Helm Crag Wainwright Walks


Helm Crag

Julia Bradbury explores the work of fell walker Alfred Wainwright. Here she climbs Helm Crag, defined by the rock formations at its summit nicknamed the Lion and the Lamb.


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Transcript


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Nestled in the far north-west of England, this is the Lake District...

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..a land defined by its natural beauty.

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Known to millions who love the Lakes was the late Alfred Wainwright,

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author, guide writer and talented artist, but above all, he was the greatest fell walker.

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Wainwright's guides have inspired generations of walkers to roam these glorious fells,

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and now, a century after his birth, it's my turn to go in search of the real Wainwright experience.

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From this steady flow of traffic on the A591, you get a clear view

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of one of Lakeland's most recognisable and famous spots.

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That is Helm Crag. Today I want to find out why this miniature fell made it into AW's top six summits,

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despite being the only peak that he never got to the very top of.

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Situated in the very heart of the Lake District,

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Helm Crag is one of the lowest summits in volume three of Wainwright's pictorial guides.

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It sits prominently at the end of a ridge which is easily reached from the village of Grasmere.

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It's the cluster of distinctive summit rocks that give Helm Crag its alternative name.

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"Generations of wagonette and motor-coach tourists

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"have been tutored to recognise its appearance in the Grasmere landscape.

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"It is the one feature of their Lakeland tour they hail at sight and in unison,

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"but the cry on their lips is not 'Helm Crag',

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"but 'the Lion and the Lamb'."

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From down here on the roadside, you can see exactly what Wainwright means.

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Helm Crag is a modest 1,328 feet.

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It's a walk that's known for being short and easy.

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In fact, Wainwright even says if it has a fault, it's that it's too short.

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My early-evening walk to Helm Crag begins in one of the Lake District's most popular villages - Grasmere.

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Home to the 18th-century poet William Wordsworth and his family,

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this place inspired 40 years of romantic poetry.

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The churchyard is today home to the Wordsworth family grave.

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Before I head off on my walk, I'm meeting Mark Richards, a local writer and broadcaster,

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who's also one of the few people who knew Alfred Wainwright personally.

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See, I'm a bit torn today

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because I'm not sure if I'm more excited about tackling Helm Crag or chatting to you

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because you are actually somebody who has walked with AW.

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You're rare these days, Mark - can't find many of you.

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How did you come to be introduced to AW in the first place?

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I was very fortunate.

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Back in the early '70s, I got a great passion for drawing - pen and ink drawing -

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and through a family connection, a family friend sent one of my drawings to him,

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and he was very encouraging, and over a period of... all through the '70s,

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I came and spent long weekends with him and his wife Betty.

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It was clear that he was an enigma within the walking world,

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and it was very much a small world at the time because he hadn't been exposed to the media at all.

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Walking with him, side by side with Alfred Wainwright...

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how does that work?

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Certainly, you wait until he stops. Even in his more senior years, he had a marvellous stride.

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I remember going up Nine Standards Rigg, and we were repelled by drifts at Farady Gill

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and at moments of hiatus, moments like that, he would talk a little bit then.

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But you'd wait to be spoken to.

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-In sort of a way.

-He'd sort of stop and then...

-Talk.

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But I've always been a bit of an enthusiast.

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And I'd have chipped in, and he'd have responded.

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It was a shared passion. You're clutching a valuable book.

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Now, he gave this to you as a gift, because it was a gift to him, in turn.

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Yes, he did. When he left Blackburn, his colleagues

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at the Treasurer's office went down to the market, the street market,

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and picked this up, and it embodied so many of the details

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that later became part and parcel of what he was about.

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This comes from the time of... before the age of photography,

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when people went on grand tours of the Alps.

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There are wonderful drawings in here of the Matterhorn - the Matterhorn, there.

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When you just see that page, it screams Wainwright, doesn't it?

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-Clearly the inspiration - the shading, style...

-Texture.

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Texture. And the little walk.

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And the integration of text and artwork.

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At the beginning, there is an amazing picture

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that looks like the Newlands Valley, but there's this Victorian traveller with his Swiss guide,

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and he's opening up a guidebook, a classic little wallet book,

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and it says, "Consulting Murray".

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You can see AW looking at this book and thinking, "Hmm...consulting Wainwright."

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We know Wainwright never made it to the summit of Helm Crag

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because he left a space, didn't he, ready to fill? But you have been.

