A toast to Wainwright
Raising a glass on Haystacks
Whilst pondering recently on my journey as a ‘mountain man’ two names came to mind. The first was Alfred Wainwright, a great inspiration to me in my fell walking noviciate. His books were so full of romance and passion that on my first acquaintance with them it became impossible for me not to go to the Lakeland fells and explore them for myself. The second name was Peter Machin. Peter and I spent a couple of years as close companions in the mountains and shared many wonderful and sometimes perverse adventures. More often than not they comprised of long climbs and even longer walks usually taking in a sunset, sunrise or both, summer or winter and in all weathers.
However, as so often happens in life we took different paths and for the past few years we haven’t done too much with each other. I decided that it was high time we got back together for some classic Livesey/Machin action and while we were at it pay homage to the greatest of all Lakeland walkers, old A.W, a plan that Peter liked as much as I. And what better place than little Haystacks and Innominate Tarn where A.W’s ashes were scattered on his final outing? First though, before getting a little bit of grit in our boots tradition dictated that a climb would be not as much desirable as compulsory and I knew just the venue. Grey Crag, held aloft in Birkness Combe on the northern flank of High Stile is a lovely place to climb and after a quick rummage through the guide book we plumped to Suaviter, a reputedly fine three pitch severe on Grey Wall.
After a late start we parked up at Gatesgarth under an April sky of cloudless blue and made a dash for Birkness with not a care in the world. Things looked just right for our day out but upon reaching the combe a dark band of nastiness centred itself above us and threatened to thwart our plans. Phooey! At the foot of Suaviter two large rain drops splashed off my helmet; the game was up. Or was it? We waited a while and patience was its own reward for no more rain did fall and that pesky dark band fled the scene as promptly as it had arrived; game on.
I took the first pitch which though short-lived proved to be a tricky number involving a corner and traverse to a wall which delivered me to a comfortable stance where I found a good belay to bring up Mr Machin. Now then, the whole point of Suaviter is the second pitch though I felt no envy whilst watching Peter teeter out leftwards to a fine and exposed crack where protection is abundant if maybe not as effective as one might hope! It was clear he was enjoying himself and come my turn it was easy to see why. A more enjoyable pitch of delicate crack climbing I couldn’t remember with a finish on ‘doubtful blocks’ adding an extra frisson of doubt to the experience.
The third pitch led me up into the wind on an airy ridge punctuated with steep corners, the last of which I completed with a less than graceful walrus move, eliciting much merriment from my chuckling ropemate. In revenge I invited him up and gifted him a grotty chimney in order to both finish the climb and gain some amusement for myself. Above us lay the summit of High Stile and though a crag barred our way we soon found a scrambling route through it rather than walk around the obstacle such is our long held tradition of retaining ‘purity’ in our ascents. And thus our first ‘Wainwright’ summit was underfoot. Needless to say the view was quite something but tarry not did we for the sun was westering and we needed to get to Innominate Tarn before into the Irish Sea it sank.
A perambulation of rare quality followed all the way to High Crag, our second summit where far below Scarth Gap was seen in shadow and beyond which little Haystacks rose, aglow and somewhat distant. Time was a wasting so we got a wriggle on and ran over Seat and down to the gap before breathlessly racing the shadow up the hill. We needn’t have worried though, for when upon Haystack we finally stood that life giving orb of fire offered the day a short reprieve before it drew to a close forever.
On that rocky plinth we drank in not only a grandstand view of the Lakeland giants but a toast of Bowmore Double Wood to renewed friendship and mountains. Sensing a change we then scarpered down to Innominate Tarn where we enjoyed the last of the light and another toast, this time to Alfred Wainwright. Earlier in the day it would have been the haunt of hundreds of walkers but at this late hour it was deserted but for two humble pilgrims enjoying as A.W did, the peaceful magic of the tarn and its environs. It was in darkness that we descended wearily to the valley and we talked of the many times we had done so in the past, reminiscing on past adventures. Could we remember ever having a finer day out? The thing with Livesey/Machin outings is that our latest is always the best, and we still had two more days in Lakeland to go. It was good to be back.
…”All I ask for, at the end, is a long last resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn, on Haystacks, where the water gently laps the gravely 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.