Thursday, 31 January 2013

Confessions of a fell walker.

There's a danger when writing blogs about fell walking that you can come across as someone who's never put a foot wrong when that is very far from the truth, so here are some of the things I've done, or haven't done, which don't fit neatly with the image of "experienced and sensible fell walker".

1.  On our first hike up Helvellyn (via Striding Edge) I forgot to pack our sandwiches and only took plastic bottles of water, one of which sprung a leak and had to be emptied half way up.  We still made it by topping up our remaining bottle from the streams and eeking out our snacks during the day.  Not clever and not a mistake we've ever made again.

Not the place to forget your sarnies.
2.  We have, on occasion, navigated using the "lots of other people are heading that way so it must be right" technique, only to end up in completely the wrong place.  Well, not so much wrong as different, and silly.

3.  There have been several occasions when I've planned a route because it looked like a "nice circular route" and have failed to take into account the contours indicating steep ascents and descents along the way.  Fair to say we've had a few "lively debates" about those when they've come to light.
C'mon, it's not *that* far...

4.  You know that moment when you're stood atop a crag, gazing away into the distance and think to yourself "I know we planned to do X but that summit really doesn't look that far away."?  Been there, done it, got the T-shirt.  One particular hike involving Scafell Pike leaps to mind.  Having already completed the summit ridge we got distracted by Allen Crags, Esk Pike and Bow Fell before Steve wisely called time as I eyed up Crinkle Crags...

5.  We got hopelessly lost in the mist on Riggindale because we were "so sure of where we were going" that we didn't take a compass reading, even though we had one with us. We ended up having to hike over High Street, in the dark, mist and rain with only an iphone torch to guide us.  Not our proudest moment.

6.  We've never read Wainwright.  I've read a biography about him and am intrigued by his single minded determination to complete the books, and I've flicked through and greatly admired the drawings and handwriting, but I don't want to be told what to look for.  Spoils the surprise for me, rather like squeezing your pressies on Christmas Eve.  One day I'll get around to reading his take on the ones we've already done, but I've got so many other books to read about places I'll probably never visit.

"I can see your footpath from here"
7.  We got soaked to the skin around Haweswater when we set off in glorious sunshine and left our waterproofs behind, convinced it wouldn't rain.  We returned to the car a couple of hours later soaked to the skin and truly penitent.

8.  We didn't check the batteries in Steve's head torch and ended up near sprinting along Borrowdale in Kendal valley to get back to the car before it got dark.

9.  We've mistaken sheep tracks for footpaths more times than I care to admit to.  Maybe that's how the footpaths got there in the first place.

10.  "Yeah, that road looks fine, just give it a bit of a run up"  fateful words uttered recently when attempting to reach Walna Scar car park in the snow.  We didn't make it and discovered that even a Landrover can slide backwards on all 4 wheels on a sheet of compacted snow/ ice.

So there you go, my top confessions.  We've been lucky/ experienced enough to get ourselves out of various scrapes unharmed and have learned lessons from each and every experience.  Life on the fells isn't about being perfect, it's about keeping your head when things start to go wrong and learning your lessons for next time.  And please, tell me I'm not alone - are there any confessions you're willing to admit to?


  1. Love this. Can I add, following a district boundary line on a map, until it goes across a lake; being too proud to get a map out (probably a male thing) and navigating a route through dense gorse bushes after telling a mate that he was overdressed for a fell run and shorts would be fine.

  2. oh, and you should read Wainwright. I find him quite witty, perhaps best read after a walk though,

  3. Thanks Paul - love the boundary line incident! You're right I should read Wainwright - I promise I'll start to give him a go.

  4. Who doesn't use the 'follow the crowd' principle in many situations? Rural roads, walking, at events...... !

  5. I dont really do the follow the crowd thing but if i see evidence of footprints then i see it as validation that i must be going the right way - didnt work on bleaklow, i got a bit lost. I have also followed sheep tracks and i have also had the conversation with my partner when i have pointed out another summit that isnt too far away (i tend to forget I have to get back to where we left the car)

  6. Oh I'm always forgetting the fact I need enough in my legs for the return journey too! And following the crowds - we all do it, but I never understand why. And we wonder at the sheep... :-)

  7. I think everyone does "follow those people" ... sometimes they walk past you in the other direction with 'sorry, we don't know where we are either'.
    Biggest failure was trying High Street from Haweswater, and leaving the car park in the wrong direction. Lost from the first step. Horrendous windy day; had to load rucksack with rocks to keep on the ground (back in my 20s obviously).
    Do read Wainwright ... I had never until 2 years ago, but they are the most accurate ways of getting up some of the lesser known fells that have no paths on either OS or Harveys. Latest revision is accurate.
    I've followed paths on old OS maps that are no longer there.
    And I think the sheep like to deliberately mislead us!

    1. It's always the start of the walk that's the hardest! 😀