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-You've made it.

-I've made it.

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I learned my skills in mountain craft from my mountaineering club

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like a lot of people of my generation,

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but it is an interesting little climb, and it's something that you'll enjoy, I'm sure.

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Do you call the summit Helm Crag or the Lion and the Lamb?

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Helm Crag, because that's the name of the whole fell, and one tends to do that.

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You can't actually see the final summit from here, can you?

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It's just around the bend a bit.

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It's a sneaky one. This is the Grasmere Lion and the Lamb you're looking at.

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Wainwright would describe this as the official Lion and the Lamb,

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but to my mind, it's the... Howitzer's the real summit.

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The view you get from Dunmail Raise... It's an amazing place to be.

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-What more could you ask for?

-Nothing at all. Mark, thank you. It's been a pleasure.

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-It's been a delight to see you.

-Hold onto that book.

-I will. Au revoir.

-Au revoir.

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As I head off to begin my walk, let's take a look at the route.

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My walk begins in the heart of Grasmere village.

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The footpath takes me away from the tourist crowds and towards the western side of the fell.

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Here my route takes me across the National Trust estate at Allan Bank.

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I'll head along the tarmacked Easedale Road

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before heading into the woodland at the foot of Helm Crag.

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The engineered, rocky stairway snakes up the breast of the fell,

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passing by Lancrigg Crag, Jackdaw Crag and White Crag.

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From the path, there's a view across Easedale Beck to Easedale Tarn

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and the spectacular waterfall of Sour Milk Gill.

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But as my path hairpins to the right, I'll climb onto a ridge

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that gives me a view into the opposite valley,

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looking towards the pass of Dunmail Raise and the peak of Fairfield.

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Here, the final ascent leads to the summit ridge path.

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First, I'll approach the distinctive rocks of the Lion and the Lamb

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and then cross the boulder-strewn, craggy and desolate ridge top

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to reach the cannon-shaped barrel of rock, the Howitzer, which is the mountain's true top.

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Dove Cottage is Wordsworth's most famous home which now houses the Wordsworth Museum,

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but perhaps a lesser-known house is that one through the trees.

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That's Allan Bank, where he lived with his wife Mary, their five children

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and his poet friend Samuel Coleridge, between 1808 and 1811.

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In 1917, this impressive house was to have another important owner.

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It was purchased by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley,

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co-founder of the National Trust, who retired here.

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When he died in 1920,

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he left the estate to the Trust, who still manage it today.

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I can see the summit, but first on this route,

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there's a fair bit of low-level walking to do before I reach the foot of the fell.

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In book three, there's a tiny diagram which shows Helm Crag

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in relation to Grasmere, and Wainwright says,

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"This is the smallest and most accurate map in the book."

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We know it's the smallest map in Wainwright's pictorial guides,

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and it's the smallest map I've seen.

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It's the size of a stamp!

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Ordinarily, this would be a pretty late start for a walk.

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However, in this case, Wainwright recommends it.

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"For the evening of the day of arrival in Grasmere on a walking holiday, it's just the thing...

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"an epitome of Lakeland concentrated in the space of two hours

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"and an excellent foretaste of happy days to come."

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Now, this way is towards Easedale Tarn and a spectacular waterfall, Sour Milk Gill.

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The thing about this walk is that it gives you access

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to so many beautiful spots that, at the height of the season, it can get really busy.

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A short detour from the route to Helm Crag takes you across the valley to Easedale Tarn

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from where you have a fine view back to Helm Crag's profile.

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The thing about a low-level walk like this is that you really get

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the time to just soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the magic.

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That house over there at the foot of Helm Crag is Lancrigg,

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where the Lakeland poets used to meet and socialise,

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and it's easy to see how their creative juices would have been set off by this.

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As Wainwright did with his guides, Wordsworth immortalised the beauty of the Lakes in his poetry.

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He was often seen wandering in this valley and surrounding fells,

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dictating his poetry to his sister Dorothy.

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It starts to get a bit interesting here

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in the canopy of trees - it blocks out all light.

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Helm Crag that way...

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last chance to visit Easedale Tarn, that way.

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The route to Helm Crag also features in Wainwright's 192-mile coast-to-coast walk,

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from St Bee's Head in the west, crossing three National Parks along the way,

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to Robin Hood's Bay in the east...

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..making this a well-trodden route.

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"This is one of the few hills

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"where ascent and descent by the same route is recommended.

