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articles > 2007

The Quest for the Magic 214
Not a triumph, certainly not a speed challenge, to do all 214 in just under 33 years, but a delight and a privilege.
Peter Linney - Society Secretary

My first 'Wainwright' was Loughrigg Fell, which we ascended from Ambleside on the 10th of August 1970. That is not strictly true, if we include the Outlying Fells, as I climbed the hill from Grange-Over-Sands to Hampsfell Hospice, with my parents in the summer of 1941. Being the son of a railwayman we had holidays in relatively exotic places such as Eastbourne and Bournemouth, exotic that is, if you live in Bradford. The war put an end to holidays on the south coast so where better to spend one's week by the sea but Morecambe or the quieter Grange-Over-Sands.

My parents were not 'fell walkers' (had the term been coined in the 30's?) but were great 'setters off'. We also had cheap or even free travel on the Lake Steamers on Windermere so a holiday in Grange always included a trip on the train from Grange, via Ulverston to Lake Side on Windermere, where one of the lake steamers would await. These visits gave me glimpses of high mountains, considered by me at that time as unattainable.

Throughout my schooldays I took consolation, not being able to visit the Lakes, in the books of Arthur Ransome and knew every inch of the fact based fictitious locations in those wonderful stories. I had also a battered Bartholomew's half-inch map of the Lake District (sheet 34 ENGLISH LAKES) over which I poured imagining what it must be like in Wasdale and on Scafell. Throughout my teens I spent a lot of time camping and walking in the Yorkshire Dales, as these were much nearer and within a days compass. School was soon followed by military service and then marriage with seaside holidays on the East Coast.

A move to Kent took me even further away from the North but in 1970 we took a cottage for a week in Ambleside and with my old army boots and a 'pac-a-mac' we set off on the daring ascent of Loughrigg Fell. I had borrowed a copy of Book 3 'The Central Fells' by a chap called A. Wainwright and I was immediately captivated by his masterly draughtsmanship. As a trained draughtsman I could appreciate the quality of this work and so when funds permitted I bought copies of the other guides. Foyles of London ordered them for me, as they were not widely available, in the South, in 1970.

My records show that we climbed 4 of the listed fells in 1970 and returning in 1973 a further 7 was added. We did not return again until 1978, but then for the next 8 years we made the annual pilgrimage to this special corner of England. In these later years we came for two weeks and travelled here and stayed in our caravan. Now as some of you may know it rains in the Lake District and being cooped up in a caravan sets one thinking of things to do. I first of all drew a freehand map of the lakes showing all of the 214 fells, lakes and the principal towns. My engineering training and a growing interest in the analytical power of computers caused me to create a network with the fells as nodes and the ridge routes listed by AW as solid lines and dotted lines for the ascents. Most of the well-known routes and 'horseshoes' were readily apparent but so were many others.

Reading and re-reading all seven Pictorial Guides I was struck by the complete order and regularity of approach there were many aspects to each fell and each route which occurred in virtually all 214 listed fells. I started to write these down and soon an idea for a Gazetteer was born.

I was somewhat side tracked for a number of years, setting up and running a transport management charity to help Save The Children in Africa but a chance visit to a bookshop in Harrogate revealed the transfer of these works from Westmorland Gazette to Michael Joseph. My idea, not picked up by Westmorland Gazette, was of interest to MJ and in 1993 they published The Official Wainwright Gazetteer.

Though now living in the North within 2 hours drive of almost anywhere in the Lakes I was spending more time in Africa than in the place I most wanted to be.

By 1993 I had completed 128 of the 214 (some, several times). During an interview with Radio Leeds I was taken to task for publishing a book containing 759 ascents of the 214 fells without first having completed each. I explained that a man greater than I had already done that and I was not in competition with him. However it did make me think that perhaps I should have a look at the remaining 86. They contained a few of the fells which neither AW nor many others have found stimulating but a number of the 'greats'. Amongst these was Scafell. We had climbed Scafell Pike late one October day in 1984 and arrived back at Seathwaite in the dark but had not visited its neighbour. The quest for Scafell became another obsession. I didn't just want to climb it on any old day. It had to be, firstly on my 60th birthday, but we were at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, then on my 65th I was in Africa and on my 70th we were in Kent.

In April 2001, August of that year and November 2002 I travelled the 140 miles from home to Wasdale Head to make the ascent only to be turned back by severe rain and storm. At the turn of the year to 2003 I mused on the fact that I had completed 213 of the listed fells and that there were reports of atrocious conditions on Lord's Rake so I was determined that I must make an effort to 'finish the job' before I got too old to try!

So it was on the fine morning of February 26th 2003 I set off from the National Trust car park at Brackenclose and climbed the 'Victorian's' route, up Green How, to my last 'Wainwright'. I ate my packed lunch in the lea of the summit (a bitterly cold east wind was raking the top) and passed the time of day with half a dozen walkers before working my way down to the car and back to the hotel for a long soak.

Not a triumph, certainly not a speed challenge, to do all 214 in just under 33 years, but a delight and a privilege.

Peter Linney - Secretary of The Wainwright Society