatest fell.
He described the Pike as the one objective above all others. A mecca.
But I also want to know why Wainwright thought this particular fell walk was the finest of all.
The crew and I have been waiting for three days for the right weather to tackle Scafell Pike
and today, to be honest, might not be it. It feels like it could rain.
And it looks like we're not the only ones trying it as well.
Wainwright's recommended route starts at Seathwaite Farm
near Seatoller village, right in the heart of the Lake District.
It's a seven-hour round trip for most walkers.
But much longer when there's a film crew tagging along.
What you could find disconcerting about this walk, is that you can't
see the destination, the goal isn't in sight.
It's such a mountainous area.
All I know is the summit is five miles in that direction.
Luckily I'm meeting a man who's studied these peaks very closely.
Whereas Wainwright famously roamed the fells with his pipe,
there is another legend of this area who tackles things at a much faster pace.
Jos Naylor is the most famous of all fell runners.
A local sheep farmer by trade, but this is a man who ran to 70 peaks on his 70th birthday.
And he once conquered all 214 Wainwright fells in just seven days.
As a fell runner, you must know these parts better than Wainwright?
Probably I think I've put in more miles than Wainwright has ever done.
-An extraordinary record of yours is that you've covered all 214 fells in seven days.
It was a tribute to Wainwright really.
I'd read most of his guidebooks and I thought they were well put together, well documented.
I thought it would be a nice thing to do,
to remember him in this way.
On the last two days, I was running on empty.
My mouth was very sore. My throat got an infection and I couldn't eat.
You were running for the last two days with no food?
No food. I was getting a bit of glucose and stuff like that.
-So, you know...
-And sleep, anything like that?
I didn't sleep much. The last night we didn't lie down at all.
You ran 70 fells on your 70th birthday.
Are you going to do 80 on your 80th?
Well. I promised my wife it would be the last one.
She was getting a bit concerned.
I said she could take my
long-distance licence off me.
Let's talk about Scafell Pike.
What's the fastest time you've done Scafell Pike in?
47 minutes. But it was a gift, really.
I touched the summit,
set off to bomb back down. Just as I came out of the Pike's crags, the helicopter came and filmed us down.
It was magic.
You could sprint as fast as you could
and the down draught of the helicopter pulled you along and held you safe.
-You were like a little angel of the fells.
-Aye. You couldn't describe it.
It was like floating coming down. My legs were hardly touching the ground.
I'm not very sure I'm going to make it in 47 minutes, or an hour, in fact, up to the top.
-What are your tips, what should I look out for?
-It's picking the right weather.
On a clear day, you can see all the views.
You can look back into Keswick, you can see most of the Lake District at the summit of the Pike.
So it's worth getting to the summit.
You'll make it all right. You've just got to keep going.
I'll take Wainwright's advice and watch where I'm going.
-Concentrate on the ground beneath your feet.
-I will do.
-That was Wainwright's advice.
-Joss, it's a pleasure to meet you.
-Enjoy your walk up the Pike.
I will. I'm going to walk not run.
That's it. Aye. Just enjoy it.
So this is it. The biggest climb in England.
But before I start, let's take a closer look at the longest Wainwright walk I've tackled yet.
Right at the southern end of the Borrowdale Valley,
Seathwaite Farm is not only the beginning of my ascent but also
the focal point for one of the most popular walking areas in the Lakes.
I'll be starting off very gradually, as the path follows the River Derwent
southwards up to Stockley Bridge.
Things get steadily steeper as the valley narrows and I head up Grains Gill
to a height of 2,000 feet, looking out for the great ravine at the top.
Above the ravine, there's a brief detour past the sheer face of Great End
to find Sprinkling Tarn dramatically set beneath.
Heading back on the route, there's a long and steady climb
up to the plateau at Esk Hause for a lunch spot with views to remember.
Turning westwards, I'll pass round the back of Great End, and finally get on to the rocky Scafell ridge.