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"An alternative route has nothing in its favour."

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Suddenly, it's not so gentle, but thankfully, somebody's put a handrail up.

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The footpath is slightly altered from the route in volume three,

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as this path has been pitched and repaired by the National Trust.

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Now, although it's unlikely you'll go astray,

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it's a good reminder that you should carry an Ordnance Survey map, as the guidebook is nearing 50 years old.

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SHE SIGHS

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When Wainwright started walking, of course, the OS maps were drawn to a much smaller scale,

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so the detail wouldn't be there.

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Helm Crag would have looked just like a little blob.

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The new scale of the OS maps doubled, liberating Wainwright's work.

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"They fascinated me.

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"The one-inch maps we had to be content with before suffered from an absence of detail.

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"They were magnificent maps,

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"magnificently drawn and magnificently accurate,

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"but on the rough country of Lakeland,

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"where summits and crags and tarns and streams were bewilderingly crowded in small compass,

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"and where the ground was so steeply sculptured that the contours almost touched,

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"there was simply not room on the one-inch maps to show every feature

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"that a walker would encounter on his travels."

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And that, winking at us over there,

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is Sour Milk Gill.

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Fed from the waters of Easedale Tarn is the spectacular waterfall Sour Milk Gill.

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It gets its name from its foaming waters,

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which resemble milk when it's being churned into butter.

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At just under 1,300 feet, and only a mile and a half in distance, this fell is deceptively steep.

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This is starting to feel like a more serious walk.

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What a splendid view of Grasmere!

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The lake is to the south of the village,

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and there are some beautiful gentle walks around the water.

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But if you fancy some of the tougher challenges the Lakes have to offer,

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Grasmere is perfectly situated to tackle Helvellyn, the Langdale Pikes and the Scafells.

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The 214 fells included in the series of pictorial guides are commonly known as the Wainwrights.

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These range in height from the diminutive 985 feet at Castle Crag

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to the towering 3,210 feet of Scafell Pike.

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Completing all the fells is a popular peak-bagging challenge.

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Jonathan Broad is among an elite group of youngsters

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who have bagged all 214 Wainwrights before their tenth birthday.

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-Good to meet you, how are you?

-Fine.

-Good, good.

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An extraordinary thing you've done to get through

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all of those fells before your tenth birthday.

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-Did you set out to do that? Is it what you wanted to do?

-Yeah.

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How did you first come across a Wainwright book?

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Well, my dad sort of, like, asked me to do the Wainwrights,

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and then my mum started buying the Wainwright books for my dad, and then I started to look at them.

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Wow, I am so far behind you. You've done 214 of them.

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I've done just a handful.

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What are your favourites?

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-Helm Crag.

-So, where we are right now?

-Yeah.

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Why? Why do you love Helm Crag? It's a miniature fell.

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Well, I like the...like - looking from that road down there -

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looking at the Lion and the Lamb and climbing on top of it.

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What would you do next if you could do another one again and again?

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Which one would it be, that you really enjoyed the journey of?

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Probably this one, Helm Crag.

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-Really? This one again?

-Yeah.

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How many fells have you walked in one day?

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-12 at the most.

-12? Blimey!

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-That's a lot.

-It was 18 miles as well.

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Phew! I don't know if I could keep up with you!

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HE GIGGLES

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Have you ever done any camping outside, bivouacking?

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Yeah. We had to do loads of fells, and we didn't think we could do them in time,

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so we just camped out at night and waited till morning

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and got up at, like, four in the morning to do them.

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You're a very dedicated fell walker.

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Can you remember a time when you started on a walk

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and it was a sunny day and it turned into a horrible, rainy day?

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Yeah, cos we started on this walk where we did three fells, and when we got to the, um...

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Well, it was sort of sunny at the start, and then when we got

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near the end at High Spire, it was really windy and wet and cold.

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-Were you prepared? Did you have everything you needed?

-Yep.

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-What do you pack normally when you're going?

-Well, a whistle, a map, a coat and...

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-food.

-That's pretty good.

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So how long do you think you could survive on a fell for?

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Probably about two days, maybe.

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Blimey.

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Now, have you got any tips for me? Because you've done all 214 fells.

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I'm a long way behind you, so I've got quite a lot to learn, I think.

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Hmm. Well...

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really, you need to, like, have all your stuff ready for when it gets bad weather

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and just, like, keep going.

