In 2010 we were in the Lakes to celebrate my 60th birthday when I decided on a whim to attempt a fell run up Blencathra. As you do.
I made it – just – and after a slice of birthday cake and coffee to celebrate I decided to challenge myself to run the remaining 213 ‘Wainwright’ Lakeland summits.
Over the next five years I ticked them off, one by one at first, but as my confidence grew and fitness improved so did the number of summits per run. On one occasion I nearly reached double figures – missing out by just one (Silver How) on a Langdale Pikes circular.
I’d walked the high fells for years, but many Wainwrights had not been on my radar – I’d either dismissed them as too far out of the way or too dull, when bigger and better summits were closer to hand. Taking up my running challenge removed excuses for not visiting the less-trodden fells, and making my first trips to some of them was an eye-opener. Sure, a fair number wouldn’t make a great day out walking, but to run these smaller fells with gentler gradients and grass underfoot was a stride-out pleasure. What’s more, with easy going underfoot, I could enjoy the luxury of taking in distant views while on the move, unlike on rocky trails, where head-down concentration was required for every stride.
ALL BY MYSELF
Virtually all my runs were solo efforts, with the only down-side being safety. To offset this I left my intended route with my wife and after half-a-dozen runs and under pressure from family members I bought my first and only mobile phone – just in case.
The main side effect of going solo was the way I approached my descents; none of them were executed at full pelt, but under a controlled effort – I’d learnt early on that a tumble coming down was far worse than a tumble going up. Strangely enough, the two worst falls I had were on level ground; one on top of Pillar and the other near Red Tarn below Helvellyn, both resulting in bloody knees, bruised ribs and grazed hands.
Some way through my challenge I also sustained serious injury to my Achilles tendon, which took months to heal and put my whole challenge in doubt. They were low times.
PUTTING PEN TO PAPER
During my first summer of running I kept brief personal notes. I jotted down times, distances, weather conditions and anything interesting that happened as I ran.
As I knocked back the miles, my little notebook started filling up, and before long a second challenge emerged: not only would I run the Wainwrights, I decided, I would also produce a hand-drawn and hand-written book of my exploits… with no computer input whatsoever.
My passion for hand drawn art and illustrations emerged from my career. I’d spent 30 years in the advertising business as a visualiser and layout artist, growing up with pencils, pens, felt tip markers, cow gum, letraset – materials and methods now long defunct. If pen and ink was good enough for one of my heroes – Alfred Wainwright – then it was good enough for me. So as summer turned to winter my short-form notes expanded into more ambitious A3 layouts, and before long my illustrative diary became its own labour of love; I’d run on fine days, and when the rain poured and snow fell I’d sit at home scribbling away the hours as a book started to take form.
In time, running the fells became a piece of cake in comparison to the time and effort required to note them down in black and white – with a splash of colour thrown in. But five years, 200 pencils and over 180 pages of hand-drawn A3 artwork later the job was done… My second challenge was complete…
FOR MY EYES ONLY
What to do with my 180 pages of A3? My original intention had been to put my portfolio in a binder, store it somewhere safe then bring in out in years to come to refresh my memory of exploits past.
But my family had other ideas. Others might be interested in my journey over the fells, they said, and in my artwork. Get it published, they said. And kept on saying…
MY HARDEST CHALLENGE YET
I spent the next nine months writing to publishers up and down the country, asking if they might be interested in this old-school visual diary of a 60-something’s journey over the Lakeland fells. To no avail. A couple of publishers wrote back with words of encouragement. But no publishing deal came.
Then nearly a year after the final run the luck of Lakeland smiled on me.
My wife and I had just completed a trail run around the slopes of Blencathra – the fell that kicked off my challenge all those years earlier.
We finished our run at Threlkeld Village Hall Café, when as Janice headed for the cakes counter I spotted a gentleman I recognised as Mark Richards – the illustrator and Fellranger guidebook author. I took a deep breath, went over to introduce myself and explained that if he could spare five minutes I’d like to show him something I had been working on, which was, as luck would have it, in the back of my car.
An hour later and he was still working his way through my portfolio of maps, illustrations and hand-written text. He was captivated by the portfolio and asked if I had a publisher. “No,” I replied. Then he beckoned to his tea-drinking companion to take a look. That companion was David Felton, the Inspired by Lakeland publisher who thought someone, somewhere needed to put this book out, and if no-one else was going to do it, he’d take it on.
The rest is history…
A FEW FACTS AND FIGURES
- It took me 76 individual runs to tick off the 214 summits, the shortest in length being just 2k (Raven Crag) and the shortest in time 15 mins (Binsy).
- The longest run in length and also in time was Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike, Shipman Knotts, Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Mardale Ill Bell in a time of 4hrs 26mins and a distance of 24.7k.
The run with the least ascent was Black Crag at 450ft; most ascent Kirk Fell – Pillar – Scoat Fell – Steeple – Red Pike – Yewbarrow with 4,870ft of ascent.
My favourite runs – well you need to buy the book for that one…
Barry Holmes and David Felton
INFO PANEL *** You can buy Barry’s book, Over the Hill at Sixty Something? from George Fisher. His new project is a series of wall-art ‘Lakeland Squares’ – illustrative maps in his own inimitable style of classic Lakeland peaks including Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Catbells and High Street.