When we checked this walk out we were joined in March by Nigel who on that day was celebrating his 60th birthday. Until that point he had lived his life, the greater chunk of it in the North West of England without ever climbing one of Wainwright’s Lakeland Fells. So we introduced him to the concept of “bagging” Wainwrights.
In total there are 214 of them described in the seven guides. Blackburn born Alfred Wainwright (1907 – 1991) commenced his monumental project on the 9th November 1952 with a description of Dove Crag which is part of the Fairfield Group and as delineated by Wainwright part of the Eastern Fells, the subject of his first guide. What marks out his books is his detailed pen and ink illustrations which accompany or rather supplement his meticulous descriptions of routes up fells. Wainwright was determined that every published should be in his original manuscript and that not one letter of printer’s typeface should appear in the Guides. This aspect gives the Guides a rather out of date look at first glance as if they were written by a 19th century parson. Given the passage of time since the Guides were produced there are a few details which are out of date – but not many. In recent years Chris Jesty has taken on the burden of revising them but we’re sure that even he will acknowledge that the great body of the work is as reliable now as when first published.
In these columns whenever describing a Lakeland walk we always make reference to Wainwright and his Guides. No apologies. Thanks to him tens of thousands have walked the magnificent hills of Lakeland assured that they can find their way up, around and down. This route covers just two of those fells and all we can say to our friend Nigel – Oh lucky man – 212 to go and time enough to do it!
Start/finish: Patterdale Village centre car park. Pay and display.
Distance: 6k 4 miles
Time: 2 - 3 hours
Map: OS OL 5 The English Lakes North eastern area
Map by kind permission of the Blackpool Gazette
Directions. From the car park cross opposite to the Patterdale Hotel.
Take the footpath on its right side which leads behind into woodland. When the path divides keep ahead to quickly reach the open fell through a wooden gate.
The path to Arnison Crag follows closely a wall on the right leading up to the heights.
There is very little difficulty in way finding - the path is clear.
As you near the summit move away from the wall bearing left and with a bit of scramble through the crags reach the top. Throughout his guides Wainwright makes the point that the best views are not attained from the highest fells but those of a more modest elevation. This is why Haystacks at 1900ft was his favourite fell and where his ashes were scattered. Arnison Crag is a great platform for admiring the lower end of Ullswater.
To continue the walk clamber down the crags as best you can and return to the path close to the wall turning left when you reach it.
Follow the wall as it dips down to Hag Beck.
From here there are two ways to scale Birks. Option 1: Direct - follow the wall and your nose up the flank of the fell. On the plus side it's shorter. On the minus side it's steep. Option 2 Indirect - follow Hag Beck for a 1000m until it reaches the col between Birks and its lofty neighbour St Sunday Crag and then cut back right to follow the ridge to the summit. On the minus side it adds distance to the walk. On the plus side it's less steep.
These choices frequently confront the walker of the high fells. Once on the summit the views of Ullswater will be ample reward whatever route you took.
The path back down to Patterdale can be picked up at the aforementioned col.
Facing St Sunday Crag turn right and follow the path on a broad shelf between Birks on the right and steep crags on the left.
Below Black Crags the path becomes more confined
before reaching a wall at Thornhow End.
Passing through a gate descend steeply to intercept a path coming out from Grisedale on your left.
When you reach it turn right and follow it back to Patterdale.