The Rambling Man Trail Walking and Wainwright Bagging Review, 2021

Published 19 December 2021

An old pit wheel, not far from the start of the Northumberland Coast Path.

Well that was another year and a half, wasn’t it? It’s strange to think that the year began with the country’s third Covid-19 lockdown. That until April we’d be, yet again, stuck in our homes with nowhere to go. Then the country started unlocking, things began to look good. And then there was Delta. And now Omicron. And, well, it’s all been a bit crazy.

Personally I fell foul of Covid-19 at the end of October. I didn’t have a particularly bad time of it compared to some. I didn’t need to go to hospital or anything near that. But it wasn’t great. I was off work for a week, and on reduced power for the following one. I don’t like to think how much worse it would have been had I not been vaccinated.

A few days ago I had my third vaccine dose. I’m also well aware I’m incredibly privileged. We all are in the UK. There are healthcare workers in other countries who haven’t even had a single dose of vaccine. The arrival of the Omicron variant is a reminder that Covid-19 is a global pandemic. And what happens in one country WILL affect those in others. Rich countries need to help vaccinate the world, if for no other reason that it’s in our absolute own self-interest to do so.

It’s something I passionately believe our government should be doing more on. But I did discover that there’s at least something I could do. Vaccinade is raising funds for UNICEF to help deliver 2 billion jabs and millions of treatments across the word. If you are in a position to help in any way, then it’s a cause that is well worth contributing to. Covid-19 knows not country boundaries. It affects everyone on this planet, and will continue to do so until we can get it under control. Not only in this country but everywhere.

Trail Walking

A pair of feet resting on the beach of Coldingham Bay, Berwickshire

One positive thing to come out of Covid-19 is that a lot of people have recently discovered the awesomeness of the Great British Outdoors. One of the things we’ve been doing is trying to make sure we get out with the children more, and we’ve done a fair few walks with them. This included their first multi-day walk. A few months ago we took our 5 year old and 8 year old on a hiking expedition. One Saturday we got the train to Edale in the Peak District and climbed Mam Tor. After following the ridge of the hill, we headed down again and spent the night in YHA Castleton. The next day we headed slowly back to the station after watching some sheepdog trials. It was a mini-adventure, and one we hope will stay with them in the future. Perhaps even as the foundation of their own multi-day walking adventures. We can hope.

My own trailwalking’s taken rather a back seat in comparison. I’d certainly hoped to be much further on along the GM Ringway than I currently am. I did manage three sections this year, but I’d aimed for at least five. But I’ve had few days I could head out on a full day hike. Well actually I did. Because getting away at weekends is often a challenge, I’d reserved a chunk of my Annual Leave for walking. Only problem is, I forgot to book in some appropriate slots. Expect early next year to see me heading out in the sleet and snow to use it all up!

Still this summer I did manage to fit in a Big Adventure. I spent five days with a good friend walking the Northumberland Coast Path, then followed it with two days on my own doing the Berwickshire Coastal Path in the Scottish Borders. Both are fantastic trails with some stunning coastal scenery, and well worth walking.


A flooded Bassenthwaite Lake and surrounding area, seen from the side of Dodd.

Normally in a year I’d do several visits – day trips or longer – to the Lake District in my quest to tick off the Wainwrights. With the borders being closed for much of the year, places like the Lakes took rather a pounding as tourists flocked in. Which is why this year made the active decision to only do one visit to it. A family holiday in Autumn. A chance to get the children outdoors some more, and explore my favourite part of the country. And there was a good chance to sneak off and do a few cheeky fells as well.

That was the plan. There was only one problem. We were there in October in the half term when it rained. A LOT. You may remember some stories in the news about flooding. That was when we were there. Thankfully we didn’t get flooded ourselves, but one morning I did look out of the window of our holiday house in Keswick and found a large lake where there’d been a field the night before.

Whilst we had a few dry days at the start of the holiday, most of the time we had weather that was not wise for going on fell tops.

All of which means my annual Wainwright stats are in a pretty sorry state this year! On the other hand, I did get to visit the Pencil Museum, so the trip to the Lakes wasn’t entirely wasted.

