occasional snapshots of thought

View from Stainton Pike

A Return to the Hills: Part 1

Posted on 5th October 2020

I had pretty much given up hope of visiting the Lake District in 2020. Lockdown had been frustrating and since restrictions were eased, finding accommodation in one of the most popular “staycation” destinations in the UK turned out to be almost impossible – almost.

I had planned to return in April, with the aim of completing the Fellranger Fells. YHA accommodation had been booked back in December and I’d planned the walks that would take me to the remaining tops I needed to complete the challenge I’d set myself 5 years ago – to complete both the Wainwright and Fellranger fells, 235 in all.

With the Wainwrights completed in July last year, and a few of the additional Fellrangers already in the bag, I had just 17 tops to visit. That didn’t sound too difficult but the distribution of the remaining tops meant I’d need 6 good walking days to visit them all.

Once again, Hannah came to my rescue in finding accommodation. With all the YHAs booked out and only expensive hotel rooms available, a stay in the Lakes wasn’t looking feasible until Hannah found YMCA Lakeside, where accommodation had just been opened up. It wasn’t in the perfect location but it was good enough, so I quickly booked 5 nights – I was returning to the hills!

+Read more

The view to Beacon Hill from Ladle Hill

Walking from home

Posted on 25th May 2020

The last time I journeyed more than a few miles from home is now almost two months in the past. On the 19th March, I pulled in to London Waterloo on my usually rammed commuter train. Just six of us stepped onto the platform. That was the point at which I realised I probably shouldn’t even be there. I travelled on to Greenwich and had my meeting. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to grab a spare webcam and a few other necessities. I watered my lovely ferns and went straight home. That was it, and the last eight weeks have been a strange mix of anxiety and comfort.

+Read more

View from Corfa Pike with rainbow

Loose Ends and Rainbows

Posted on 16th November 2019

So I’d completed the Wainwrights and you might think that would be that. However, despite a final tick in the 214th box, it didn’t really feel like a completion. I didn’t have a complete photographic record of all the summits, and since this challenge had become mildly obsessive, that bugged me. During my early walks I wasn’t particularly focussed on photographing summits because I didn’t even know that I might be attempting a completion. And then there was the time I lost two days worth of photographs when the SD card in my camera failed. In short, I needed to return to the Lakes to complete the set.

Earlier this year, over supper at YHA Eskdale, I was asked whether I was an incrementalist or a completist. At the time, I answered that I was a completist – completing “the set” has been a big motivator for me. However, the more I think about this question, the more I realise that it’s a false dichotomy. In truth, everyone is an incrementalist until the set is completed. Furthermore, the joy of completion is sometimes exceeded by the attainment of a particularly hard-won incremental step. Nonetheless, I still wanted (needed?) a full set of summit photographs.

I’d revisited some of the missing tops in July but I was still short of 16 summit photos, mostly from the Eastern Fells, and on this visit, I was determined to fill those gaps as this would most likely be my last visit to the Lakes this year. The only problem was that the weather forecast was not good and it looked pretty wet for the week ahead.

This visit was also late in the planning. In truth, I hadn’t planned for it at all and when it came to booking the stay, it became clear that I’d missed my chance of finding a suitable room at a convenient YHA hostel. I toyed with the idea of camping but the weather forecast put paid to that notion.

I wasn’t sure what to do until Hannah, using her deep-search skills, found a perfectly located B&B in Patterdale that turned out to be even cheaper than a hostel – so I booked it and a week later, on Saturday, 17th August, I was driving up to Southport in the rain.

+Read more

Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks from Buttermere

The End of a Beginning

Posted on 16th August 2019

Family holidays are becoming a bit of a rarity for us. With both kids now living away from home, Hannah and I had booked a week in a small cottage in Buttermere, not knowing what the kids’ movements would be over the summer. As it turned out, they both said they wanted to be there when I completed my round of the Wainwrights, and naturally I was delighted. So we booked a couple of camping pitches close to the cottage and we were all set.

If you’ve been reading this journal, you’ll know that I had just two Wainwrights remaining, Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks. Both tops are relatively easy walks from Buttermere and my priority was to bag those two; any additional walking would be a bonus and dependent on keeping the rest of the family happy.

+Read more

View south-west from the Slight Side, Scafell path

Bagging the Scafells

Posted on 30th June 2019

There are a few reasons why I’ve been leaving the Scafells to the end of this challenge. First, as the highest of the Wainwright fells, in fact, the highest mountains in England, it seemed fitting to leave them to the end. Second, it made sense geographically. Broadly, I started in the east, moved round to the north and am finishing in the west and south. Third, they are difficult to get to, or rather, they are a long drive from the key centres in the Lake District. But most of all, they are popular. There would be no chance of getting to the top of Scafell Pike alone and although I don’t mind meeting the odd (in every sense of the word) traveller, crowds do not make for an enjoyable climb. However, on this occasion, I thought I might have a good chance of minimising congestion on the narrow paths. The weather forecast for the weekend was mixed, I had scheduled Scafell Pike for a Friday, avoiding the busier weekend and the quieter Scafell for Saturday. What could possibly go wrong?

I was in Manchester on the Thursday for our Web Teaching Today get-together. A gathering of a really lovely group of people who teach web design at FE and HE institutions. It’s a good forum to discuss contemporary trends and current teaching issues in a relaxed and supportive environment. We had what I thought was a very productive day at MMU and, as usual, a trip to Manchester is a great opportunity to mix business with the pleasure of walking in the Lake District.

+Read more

Way Out West

Posted on 10th June 2019

Teaching is now over for yet another academic year (my 23rd!) and the Lakeland Fells once again beckoned as a curative for the increasing stresses and strains of academic life.

