AFTER CRAWLING OVER the summit of Haystacks in a strong and gusty west wind, the sun appeared and I sat alone by the side of Innominate Tarn to ponder life and death and Alfred Wainwright. It was 17 January 2007, exactly 100 years since he was born. The centenary was receiving a fair amount of publicity on the local radio and I expected crowds of people to visit the tarn. Although I know that I was neither the first nor the last person there on this day, I was astounded to traverse the hill without meeting or even sighting another soul.
To be there alone was a very special privilege, in keeping with AW's words from the end of Fellwanderer:
"...a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn, on Haystacks, where the water gently laps the gravelly shore and the heather 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."
Nowadays it is rare on any day of any year to enjoy this place in solitude. And of course AW himself must take some of the blame for the over-popularity of the Lakeland hills and of Haystacks in particular. However, I am hardly in a position to grumble about this. Despite first visiting and falling in love with the area at the age of 13, expeditions were mainly confined to honeypot hills such as Helvellyn and Scafell Pike before acquiring the seven Wainwright guidebooks almost as soon as they were published.
There was talk at one time of renaming the tarn as Wainwright Tarn, but thankfully this idea was dropped and it remains innominate. Instead, a memorial window, looking out to Haystacks, was installed in Buttermere church, an idea which seems far more appropriate, despite AW's apparent lack of any interest in religion. Some folk, however, cannot resist plaques, and one has now appeared at the tarn itself: "To the memory of A.W. from J & S two grateful fellwalkers". Is this really for AW, or to "immortalise" J & S? Hopefully it will be removed in accordance with National Park policy. Just imagine if every grateful fellwalker erected a memorial there!
The sun disappeared and wind whipped up the water. A hailstorm rattled in, complete with thunder and lightning. How AW would have loved this display of the grandeur of the fells and of the insignificance of the walker who hastened nervously off the hill. In a couple of minutes the landscape was transformed into a true winter scene, one which perhaps AW may not have enjoyed very often as I believe he walked only in the summer when the buses from Kendal were operating. Now there are buses and walkers all year and my solitary ramble was a rare and precious treat. I descended through Warnscale Bottom and arrived back at the car well pleased with the walk - but sadly found not one bit of grit in my boots.
Pictures of this ascent of Haystacks can be found at http://www.madaboutmountains.com/70117.htm
Ed. - Further to Ann's point about the plaque being there to immortalise "J & S", the autographing of the thing surely provides a hefty indication of the motivation for putting it there in the first place. (There's a photograph of it on Andrew Leaney's Lakeland Fells site at http://www.leaney.org/lake_district_walk.php?walk_id=653) If there do have to be plaques anywhere up top - and surely the Innominate Tarn one is at the inappropriate end of the scale - then unsigned plaques, where the people who installed it remain unknown, would seem to be less bad than self-centred look-at-me signed ones such as this.
Re AW not having often been on the fells in winter, there are a few snowy scenes to be found in the Pictorial Guide - see, for instance, Clough Head 1, Fairfield 14 and Hart Crag 4 in The Eastern Fells, High Street 14 in The Far Eastern Fells, and Pike o' Blisco 4 in The Southern Fells. For the most striking of these, turn to Dow Crag 12, also in The Southern Fells - fourth book in the series and the one which sees AW into his stride and in near-total control of his art. If forced to nominate the most accomplished book ever published on British hillgoing, I would plump for this. The whole series is wonderful, but The Southern Fells feels like its highpoint.
The Wainwright Society, http://www.wainwright.org.uk/, reports that a cub scout named Jordan Ross completed a round of the 214 Wainwright fells on 24 October at the age of nine years seven months 17 days. By way of comparison, the youngest known Munroist, Lynn Batty, was aged 11 years 253 days when she completed on Slioch, 17/11/95.
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