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So just keep going?

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Yeah, even if it's really bad weather,

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but I suppose if it's like thunder and lightning, then you should come back to be safe.

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So, what future plans have you got, Jonathan? What's next?

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-Well, my dad was talking about doing the Pennine Way...

-Yeah.

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and we might do it in a few years,

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and once he actually talked about doing Kilimanjaro in Africa when I'm about 20.

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-So, a little wait to go.

-Yeah.

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-Jonathan, thank you very much.

-Thank you.

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-It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm going to make my way right to the top.

-OK.

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See if we can do what Wainwright didn't do. See you!

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Bye, Julia!

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The final stretch to the summit gets a bit stonier underfoot,

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but that's always a good sign.

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It means you're nearly there.

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Wainwright said the hills are not death traps.

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You don't go on the hills to break your neck.

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You go on the hills to get away from places where other people can break your neck.

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And now you can see what Wainwright made such a fuss about.

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"The summit is altogether a rather weird and fantastic place.

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"Well worth not merely a visit, but a detailed and leisurely exploration."

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Well, this is the Lion and the Lamb, but from such close proximity, you actually can't make it out at all.

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There's the A591.

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And now I'm one of those little ants you can see from down there

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scuttling along the rocky profile.

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Although this is a short walk and a low fell by Lakeland standards,

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it does make it into Wainwright's top six summits,

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and when you look across that ridge towards the other pinnacle of rock,

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you can see why.

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"The ridge path is a joy to tread

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and leads majestically to the main summit outcrop...

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"a tilted, jagged mass of rock which will draw a camera from many a bag."

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There is an alternative easier path down to the left.

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That would be cheating!

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But this is a good path to obey Wainwright's golden rule of watching your feet.

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He describes it as "boulder strewn"

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and it's certainly a good route to twist an ankle.

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That jagged mass of rock on the north of the summit

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is known as the Howitzer, and that's really the mountain's true top.

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As I approach the Howitzer, the looming top looks to be about 30 feet above the path.

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And perhaps it's a trickier proposition than I first imagined.

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Now it's time to see for myself how difficult that final scramble up to the top really is,

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because, of course, AW never actually made it up there.

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Although, of course, he was considerably older than I am when he tried.

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"The virtues of Helm Crag have not been lauded enough.

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"It gives an exhilarating little climb, a brief essay

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"in real mountaineering, and in a region where all is beautiful,

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"it makes a notable contribution

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"to the natural charms and attractions of Grasmere."

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This is one of the very few summits in Lakeland

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reached only by climbing rocks.

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Wainwright described it as one of the very best.

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"In scenic values, the summits of many high mountains are a disappointment

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"after the long toil of ascent, yet here, on top of little Helm Crag,

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a midget of a mountain,

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"is a remarkable array of rocks, upstanding and fallen,

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"of singular interest and fascinating appearance,

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"that yield a quality of reward out of all proportion to the short and simple climb."

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"The uppermost inches of Scafell and Hellvellyn and Skiddaw

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"can show nothing like Helm Crag's

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"crown of shattered and petrified stone."

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The whole feel of this walk from Grasmere to Helm Crag's summit

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is completely different from my other walks.

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Here, the low-level journey to the foot of the fell makes a significant and enjoyable part of the route.

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The steep but relatively short hike up the fellside may deliver amazing views,

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but as Wainwright clearly realised, it's the rocky and desolate summit

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with its stark contrast to the valley below

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that delivers the walker the most inspiration and reward.

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Wainwright left a little corner

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in book three's Helm Crag section -

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"Reserved for an announcement

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"that the author had succeeded

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"in surmounting the highest point,"

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which, of course, he never did.

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Sitting in this evening light on the summit of Helm Crag,

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it's easy to see how this miniature fell winged its way

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into Wainwright's affections,

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and having struggled to the top of this pinnacle,

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I can tell you it's not as easy as it looks from down in Grasmere.

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I think we can forgive AW for not making it to the very, very top...

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a small fell with a tricky proposition.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media

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Series in which Julia Bradbury explores the Lake District landscape that inspired the great British fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright to produce his beautifully crafted guidebooks.

Julia is in the village of Grasmere for a climb up Helm Crag, defined by the collection of rock formations at its summit - a feature that has lent it the nickname of the Lion and the Lamb. The rocks make for a summit scramble for Julia as she finds out why this was the only summit Wainwright never reached.


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