Friday, February 09, 2018

take a hike, asshole

I saw the countdown of the last 20 or so walks in Britain's Favourite Walks a week or two ago, many of them very familiar to me. It was of special interest as we're off to the Lake District for a week in early April and I harbour ambitions to get out for a day in the mountains at least once during our time there, and, moreover, lots of the most popular walks in this list are in that area, not surprisingly.

Obviously a few quibbles about the selection criteria: I get that you've got to grab the interest of as wide a spectrum of people as possible, from your Nan who just wants a mile or two on unchallenging terrain with a nice view and a nice tea shop at the end, to the more hardcore scrambling enthusiast who'd prefer to shin up Buachaille Etive Mòr in a blizzard. That said it does seem a bit of a stretch to include things like the West Highland Way which at over 95 miles is clearly a multi-day proposition if you're going to do the whole thing and therefore more of a gruelling mini-holiday than what most people would consider "a walk".

Also, a lot of the items on the list are what you might consider destinations rather than walks. A piddling distinction, perhaps, but most people love, say, Rhossili beach (myself among them) without being especially attached to any particular single walk that has it as the main destination. So let's say two people nominated two completely different walks featuring Rhossili as a highlight: do they get considered as two separate items? Or bundled together under the same heading? That consideration is quite pertinent to the slightly surprising number one walk on the list, Helvellyn. The classic walkers' route up here is via Striding Edge, but that won't be for everyone, indeed Julia Bradbury chose to take a different and slightly less gnarly route up via Glenridding Common. So is the winning walk specifically "Helvellyn via Glenridding Common", or is it "any walk that happens to have Helvellyn as its primary objective"? It's slightly unsatisfactory.

Anyway, these are minor quibbles. The top ten featured five walks in Lakeland (only three-and-a-half of them involving serious mountains) and two in Snowdonia, with the remainder dotted elsewhere across northern England. There were only two (number 3, Malham in the Yorkshire Dales and number 10, Mam Tor in the Peak District) that I hadn't done. Here are the ones I had:

1. Helvellyn: I say "slightly surprising number one" just because I'd assumed it'd be one of the country high points like Snowdon or Scafell Pike, but it is obviously a fine and noble mountain, and with a special place in my memory as it's the first serious mountain I ever climbed, back in the late 1980s when I would guess I was about 15 or 16. We climbed it from the Thirlmere side (from the car park here, I think), which is a pretty direct route to the summit but not the most scenic angle of ascent. I've never been back since, which of course means that I've never been across Striding Edge, something I definitely want to rectify before I get too crumbly and decrepit to do it.
2. Snowdon: I can't actually remember how many times I've been up here, but it must be half a dozen or so, most recently in typically grim weather in 2009. Again, there are half a dozen or so "classic" routes up the mountain, and the programme didn't commit to any specific one. I rather like the circular route ascending via the Snowdon Ranger path and descending by the Rhyd Ddu path, not least because it ends at a pub. If you're in a hurry, like at the end of the Three Peaks Challenge, then up the Pyg and down the Miner's is the way to go.
4. Cat Bells: This is the "half" in my three-and-a-half Lakeland mountains, because at 451 metres (1480 feet) it's really only a hill. The walk here has it as the focal point, but if you're serious then it's just the first stop-off on the classic Newlands horseshoe walk, the high point of which is Dale Head at the far end of the Newlands valley, which (as you can see) features a rather splendid summit cairn.
5. Scafell Pike: I've been up here twice, most recently a furious yomp up from Wasdale at about 4am as the middle summit of the Three Peaks Challenge. This is the most challenging of the three walks for several reasons - you're starting in the dark at around 2am which is psychologically quite difficult, although it was a warm dry night when we did it in 2006, and it's the sharpest and steepest of the three ascents and the scramble up onto the summit dome is scree-y and challenging. But it's all worth it to see the sun rise over the trig point at 4:30am before scooting back down to the minibus for a bacon sandwich. The other time was in the late 1980s, probably the second major peak I did after Helvellyn, via the longer (but better) route from the farm at Seathwaite.
6. Tryfan: this is a terrific mountain that I've only been to the top of once, in some fairly stinging wind and rain in the mid-1990s. The picture shows me trying to hold onto a loose-fitting woolly hat next to the Adam and Eve rocks which mark the summit. It was definitely not a day to attempt the leap between the two rocks, though.
7. Buttermere: this is the low-level walk around the lake which we did on a family trip to the Lakes in the late 1980s. I don't recall much about it except there being a rock tunnel at one point.
8. The Old Man Of Coniston: one of our earliest Lakeland peaks, back in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
9. Dunstanburgh, Northumberland: the castle is the point here and there's not too much fuss about how you get there, though a walk along the beach is nice. The equally impressive (and slightly less ruined) Bamburgh castle is a couple of miles further north, also right on the beach. We had a family holiday in the area in May 1981 - I can date it this specifically as I recall watching the England v Scotland football match on the TV in our holiday cottage, Scotland winning through a John Robertson second-half penalty.

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