Ok, after the chat on Twitter last night when I announced I was working on a post about my favourite fells, I imagine a few people will have come over here to see the list. Well I’m sorry, I’m going to disappoint you. At least for the moment.
It would be too easy simply to give a list of my favourites and then sit back and let the arguments begin. No, I want to draw the pain out a bit longer. And some of my favourites I love so much, that simply including them on a list is unfair to them. So I’m going to lead up to the big reveal by covering them a few at a time, and for the really special ones I’m going to do individual posts. But first, I think I should talk a bit about how I came up with my list. And I do really have a list, I’m not just stalling for time.
How I compiled the list
I sat down and worked chronologically through the Lakeland fells I’ve visited, both the successful and unsuccessful. This was easy as I’ve kept a record of every hill I’ve ever bagged, including repeats and any failed attempts. I simply filtered it for Wainwrights, as I felt this was the best way to do it, and represents the set of fells that most will be familiar with. I also think that by working from a list of Wainwrights, I’m not going to miss much out, apart from, of course, the outlying fells (which I’ll come to later).
To make the task more manageable, I broke it down into years, and took breaks in between. 1992 was easy – Helvellyn straight to the top of the list. But sadly it was also in last place as it was the only fell I did that year. 2005 added a further 8, but Helvellyn lost its title to Scafell Pike. 2006 added a further 17 and there was a further change at the top. And so on. As I came across fells that I had done previously, the new experience was assessed which usually meant the fell rose in the list. At the end of 2011, I had an ordered list of 159 – the 158 Wainwrights I’ve completed and 1 failure. There have been other failures along the way, but all have been subsequently avenged. Indeed, one of them makes the top 20.
What criteria did I use ?
Quite simply, I considered how much I enjoyed the walk and the fell. Weather conditions played a part here – if it was unpleasant weather, then fells didn’t do as well as they would have done in better conditions. This was particularly true when the issue was visibility. Often the fact I couldn’t see a view condemned the fell to a low ranking. Without exception, any of these that I later revisited shot up the list.
But that’s the excuses for low rankings dealt with, what about the positives ? Well there are a number of things that make a fell enjoyable:
Its looks – a fell which looks good from the valley or from another fell sticks in the mind more than an ugly shapeless brute of a hill. Generally, pointy hills and narrow rocky ridges do well here.
The view – a good viewpoint makes you linger on a fell and you appreciate the fell more as a result. Some fells on my list have only done as well as they have because of the views. Skiddaw is a classic example. There’s several sexier looking fells with better routes of ascent than Skiddaw, but one thing it really excels at is views – when you get them that is.
The ascent – an exciting, or interesting ascent helps too. A bit of light scrambling, or a narrow ridge route improves the score no end. Pavey Ark shot up the list when I climbed it via Jack’s Rake on my second visit – before that it was well down the list. And Striding Edge helped Helvellyn recover a lot of places that it lost due to an influx of new bags.
Features – by this I don’t mean what you see from a distance, but what you see up close. Fells that have interesting tops do better than those which are flat grassy plateaux. This seems to be especially true of several of the lower fells which are quite interesting. Consequently a good number of lower fells make it into respectable positions. [First clue!]
Tarns – a golden ticket of a feature is a tarn. I love a good tarn, I’m sure we all do, and a fell with a tarn seems more complete. So it gets more points too. Indeed, it’s fair to say that some fells have achieved high placings largely on the strength of having nice tarns. [Second Clue!]
So all of the above were thought about as I made up the list, not in a particularly scientific way (I tried that and couldn’t make it work), as how do you choose between an exhilarating scramble, a stunning tarn, or a view to die for ? You can’t, and subjectivity has to come into play. So what I have is a list decided by my personal experiences and what I like in a fell.
No list would be worth its salt if it didn’t contain some anomalies. Which if you look at in isolation and without having read the spiel above, would have you furiously complaining about my incompetence at making up the list. The point to remember, is that the list reflects my actual experiences, some of which were better than others. Let me illustrate with a few fells that most people would say are out of their natural position.
Grasmoor – was shrouded in cloud both from the valley and when I was on it. I nearly got lost too. Considering that Trail Magazine have Grasmoor as one of the 26 Lake District fells included in their Trail 100 list of best hills in the UK, my having it at 149 out of 159 on my list looks odd. But it’s largely because I couldn’t see a thing. I’m sure a revisit will shoot it up the list a long way.
High Pike (Caldbeck) – a similar story to Grasmoor, except the lack of visibility was as much about the lashing wind and rain. Also a Trail 100, I couldn’t see anything up there particularly special under those conditions, resulting in 96th place. The story of the day is on this blog.
These are just two examples of where weather has stunted a fell’s rise up the table. But in some cases the weather made no difference:
Holme Fell – More wind and rain, coupled with a traumatic descent down a gully I shouldn’t have been in, but I saw enough of the fell to know I would have really enjoyed it in nice conditions. It’s gained a respectable place in the list despite the weather.
In truth, no fell is that bad as simply being on the fells is better than not being on the fells. But there are some fells that do absolutely nothing for me – and in many cases these have been done in good weather, so there’s not even that excuse. Large boring lumps of hill and bogs score well here. So here are a selection of the fells I have no burning desire to redo and I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel finding good things to say about them:
Mungrisdale Common – the one remaining failure on the list, surrendered after a mere 10 minutes walk in hail. It looks shit on the map, Wainwright doesn’t rate it (so why did he include it as a separate fell anyway ?!), and I reckon it won’t feel worth the walk when I do revisit it to tick it off properly.
Armboth Fell – too boggy.
Sail – a large boring lump that is really just an obstacle between Eel Crag and the much more interesting Causey Pike.
Bakestall – in my view not a fell in its own right, just part of a Skiddaw ridge.
Maiden Moor – ok this one was in bad weather, but don’t reckon it will improve and never heard anyone singing its praises.
The observant amongst my readers will have noticed that I have talked about a list of 159 fells, when there are 214 Wainwrights. Well clearly, the 55 new fells (and 1 failure included in the 159) haven’t made it onto the list yet, and it’s going to take 2 or 3 years to finish them off. And there are some decent prospects (Blencathra, Place Fell, High Street and Haystacks to name a few) to come.
The other thing is that I’m starting to redo fells now in order to string meaningful trips together, so this will likely result in some shuffling of the list as I discover new things I like about some fells, or tackle their more daring ascents.
And part of me feels I should have included the outlying fells in my list. Black Combe would probably head that list of 21 out of the 116 so far, and I reckon it would do well in the main list too. So if I keep the list going longer term I might integrate the outlying fells in too.
And I’m also planning to rank the tarns in order too. I suspect that won’t be anywhere near as controversial.
So all that remains now is to start sharing the secrets of the list. As a teaser, the top 20 break down as follows in terms of the 7 fell groupings:
Eastern Fells: 2
Far Eastern: 0 (largely because I still have 29 of the 36 still to do)
Northern: 0 (ok so that rather let’s the cat out of the bag as to what I think of Skiddaw!)
North Western: 2
I’m going to cover numbers 16-20 in the list in my next post. For that we’re going to visit the Western, North Western and Central Fells. And the common theme appears to be ridges. Until tomorrow…