This dramatic stretch takes me past the lower peaks of Ill Crag and Broad Crag
before the last testing climb to the Pike itself.
But back at Seathwaite Farm, it's a long time before I get a clear view of the summit.
The peak is only three miles from here as the crow flies, but with so many twists,
turns and other peaks to negotiate, I'll have to go a lot further than that before I'm getting close.
Wainwright sums up the challenge in Book Four of his Pictorial Guides.
"The ascent of Scafell Pike is the toughest proposition
"the collector of summits is called upon to attempt,
"and it is the one above all others that, as a patriot, he cannot omit."
Inspiring stuff from Wainwright.
Look, this is the first walk I've seen that actually covers two pages.
Slightly ominous! We're starting at Seathwaite.
We're going all the way to the top, back of Great End and back to the bottom of the page again.
It's a biggy!
But I am a lot better kitted out than Wainwright would have been.
When AW, as he was known, was writing his Guides, there was more tweed than Gore-Tex.
And when he came on holiday for a whole week of walking in the 1930s
he recalls bringing his sturdiest shoes, a mac, and just one set of clothing!
Stockley Bridge is my first major landmark.
Originally it was an important pack horse crossing
between Borrowdale and the Wasdale Valley in the west.
In the mid-sixties, the bridge was almost destroyed by storms,
but now it's fully restored
and probably carrying more traffic than ever before.
It's also my cue that things are about to get steeper.
I made that mistake earlier of stepping in a stream,
getting one foot wet by accident,
which is never a good idea at the beginning of the walk.
So any little bit of heat to dry it out
would be most welcome.
Wainwright loved to walk on his own.
But his lonely career mapping the routes and ridges
mean the fells today are more popular than ever.
And various conservation schemes are under way, including
these great bags full of boulders, ready to reinforce the path.
I can see a chink of blue sky up there.
This is more like rock climbing than walking.
Well, the good news is, we're coming to the end of Grain's Gill
because there's the ravine.
The bad news is, that's not where I'm heading.
That is just Great End, which we're going around.
So that is not the highest point.
I love the sounds of bubbling brooks and gentle streams, it reminds me
of when I used to go tickling trout with my dad in Derbyshire,
just that gentle noise.
By now I've covered almost half the walk in terms of distance.
But as for height, it's a different story -
there's still over 1,500 feet left to go.
The central heating system's really working now.
And look at Borrowdale Valley.
That is just beautiful.
You can just make out Castle Crag, Derwentwater behind.
At the top of Grain's Gill, Wainwright recommends a detour.
Now, I'm a city girl.
That's my goal, that's my destination.
I don't usually like detours, so I hope it's worth it.
Sprinkling Tarn is one of this walk's best kept secrets.
Lying just a few hundred yards off the main route
and over a slight mound, it's visited
by just a few of the thousands that trek up to Scafell Pike.
That's worth it, huh?
That is definitely worth
That's very, very gorgeous.
The silence here is magical.
The odd sheep.
A little trickle of water.
Ravens flapping above you.
I could stay here for hours and just listen to nothing.
Just the little sounds.
What's interesting here is that you don't feel very high up.
It's a deceptive plateau, but we're nearly 2,000 feet up.
You can see the mountain range over the tip of the tarn.
It's very strange to be the noisiest thing around.
At home I step out of my front door
and there are buses and motorbikes and people.
My walking and the rustling of my jacket
is the noisiest thing here at the moment.
The sun is really trying to get through now.
This is a tiny world,
lost to all those that aren't prepared for a serious walk.
And once you're here...
the temptation is to linger.
"Too many walkers bound for Scafell Pike have given up the ghost here,
"daunted by the sight of Great End
"and bewitched by the beauty and solitude of the tarn.
"'Onwards!' must be the cry.
"'Much remains to be done.'"
That was a worthwhile distraction.
But the summit beckons.
This is the second ravine, Ruddy Gill.
So named, according to Wainwright, because of the red subsoil.
