High Stile and Innominate Tarn
It seems like an age since I last went up a mountain… What? It’s been what, less than 2 weeks?
I don’t mind admitting I struggled to feel motivated for a while after returning from the South West Coastal Path. In the space of a week there I’d trekked for 60 miles, with 25kg on my back, before succumbing to the pull of my mother’s home cooking in Dawlish… Dangit, she really is a top-class “hobby” (well, me and my father are her hobby!) cook.
But mid-way through the summer my resolve was back and I felt the urge to pull on my hiking boots again. Jen had her eye on hiking a very challenging chunk of a route she hadn’t managed to complete a couple of days earlier – unfinished business, you might say! And I… well, I was drawn in by the thought of visiting the final resting place of one of the best-known UK hikers of all time… Mr Alfred Wainwright. He who had spent years visiting, revisiting and sketching the most magnificent vistas in the Lakeland landscape requested that his ashes be scattered at one particular spot: Innominate Tarn. Both Jen and I were very keen to see this place that had meant so much to Wainwright, and pay our respects.
The route would take us over a number of high peaks, a route that had welcomed a hundred or so fell racers several days earlier. Indeed, Jen had been among them. Ordinarily when Jen races I like to cheer her in over the line, but I had been otherwise engaged that day. I can’t help but wonder whether, had I been there, she might have felt compelled to keep going and make it all the way round that super-tough route which to me beggars belief – 22 miles, including 2500m of elevation gain and at least 8 high peaks!
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be this year, and whilst I’ve no doubt Jen will go back and do the whole thing someday, she was still sufficiently annoyed (!) as to want to return a day or two later and carry on from where she’d left off! I have to say, as a hiker, that the chunk of the route we did together (only about a third of the whole thing) was epic! How anybody can run over such terrain for such a distance is beyond my understanding.
I jumped at the chance to make this hike happen, as it included several peaks we had heard of but never visited (Haystacks, High Stile…). So, on the morning in question we suited and booted appropriately for the hefty chunk of the route Jen had missed out on. She may have been exorcising demons, but I would be feasting my eyes on these places for the first time, and happy to be following in the footsteps of the legendary Wainwright.
Our trip would start at Buttermere, but not on foot… today’s route was linear (as opposed to a loop) so we parked the car at Buttermere and jumped aboard a bus which would take us right to the other end of the valley. Up we went, holding on tight as the bus forged onward and upward against all the odds… successfully negotiating hairy hairpins and other bits that seemed impossibly narrow. Eventually we reached Honister Hause, where there is a very busy, popular slate mine… with a slightly sinister side if you contemplate the rows and rows of example slate tombstones in its backyard!
Following a coffee (of course!) we headed over to our starting track. There would be no going back, as our transport was waiting several miles away back in Buttermere; still, doing it this way round was greatly preferable to clock-watching and fretting about missing a bus. As always, we were carrying layers, food, liquids and the correct safety gear in case anything went awry, but today the weather was smiling on us and we both felt fairly fit for the day’s challenge.
Heading straight along the Dismantled Tramway Path and on up to Dubs (disused) quarry, we came across a bothy-style hut which looked like it would make an excellent place for overnighters to hole up, but who owns it? Who knows? Having just passed a group of teenagers who were heavily weighed-down and probably doing a Duke of Edinburgh challenge or similar, we did wonder if their task for the day had simply been to make it to said hut. However, for us it was just the beginning of our day. What’s that… snack time already? Excellent! Time to break out Mr Bassett’s very own Jelly Babies – I do enjoy the
sugary… ermmm ‘wholesome’ snacks we take with us 🙂
Moving along, we followed a couple of hikers and watched as they used a few small stepping stones to cross the beck that ran ahead of us… The old adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” came to mind and since neither of the two appeared to get wet we trotted straight over behind them!
Having started at Honister Hause, 332 metres ASL, it still took us a short while to trek the 2-3 kilometres past Little Round How, crossing a junction of paths before heading up to Green Crag at 528 metres. Almost immediately we passed Blackbeck Tarn, which – from the many ripples on the surface – was either teeming with BIG insects or had a good number of fish taking flies from the surface. Either way, it showed a lot of ‘creature’ activity. But we plodded on as our real lunch stop bears a lot of history!
Barely 300 metres on from Blackbeck Tarn is Innominate Tarn, renowned for being Alfred Wainwright’s favourite picnic spot and indeed the place where the great man’s ashes were scattered after his death in January 1991.
In his memoirs, he expresses this wish as follows:
“All I ask for, at the end, is a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn, on Haystacks, where the water gently laps the gravelly shore and the heather blooms and Pillar and Gable keep unfailing watch. A quiet place, a lonely place. I shall go to it, for the last time, and be carried: someone who knew me in life will take me and empty me out of a little box and leave me there alone. And if you, dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me.”