I’m now happy to concede that these post-teaching trips to the Lakes, which have become a regular feature of my fell-walking challenge, are now an important part of my mental well-being regime.

Under normal circumstances, planning a trip to the Lake District over the Easter bank holiday weekend would be considered a special form of madness. But on this occasion, I had two good reasons. I usually plan my Spring trip in the week immediately following the end of teaching but this year I booked late (3rd of January) and couldn’t find any suitable accommodation in that week. Secondly, I had a long-standing agreement that I would try to be there when my friend, Remco van Essen was also in the Lakes. Remco caught the fell-walking bug after his previous visit in July 2018 and had been working on improving his fitness in preparation for this weekend.

I knew it would be busy, especially as the weather forecast was good, but I figured that since most of the walking would take place out in the quieter Western Lakes, we could probably avoid the worst of the crowds.

+Read more

The unbearable lightness of being (there)

Posted on 10th November 2018

The early part of August is one of the few times during the academic year when things are relatively quiet. This year I’d booked two weeks of leave during that period but I wasn’t going away on holiday. For around six years, I’ve been planning to migrate the CADTutor forum from vBulletin to Invision Community Suite. In all that time, I hadn’t managed to find the time and, in truth, I’d been putting it off because although “migration” is easy to say, I knew it was going to be a long and complex task. This year I knew it had to happen. The versions of PHP and MySQL that the old forum software relied upon were coming to “end of life” and would no longer be supported. If I didn’t do it now, the forum would come to an end. So I dedicated two weeks of summer leave to sitting in front of a computer screen while I planned, prepared and managed the migration of 16 year’s worth of forum posts to a new platform.

Nothing that complicated can ever be perfect but with only a few minor glitches, I considered the migration to be a success. So it was with that at the forefront of my mind that I set off on what was my fifth and most likely my final visit to the Lakes in 2018. I had a few loose fell-ends to tie up and a couple of big walks planned and 4 days in which to reach a nice, round number of Wainwrights before the start of the new academic year.

+Read more

Bowfell from Crinkle Crags

The fells will always be there

Posted on 23rd September 2018

In a world of instant gratification and “must have now” culture, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, the longer things take the better. Given the opportunity to extend a good experience, wouldn’t you take that over having it done and dusted? This and a few other ideas have been occupying my thoughts in a varied and rather unusual/exceptional week in the Lakes.

To date, all my visits here have been characterised by careful planning and a desire to optimise my walks so as to bag as many Wainwrights as possible in the time available. This time would be a bit different. I had six walking days and the first two would be used in revisiting some fells I’d already bagged. The reason for this madness was that I would be joined for those two days by my good friend and ex-colleague, Remco van Essen. Remco had never done any fellwalking before and I thought it best to select a couple of routes I was already familiar with so as to provide a good, manageable and varied introduction.

+Read more

Fellbarrow summit, looking towards Grasmoor

Three Years and Cotton-grass

Posted on 16th June 2018

My third trip to the Lakes in 2018 also marks the third anniversary of my Wainwright odyssey. It’s exactly three years since I made my first tentative steps towards the summit of Low Pike in the Eastern Fells. At that time, I wasn’t even sure if I was up to walking the fells and the idea of walking all 214 of them seemed like an enormous challenge, which is why my original objective was to complete the Wainwrights before my sixtieth birthday. At the current rate, I should complete the round sometime early next year, by the age of 57. Over the last three years, my fitness has improved considerably and although I’m not running up the hills, I’m pretty confident that the remaining tops will not present a great physical challenge. In fact, the most challenging aspect of the whole adventure is the logistics of getting to the Lakes from my base in Hampshire. Which is why this has become more of an odyssey than a challenge.

+Read more

The sun shines on the righteous

Posted on 28th May 2018

When I was at secondary school, back in the 1970’s, we were always seated in alphabetical order, A to Z, front of classroom to back. Being a “W”, I was always at the back of the class, seated between Adrian Wareham and Ian Wilkinson. There were no concessions to kids with poor vision in those days and I think the system was designed for the convenience of teachers when taking the register. In our second year, we were stationed about a mile from the main school building in what was referred to as “The Annex”. In fact, this building was an old Victorian school; brick-built with an enclosed playground. The Annex was a bit of a backwater, slightly more relaxed than the main school since the head and deputy-head rarely visited. My English teacher and form tutor that year was Mr. Thompson. I remember his classes fondly, particularly the readings we did from John Buchan’s novel, Prester John; an ideal adventure for 13 year old boys whose understanding of the world didn’t extend further than their own small town in the Northwest of England.

English classes took place mainly in the afternoons and, in summer, it just so happened that the combination of my desk position, the configuration of the Victorian sash windows and the sun at that time of year, meant that, uniquely among our class, I was bathed in sunlight at the start of the class. Mr. Thompson would often enter the room, notice the illuminated Watson and declare, “the sun shines on the righteous”.

At the time, I took this as a compliment but thought it rather strange that a teacher should show favouritism so openly. It was only later in life, much later actually, that I became aware of the true meaning and realised that it was not favouritism at all, but most likely a little joke which, I guess, he knew few of us would understand.

The phrase, of course, is a partial miss-quote from the Bible (Matthew 5:44-45). The full quote from the New International Version is: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Effectively, it means, everyone is the same, both the good and the bad and we should love our enemies. Fine words indeed and I guess I’ll never know whether Mr. Thompson was just having a little joke at my expense or whether it was just a throw-away line he was using out of context. It doesn’t really matter to me which, it remains one of my abiding memories of school life. Which is why it came to mind this week as I strolled along towards my latest climb in the Lake District fells on a gloriously sunny day. Righteous or not, the sun really was shining and the sky was clear blue.

+Read more