You may think that as the end of a long campaign approaches, the pressure eases, and perhaps even a hint of “de-mob crazy” starts to show. In reality the opposite probably happens, as your brain thinks of more and more ways the Challenge might be derailed – a sprained ankle or other serious injury, a call to jury service, or in my case a stinking cold which refuses to go away. Although to be fair, things aren’t helped by the fact that I don’t like to take anything like aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen unless I absolutely have to.
So Ian Hardy (with Meg, the flat-coat retriever) kindly drove this snivelling wretch (wreck?) to Whinlatter Forestry Visitor Centre above Braithwaite, near Keswick, where we met Duncan and Emma Metcalf and their somewhat smaller dog Koshma. While our two canine companions got to know each other (mainly by snarling and barking) we got our boots on and obtained a Whinlatter Trails Map from one of the rangers who kindly let us into the centre before official opening time.
Incidentally, allow me to write the following, in case one of the Forestry Commission app developers is reading this. Your app, with details of all the visitor centres, attractions, maps etc is a lovely thing to download and browse through in the comfort of your own wifi-equipped home. It doesn’t work at all in the absence of 3G, 4G or wifi. Which is precisely what is absent (I think this is a reasonable bet) from almost every single Forestry Commission visitor centre. Please – all you need to do is make it possible to download the trail maps and it would be a lovely, useful resource, instead of being about as helpful as a chocolate fireguard!
By-passing the ‘Go-Ape’ attraction and enjoying paths which after the last nine months felt like motorways (even the junctions are numbered!), and with the dogs now good friends, we climbed through the woodland and on to the summit of Seat How (1,627′, 496 m), a small area of flattish rock with views of Grisedale and Ladyside Pikes. The sun was shining, the air was calm and cool – perfect walking conditions.
We dropped down to another wide track and headed for the quaintly-named Barf (1,536′, 468 m), which has forbiddingly steep rocky crags facing Bassenthwaite but from the west is simply pleasant (if a bit knobbly) moorland. Take a few steps east from the summit though, and the precipitous drop to the road is quite impressive!
Out of the trees now, we enjoyed a saunter across open moorland, first to Lord’s Seat (1,811′, 552 m), where we met a couple from Essex reconnoitring a route for their group of friends next April (only just in time then) and then Broom Fell (1,676′, 511 m) with a very fine stone cairn indeed, where we met John Brown from Cockermouth with his two Jack Russells.
John was part-way through his second round of Wainwrights, and I felt slightly awkward telling him that we were standing on my penultimate one – in an hour or two I’d be at no 214, completing my second round and doing them all in under a year!
We retraced our steps now, re-entering the forest and then trying to find a path (unsuccessfully) to the top of Ullister Hill (1,722′, 525 m), realising as we did so that we’d passed within 50 yards of it on our way up to Seat How, and I could have saved us a bit of walking if I’d been paying more attention (once you’ve got a route in your head it’s very difficult to change it!)
It’s a pretty inconspicuous summit surrounded by heather, but a good place to stop and have a spot of lunch, despite the fact that lots of walkers, runners and cyclists now seemed to appearing from all directions!
If this top was inconspicuous, it was soon outdone in the mediocrity stakes by Tarbarrel Moss (1,617′, 493 m). Before we got there we were hailed by a walker and his family who had collected one or two of my summit cards and spotted the 542 logo on the back of my rucksack. We accompanied each other for a quarter of a mile or so until our ways parted and we headed up a dark narrow path through thick trees. It did occur to me that if all the sphagnum moss were cleared away, the top might be in a completely different place!
Only two more left now, on Whinlatter Fell, and although our route started off pathless and hard going, we eventually picked up a path over the fell, enjoying great views of the fells opposite. The first top – Whinlatter Top (1,722′ 525 m) is the higher of the two, but isn’t the Wainwright. It is a Birkett though, so was claimed as no 540 this year… at which point Emma realised that she and her phone were no longer together. Oh no!
She’d last used it at the top of Tarbarrel Moss so after a brief discussion Duncan decided to head back and look for it. We pressed on to Brown How on Whinlatter (1,696′ 517 m), the penultimate Birkett of this Challenge and the final Wainwright – meaning that I’ve done my second complete round of the 214 Wainwrights, this time in 9½ months.
Duncan reappeared soon after, with Emma’s phone in hand (he’d done remarkably well to find it) and we descended to another track in the forest and from there back to the Visitor Centre, after almost 10 miles and 8 summits.
It’s difficult to describe my feelings now. Relief, I think, but not the same as the ‘banging your head against a brick wall’ relief, as much of the walking has been a great pleasure. Disbelief, partly, that I’ve managed to find time to spend 85 days on the fells and climbed every summit virtually unscathed. Gratitude, for all the help and support I’ve received (more about that in a later episode), and some satisfaction, certainly – divided between the achievement of climbing all the summits (including walking almost 750 miles and ascending the equivalent of a 42-mile high staircase), and (hopefully) raising some serious money for Cancer Research UK.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still one last summit to go – Carron Crag, this coming Saturday. I’m hoping lots of friends – old, new, and some I haven’t even met yet – will be there. Please come along and give your support.
If you can’t wait until Saturday to donate all those 10p’s you hopefully collected, please visit the ‘How to Donate’ page on this website or simply click here to be taken to the Challenge’s Just Giving page. Thank you!