Friday, 25 June 2010

The Saint of Solitude.

The Lakes have been bathed in sunshine for the last couple of days and I've been enjoying the opportunity to stretch my legs and clear my head. On Wednesday I set off early from my base in Keswick and headed out of town up and over Latrigg onto Skiddaw, where, after a steady two hour climb I was able to stand on the ridge and take in the wonderful view over the Northern fells back towards Carlisle and the Borders. I stayed on, what felt like, the roof of the world for an hour or so before tracing my way back down via Skiddaw little man which offers amazing views South back to Derwentwater and Borrowdale.

I took Alfred Wainwright's guidebook up the mountain with me. His observations, gentle prose accounts of the journey, although written fifty years ago, have an incredible intimacy -especially when he's your only companion. His line drawing images quickly make the curve and scale of the mountain familiar.

I drove down to Buttermere to find the plaque in St James' church dedicated to his memory. It lies beneath a window offering a view up to Haystacks - his favourite fell and final resting place.

'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.'

By all accounts Wainwright was a bit of a miserable old curmudgeon, unable to bear most forms of social interaction and happier alone with the loyal fells than with his colleagues and admirers (friends are harder to trace), but there is something admirable about his independence and self reliance. Something steadfast about his patience and resolve. Over time he became as fixed and recognisable a part of the Cumbrian landscape as any of the mountains. He became one. Our culture fears loneliness and solitude -what makes Wainwright so remarkable is that he revelled in it.

On Thursday I headed South to Patterdale and took another slow climb across Birkhouse Moor towards the summit of Helvellyn. This was Wordsworth's favourite and he was happy climbing it well into his seventies. I'm impressed, it nearly killed me.

I set out across Striding Edge (see image), but froze at the dizzying drop and had to come back and take the softer route to the top around Red Tarn and along Swirral Edge, coming back to lake level via Miresbeck.

I hope I'll find a chance to escape this way again sooner rather than later.

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