It must be having a day off today because it's not looking that red
but the good news about all of this
is that we're nearly at Esk Hause,
which means we're at the top of the first page of the walk.
Halfway there, according to the book.
Aha. So here is the answer to the black bag mystery. Hello, gentlemen.
I've been seeing these all along the footpaths. Now I know what's going on.
So you've got to do a good two-hour walk before you even start with this lot.
Yes. We usually walk first thing in the morning.
Get up, have a cup of tea, then get going after that and work till late tonight.
You must be very fit, healthy boys, cos those are big rocks.
-These, you don't bring up yourself.
-No, we fly these in by helicopter.
We try to use everything we can lying around.
But the quantities we need means it's best to get them from a big source.
These rocks came from about a mile over there.
We can't touch the rocks on this side because they are protected.
-So we have to get them from as near as possible.
-I have walked over an awful lot of these paths.
What's the technique for them?
It's basically, you just find where the old way is,
and you dig all the stone into the ground in a random fashion
and then join them altogether.
It's like a big jigsaw puzzle, really.
What would Wainwright have made of these crazy paving stones in the sky?
I would imagine he would have been pretty
scathing about them. He was very hostile to human imprints in the hills.
I would imagine he would be throwing his pipe down in disgust
if he saw a path like this. I think so, definitely.
It's a necessary evil now.
He popularised a lot of the routes here.
50 years ago when he walked up there, the main route went straight
ahead to the head of the valley and then turned right and he identified the shortcut to the right.
At the time it was barely discernible.
Yet now, 50 years later, it's a big wide track that's
had some substantial repair on it
-to take away the big scar that used to be visible up there.
-So the shortcut is the main route now?
-It certainly is.
-It cuts 20 minutes off the journey up to Scafell Pike.
It wouldn't surprise me if 100,000 people had come up
this path, come up the path there, towards Scafell Pike every year.
Well lads, you've got a lot of work to do so I won't hold you up any further. Thanks a lot.
Cheers, thank you. Mind your back!
Wainwright's shortcut, confirmed with its brand new footpath,
marks a point where my walk changes in character.
The long view down the massive valley to Seathwaite Farm is gone,
the gentle pastures are out of sight.
And, after five hours, I'm up amongst the wild high fells.
The new path takes you straight to Esk Hause,
which, at 2,500ft,
makes it the highest pass in the Lake District.
Well, there's a definite T-junction here
where you've got to make up your mind which way to go.
I know this is Esk Hause and I know this is Great End.
So I'm going to make my way that way.
It's amazing how the terrain changes up here.
You're exposed all of a sudden. It's become...much more open.
Time for a bit of lunch, check the plasters, check the book.
Esk Hause has been an important pass for centuries
and was used to transport wool
from farms in Borrowdale to the Cistercian monastery
at Furness Abbey, way to the south.
With views down into three valleys, this is a commanding,
if utterly exposed spot.
Now I assumed that that
was the top of Scafell Pike, but sadly, taking a little look,
this is Esk Hause here, and much further up the path,
he says "Summit now in view for the first time".
So that can't be. That must be Ill Crag.
So there's much further to go.
Many "wishful thinkers", as Wainwright describes them,
have mistaken Ill Crag for the peak.
But no, there's still a mile-and-a-half
of the most difficult Lakeland terrain to negotiate.
I love the way Wainwright describes Ill Crag.
He says it's "a desolate scene.
"A frozen avalanche of crags and stones,
"much of it unexplored and uncharted.
"A safe refuge for escaped convicts
"or an ideal depository for murdered corpses."
That's nice, isn't it! Hiya.
Watch out for the bodies!
Leaving Esk Hause, I cross the grass to Calf Cove, the point
where I climb up and on to the ridge that takes me right to the summit.
This is where the legs start to burn.
The Scafell ridge is the most consistently high ground in England.
For over a mile the path that runs from Great End, past Ill Crag,
Broad Crag and ending in the Pike, never drops below 2,800ft.