~ Alfred Wainwright – from “Memoirs of a Fellwalker” (1990)
Wainwright’s final wishes were indeed carried out by his wife Betty, and as I allowed my mind to wander during our lunchtime visit I could almost imagine him sitting alongside in the beautifully tranquil spot!
A few more hikers passed us; a mother and son duo, the mother was clearly attempting to enjoy the walk whilst the son chattered away at pace about his friends, life, school etc… It’s amazing how much one can learn about a person’s life from a brief flypast in the opposite direction. (LOL) From the lady’s brief “oh”, “yes” and “no” interjections I suspected it was the umpteenth time she had heard the same stories, perhaps even that day!
Meanwhile our next peak was Haystacks, height 597 metres, and from the top we saw that the descent involved clambering down a rocky crag. Now, I ask the question: where do fell running and hiking overlap?! As there is no way on God’s earth anybody could run down this steep scramble – fall down it perhaps but not run! At this point we met a young foreign couple who were about to tackle this stretch as an upward scramble from the bottom; they were scoping out the situation with trepidation in their eyes, and anxiously asked us a few questions. They were clearly not used to this kind of “hiking” and I take my hat off to them for attempting it (they advanced in a safe, slow and controlled manner!). Jen and I offered some advice as we skipped (!) past, knowing that once they reached the top they would be greeted by far more approachable terrain more in line with their skill level.
Jen and I chose to descend the couple of hundred metres, cross Scarth Gap and then climb up to our next peak: Seat, 561 metres. The way ahead looked steep, loose and challenging, so we stopped at Seat to check the map and see where the race route had sent everyone. It was indeed another steep climb, this time up to High Crag at 744 metres, but even this wasn’t our highest point of the day! We walked along the craggy cliff tops, where I stopped to dangle my feet over the (several hundred foot) drop… What can I say? It was there and I felt secure!
With time moving on we still had to reach the highest peak of the day: High Stile at just over 800 metres ASL. Our walk along the crags was amazing, and once again we were blessed with awesome views. I don’t mind admitting that my legs were burning a tad; plus which the jelly baby supply was quickly becoming depleted, and aside from our lunch stop I hadn’t had a proper pipe-break!
The climb to the top of High Stile took us up a scree-type path, and the whole time we were on it I wondered if we might cause a landslide of slate-like scree in our wake. Thank goodness there were no hikers below, following us up this part!
But as always, my head was soon filled again with thoughts of the surroundings and pure air of the mountains, and any concern about the terrain underfoot faded into insignificance … that is, until I spotted what was possibly the route to the next peak, and moreover the route back down to Buttermere!
We could easily see Red Pike ahead, our final peak of the day at 755 metres. The Marvel superhero ‘Iron Man’ would surely feel at home there – the whole mountain is literally red with ore! We soon scooted over there, climbed to the summit, and now a little contemplation on how to get down the mountain was required. So we stopped, and at last the pipe came out!
Buttermere was clearly in sight below, as was a path down our current peak: steep-sided, loose-surfaced Red Pike. A path? Jen, are you sure? We could see a few hikers a long way down, taking said “path” like professional skiers. This was pure scree – reddish, yes, but still scree – and for once I was happy I’d been carrying my skiing/hiking sticks with me all day. From Red Pike’s ‘Pile of Stones’ we dropped cautiously down to the saddle just before the little “nab” called Dodd. Both a little nervous of what lay ahead, we slipped, surfed and slid our way down the path, catching up with and indeed overtaking the other hikers we had seen from the top. We totally understood their hesitant approach; I guess they weren’t as confident (or perhaps in my case, not as daft!) as we two have become over the last few years.
As we reached Burtness Wood, about 1.4 km outside Buttermere, I kept imagining the car “just round the corner” and could almost smell the well-deserved pizza that we’d already set our hearts on! I couldn’t help but wonder, though, if those moving much more slowly than us would get back to their own transport before dark…
It had been a great day and I could fully understand why Jen had felt she had unfinished business on those mountains. After all we had only hiked about eight miles, just over a third of the race route, although very hilly. It had been absolutely stunning and we were both glad we had now experienced these places for ourselves. It still baffles me how these runners simply keep going. I mean imagine running a marathon… isn’t that difficult enough? Then throw in two Scafell Pikes’ worth of ascent for good measure, and take away the route marking – lol. *
No way, not me… I’ll do it the Wainwright way, thank you very much! Good day.
* Editor’s note: yes, but there were about 25 kinds of cake on offer afterwards!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…