During my formative years I was an eager collector of those beautifully produced pictorial guides to the mountains and fells and mountains of Westmorland, Cumberland and (often forgotten) dear old Lancashire, that we now refer collectively to today as ‘Wainwrights’.
It took a number of years to assemble the full set of seven books, accumulated as birthday and Christmas presents. At first they were merely the vehicle of dreams, conveying me from Padiham to the dizzy heights of mountains I had never set foot upon. But by the time I had roped Wifey into carrying out portering services for my rucksack, sorry ‘our rucksack’, the fells had become familiar friends.
With my Wainwright in my hand, we strode out across those fells with confidence ticking off summit after summit, carefully noting inside the back cover the date of their conquest. Those were happy days and we knew we were unstoppable, and of course, immortal.
Nothing phased us, we were up for everything and anything. But in our headlong rush to the glamour and romance of the heights, we barely gave the lower ground more than a sideways glance. Of course, the rules changed when survival gear and waterproofs started to jostle for space in the rucksack with nappy bags and baby wipes and our young companions (ie the kids) often needed to be carried.
Our ambitions had to be tempered by the sheer time it takes to load a car, stow every possible type of clothing, prepare bottles and make sure we had clothes for all four of us. The hours slipped away as early starts became impractical. We reined-in our ambitions and started to appreciate the lower ground.
Now, the girls have grown up, but creaky knees (it’s not the going up but the coming down), dodgy hips, bad backs and a moderated pace mean we still linger in the lower areas, but always dream of the heights.
This is where Wainright’s less well known eighth volume, ‘the Outlying Fells’ comes in handy. Rather out of date, whole forests have been grown and harvested since his guides were published, but they still help convey the feel of a place.
It was this guide that first led me onto Claife Heights on the western shores of Windermere. This was the stomping ground of Beatrix Potter, but since her day the foresters have moved in. Nevertheless there are some lovely paths and tracks to follow between Far Sawrey, Hawkshead and Wray, and for the gluttons amongst us (head held high I include myself here) cake and comfort are never far away.
We walked down the shore of Windermere from Wray to the ferry, then via Far Sawrey (for refreshments), Near Sawrey (for further refreshments) onto the crowd free delights of Claife Heights, past Moss Eccles Tarn and Wise Een Tarn to ‘guide post’ in the forest, dropping into Hawkshead by field paths for...err....more refreshments.
Somewhat slower and heavier we headed north across gently undulating ground towards Hole House farm. With a view ahead to die for across Blelham Tarn and lake Windermere, we contentedly ambled along towards the vicarage and church at Low Wray, before returning to the car via the lake shore.
This is not classic fell walking, but is wonderful walking and, for the most part, we had the place to ourselves.
No wonder Beatrix Potter loved the area, and as Wordsworth put it (sort of), “Surely God hath created no lovelier place”, made all the better by the Coniston ale I sampled in Hawkshead.
Needless to say I (not for the first time) shame-faced handed Wifey the keys at the end of a perfect day.