This desolate, volcanic rock is inhospitable yet captivating.
I thought the winds were pretty cutting down there.
This is the top of Scafell ridge and these are proper winds. Look at my trousers.
They look like ferrets are running up and down them!
I may be on the final ridge but the we have been going for seven-and-a-half hours now.
We've got to keep pushing on if I'm going to reach the summit in daylight.
And there it is.
Let's check it out.
Yeah, that's got to be it.
It's pretty like the picture.
Ah. Turn it round.
Yeah. That's it.
I think some people have got there before me.
I know that's hard to believe!
Come on then! Keep going.
This is like being on another planet, like the moon, or something.
It's just a boulder graveyard, these sharp jagged rocks everywhere,
it's very difficult to walk, and even the sheep have disappeared.
Amongst this landscape, the path completely disappears at times.
The only clues are the small cairns that other walkers have left behind.
But Wainwright talks about the magic of camping out alone in a hollow just below here.
He loved to watch the sunrise cast its pink glow over the dark crags and boulders.
But for me, I've just discovered that there's still one last hurdle to get over.
This is really depressing.
It looks very much like I've got to go all the way down this
boulder highway, which is all it looks like to me,
to get to the bottom, to get
all the way to the top.
Just when you think you've cracked a bit of it.
What's slightly worrying is that there's no-one else up there, nobody, not a sausage.
Just a couple of birds flapping around.
It's when faced with this peak at close quarters, that Wainwright
poses an interesting question in his chapter on Scafell Pike.
"Why does a man climb mountains?
"Why has he forced his tired and sweating body up here when he
"might instead have been sitting at ease in a deckchair at the seaside?
"It is a question every man must answer for himself."
And now it's just the small matter of the final ascent
to the top of Scafell Pike.
And I think I can safely say that's the steepest thing I've climbed all day.
Climbing and filming make for some seriously slow progress.
It's now late in the days and all sensible walkers have conquered
and long since left the summit.
I suppose it's only fair that you have to work this hard to get to a peak this high.
I've been on the go for almost ten hours now,
but now I know why Wainwright rated this fell walk as the very best.
In one long day I've seen everything the Lake District has to offer.
From wide valleys to steep ravines, silent tarns to windswept rocky ridges.
Wainwright's biggest climb has it all.
I think I can see it.
Less than 100 yards away, yes, that's it!
There it is.
The top of the summit.
Nearly there. Spitting distance away now.
The wind has really picked up, up here.
Another little challenge to overcome to make it.
Look at that!
It's a pretty fantastic feeling, I've got to say.
You're not at the top until you're at the very top. And here it is.
It's ridiculously windy up here.
So this is the tallest mountain in England.
That's Wast Water, which is the deepest lake.
You can see hundreds of fells all around you and that over there,
just glistening in the sunshine is the Isle of Man.
And apparently, on a really clear day, which is not today, you can see Blackpool Tower over there.
But right now, just to be here is fantastic.
And ridiculously windy!
There are places I've been to recently
where you'd be happy to spend hours.
You'd choose to come again and again.
But this spot has a very different quality.
It's about being able to sit and look out across miles
of cliffs and peaks, knowing you're above them all.
There's nothing like the feeling
that you've conquered everything that could be put in front of you.
Wainwright says that fell walkers are not attracted to this summit for its beauty,
because it's not beautiful.
It is sturdy and rugged and strong.
It is simply the fact that this is the tallest mountain in England,
and when you get to the top, you can say "I did it".
And I did.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd - 2007
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Julia Bradbury faces the ultimate Wainwright challenge of Scafell Pike. England's highest peak marks the climax of Julia's journey to explore the work, passion and the legacy of Alfred Wainwright, a man who has inspired millions with his illustrated guides to the Lake District. Before tackling the 3,000ft ascent, Julia seeks advice from celebrated fell runner and local sheep farmer, Jos Naylor. Then it's just a case of getting herself and her film crew to the roof of England before darkness falls.