It's no easy feat, but with a little advice, organisation, knowledge and determination, climbing The Wainwright Fells is doable for almost anyone. Whether hills, peaks, or mountains are your bag, this beginner-friendly guide from Jamie Knop aims to teach you about the fells and how to plan for and complete them.
The Wainwright Fells: a little background
For the uninitiated, a Wainwright refers to one of 214 fells in the Lake District named after Alfred Wainwright, and hill bagging (also known as peak bagging and mountain bagging) refers to having climbed a particular hill, and the objective for some people is to climb as many as you can.
Wainwright was a fell walker and author of a seven-volume pictorial guide to the Lakeland Fells, published between 1955-1966, which became the definitive guidebooks to walking the Lake District Mountains and are still considered classics to this day. Each of the books describes each of the fells and the area which surrounds it, with plenty of helpful information and beautiful hand-drawn pictures. He has helped and inspired many walkers for the past forty years, and he was awarded an MBE for it.
Alfred Wainwright at work. Photo: Cumbria Archive Centre, Kendal
As there are so many Wainwrights to explore, it means there is a real variety of fells in terms of terrain and incline level which is great as it means there really is something for everyone. Some of the more popular fells that people of an average fitness level can enjoy include Catbells, Hallin Fell and High Rigg, Binsey. Latrigg is one of the lowest fells, and so it's a great walk for almost everyone that still boasts beautiful views.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, then Yewbarrow and Middle Dodd are where you’ll want to head. Although they are not the highest at 628m and 654m respectively, the ascents are steep making them a real physical challenge.
Beautiful golden light over the popular Catbells. Photo: Shutterstock / Daniel Kay
Planning is a crucial aspect of Wainwright bagging, not just from a route planning perspective but a safety one as well. When planning your route, you must consider many factors such as the weather, terrain and is everyone who's going of the same ability. Fortunately making sure you’re not going up the fells in hazardous conditions is easier than ever now with the Met Office providing forecasts at different altitudes which you can check before you head out here.
In terms of packing, you can find many helpful guides online including BMC’s Safety on Mountains booklet which can give you advice on what to bring. The Wainwrights will not need any special mountaineering gear as you can walk all of them without the need to climb. Your general essentials should include a map, compass, torch, whistle, watch, and first aid kit. Although you cannot rely on your phone for a lot of the journey, as there will be no signal, still make sure that you charge it fully before the trip – it can act as an excellent tool for different situations.
Before you leave, you should let someone know of your intended route and estimated time of return. Even on a fine day, the weather high up can change quickly, so if you don't return at least someone can alert local rescue teams. There are excellent and experienced rescue services all around the Lake District to help you if you ever should need it. You can find out more on the LDSAMRA website.
Pink skies over Skiddaw and Blencathra. Photo: Shutterstock / Drew Rawcliffe
Once the planning is done, and you have covered the safety aspects, all that's left to do is to get out there and enjoy walking the Wainwrights! If you are determined and focused it is possible to tackle all of the fells within a month, fell runner Steve Birkinshaw completed them in just six days and 13 hours.
With that said, most people take their time when walking them as it is a much better experience to take in all of the beauty that the Lake District has to offer. The fells are perfect places for creative souls; there is so much to sketch, photograph and write about; countless amounts of people have created beautiful works from their inspiration of the fells.
A great way to keep track of how many Wainwrights you have completed and which Wainwrights you have left to complete is by getting a map where you can tick them off as you go along, or test your memory with the Top Wainwright card game!
Hopefully, now you have a good understanding of the Wainwrights, their history and whether you’ve got the determination and fitness to climb them or not. It’s a magical feeling to even conquer just one of the beautiful fells; your journey will certainly inspire you and make you even more keen to climb the others. Please feel free to leave a comment below of what your favourite Wainwrights are!
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