University of Manchester academic Drew Whitworth has found a novel way to tackle a much-done hill list and promote public transport at the same time. He is attempting to climb all 214 of the Wainwright fells over multiple day trips to the Lake District from his home in Hebden Bridge, without once setting foot in a car.
Drew, 41, will win no prizes for speed, having started his round of the 214 Lakeland summits listed in Wainwright's much-loved seven-volume Pictorial Guides in 2009 and not aiming to complete the list until early 2013. But that's not the point; he's not trying to beat any records for distance or endurance. His current score stands at 121 fells, or just a little over halfway. He took some time out of a fairly relaxed hill schedule to explain the project to us.
'The rules are simple' he says 'I am going to walk all 214 Wainwright fells without using a car at any point. I can travel by train, bus or, if necessary, boat, but the rest is on foot. This includes all travel from home to the Lakes, not just within the Lakes. The point of this is partly because I did not want to be responsible for adding more cars to the overcrowded roads of the area and partly because this is how Wainwright did it - but mainly because I am too fond of a couple of beers at the end of a long walk.'
'On a holiday in July 2009 I did 13 in a week, and avoided using a car throughout, so it kind of grew from that. They turned into the first 13 of the 214. Before starting this project I had an 'on paper' knowledge of the Wainwright books and had probably climbed about 20 or so of the fells before (all of which I will be doing again of course), but I had no really intimate knowledge of the Lake District. This is turning out to be a good way to get to know the area better.'
The idea of doing all 214 originally started out as something he wanted to do for his own physical challenge and interest, 'but recently I have attached a sponsorship element to it, raising money for the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Associations (LDSAMRA), the umbrella body for all the Mountain Rescue volunteer groups in the area.'
This is the first goal-focused hillwalking project for Drew, who describes himself as only a 'sporadic walker' hitherto.
'I've done a few with family members but most so far have been done alone. I prefer to walk solo.'
But it's not all been plain sailing. When no cars are allowed, just getting to the hills can be as challenging as climbing them.
'I could mention here the dreadful bus and bus/train connections which make some journeys very difficult' Drew says. 'The connections at Windermere station aren't bad, but at Penrith they are terrible, with buses leaving for all points of the Lakes five minutes before the first train to arrive from the south in ages. Connections in Keswick bus station seem almost guaranteed to make you miss buses to Borrowdale and Buttermere if coming in from Windermere or Penrith. It's very frustrating and there's plenty of ranting about this on my blog.'
As someone for whom public transport links to the hills are of immediate interest Drew is sceptical of the recent news that the Lake District is set to receive millions of pounds of new funding to improve and integrate local transport services, as reported on UKH here.
'It sounds interesting until you read that the improvements will be concentrated around the tourist hotspots of Windermere, Bowness, Coniston, Ambleside, Grasmere and Kendal. These are the bits of the Lakes that already have decent public transport, so what about the rest of the area?'
But in contrast to the occasional difficulties thrown up by his self-imposed transport rules, Drew's experiences on the fells have been very positive so far.
'I've become a much bigger fan of winter walking since this started. The walk I did over from Ambleside, to bag Lingmoor Fell, in January 2011, was gloriously beautiful, and I spent so long taking photos of the mist-filled valleys and the snowy Coniston and Langdale fells that I risked missing my bus home and had to cut it short. But it was worth it. Bagging Causey Pike and Scar Crags on the most perfect, blue-skied day in November 2010 was another standout. In pure walking terms, the ascents of Pillar and Scafell have been the hardest, but also the most dramatic, particularly the climb up from Ennerdale past Pillar Rock, from which two rock climbers were dangling while their large Labrador waited patiently at the bottom in a location I'd found difficult enough to reach on my own, let alone with a dog. Probably the happiest I have felt was on a totally calm day in March, walking round the head of Thirlmere and seeing Helvellyn reflected perfectly in the water of the lake, again capped with snow. It was tranquil and lovely, and I was happy because I knew that I had many more experiences like that still to have.'
To follow Drew's progress see his blog
Donations to LDSAMRA can be made on Justgiving