This evening, BBC 4 screened a programme called ‘Wainwright’s Walks’. This is the first of four episodes, and it takes viewers up to Haystacks, Wainwright’s favourite fell, out of the 214 in the Lake District. Even via the medium of a television screen, I could actually feel the loneliness of the fell, the serenity surrounding it, and appreciate Wainwright’s preference for walking alone in order to enjoy and absorb the peacefulness and tranquility of the mountains. No wonder Alfred Wainwright said, ‘Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the midst of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds … For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure.’ (www.lakedistrict.gov.uk)
Wainwright said that ‘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 than calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when away from it.’ Wainwright’s first experience of Lakeland fell walking was a relatively tame one up Orrest Head, Windermere. The views of Lake Windermere and the fells beyond so enraptured him that he famously said, ‘These few hours on Orrest Head cast a spell that changed my life.’ Later, he moved closer to the fells, living in Kendal, the gateway to the Lake District.
Alfred Wainwright’s love affair with the Lake District continued throughout his life. In fact, his ashes are scattered at Innominate Tarn at the top of Haystacks. In his Memoirs of a Fell Walker, he writes:
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 the gravely shore and the heath 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 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 boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me . . .
I wish I could have captured some of the images shown on tonight’s BBC programme to include in this post. There were some truly marvellous shots that captured the lonely and achingly beautiful but peaceful essence of Haystacks and Innominate Tarn. (www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007w7yb) I liked the fact that the producers did not try to fill the programme with music as the camera panned the surrounding landscapes and whilst Julia Bradbury, the presenter, was hiking. Instead, the presenter only spoke when necessary and allowed the silence of the fells to commend itself.
There are of course many fells for Lakeland visitors to discover and enjoy for themselves. Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells gives not just an overview of and walking directions for the fells, but also conveys his philosophy regarding mankind and the fells landscape. Eric Robson, who produced a television series with Wainwright about Lakeland’s fells, came to know him well, and his words successfully convey the great fell walker’s philosophy:
His Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells are classic books that have stood the test of being hauled to the top of the 214 Lakeland summits millions of times in the past half century. The only mistake Wainwright made was to call them ‘guides’ because they’re so much more than that. As I’ve often said, to the delight of guide book writers everywhere, any fool can write a guide book. I’ve written guide books. What Wainwright created was so, so much more. The books are little works of art in their own right and at their heart is the bond between man and mountain; a philosophy that illuminated Wainwright’s long life.
I would like to finish with a quote from Alfred Wainwright which depicts the moment that he fell in love with the Lake District. Having climbed Orrest Head (which, incidentally, is only a mile from Blenheim Lodge B&B and easily accessible for our guests), he enthused:
I was totally transfixed, unable to believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like this. I saw mountain ranges, one after another, the nearer starkly etched, those beyond fading into the blue distance. Rich woodlands, emerald pastures and the shimmering water of the lake below added to a pageant of loveliness, a glorious panorama that held me enthralled. I had seen landscapes of rural beauty pictured in the local art gallery, but here was no painted canvas; this was real. This was truth. God was in his heaven that day and I a humble worshipper.
Blenheim Lodge . . . panoramic Lake views, peace and tranquillity, nestled against acres of beautiful fields and woodlands, in the heart of the English Lake District National Park.’