Wainwrights Visited Per Year

Given I made an active decision to stay away from the Lake District for a good chunk of the year, my Wainwright count for 2021 was always going to be low. But if you’d asked me back in September how many I thought I’d do, I would have said 6 maybe. Possibly a couple more. Perfectly achievable with a day hike or two.

In no way would I have expected the answer to be two fells. My lowest Wainwright count since I walked my first in 2010. And back in 2010 I wasn’t even trying to do them all – I only did my first (Kidsty Pike) by accident as it was on the Coast to Coast route.

There’s no denying that two fells in 2021 is incredibly disappointing. However it is what it is. The weather was in such a bad state during the time I was in the Lake District that if I’d ventured onto higher grounds, at best I would have got extremely wet. And at worst, I could have got in serious problems. When walking the Coast to Coast in 2010 we had a situation where a months worth of rain came down in two days. A group of walkers a day or so behind us had had to be rescued after they got trapped by flooding. It sits in my mind. And I was convinced this was definitely no weather to be fell walking in.

Of the two I did manage to walk – Whinlatter and Dodd – Whinlatter was done just before the bad weather and the other as the rain was calming down. It was still raining, but not as heavily. Dodd is also a great wet weather fell as it’s got good solid tracks and paths.

Number of Wainwrights Bagged

Despite Covid-19, last year was the year I tipped it over the half way point. I was hoping to celebrate that with a trip to the iconic Black Sail Hostel but it remained closed that year, as it did in 2021 too. If Black Sail opens up again in 2022, I’m definitely going.

Still, I’m on 56% of fells done. Up to last year I had done an average of 10.6 fells a year. That average is now 9.9. Either way though, it’s still probably another 9 or 10 years – assuming current rates of fell bagging – before I do my final fell.

Who is joining me for the celebratory ale in 2030 then?

(For the record, we also took the children up the perennial family favourite, Catbells. That means I set foot on three Wainwrights, and I think Catbells now becomes the only fell I have visited more than twice.)

Number of Wainwrights Visited Per Book

Inevitably very little difference on this chart as well. Of the two fells I did manage, Dodd is in the Northern Fells and Whinlatter in the North Western. Me finishing off the Central Fells remains tormentingly close but with no cigar.

Pictorial Guides Where I’ve Visited All the Fells

Alas, for the eleventh year running, this is the chart with no change in the figures. Nope, I still haven’t actually finished a Wainwright book. Oh well.

Looking forward to 2022…

Taking the children (and grandparents) to Malham Cove

If we’ve learned anything from the last few years, it’s that you can make as many plans as you like. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to do them.

After all, who knows what 2022 will involve? Well, besides Covid-19. I think we can guarantee that’s going to feature in 2022 even if we’d all much rather it didn’t.

Still, I also know that I need to have something to aim for, if I’m to stand any chance of actually doing it. So – subject to [waves vaguely] things, here’s something I’m hoping I’ll be able to do in 2022.

Firstly, there’s the Sandstone Trail. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a 34 mile walk going between the north and south of Cheshire. In 2018 a survey of walkers voted it number 70 in a list of Britain’s Top 100 Favourite Walks as revealed in a TV programme presented by Julia Bradbury. It beat a walk involving Stonehenge. That’s good enough for me, and Cheshire isn’t that far from where I live, so result!

Secondly I’m determined to get further on on the GM Ringway. I remain non-committal on how much further, but further. And thirdly there will be the Wainwrights. I really want to finish the Central Fells if nothing else! Whether 2022 will be the year I finally make it to Black Sail Hut, I don’t know. But if it opens up for the season, I’m determined to go there somehow.

Anything else? Hopefully. There’s lots I’d love to do. The challenge is finding the time in an uncertain world. Rest assured, I’ll be doing my best.

And that’s it for Rambling Man in 2021. I’ll be back in the New Year.

Before I go this seems like a good point to thank everyone who has used Ko-Fi or PayPal to “send me a beverage” this year. And those who have bought products or accommodation through the affiliate links. Or have simply purchased a copy of one of my books. The money from that helps pay the bills for this website, and contributed towards the costs of going out on the walks mentioned above. And maybe a beer or two.

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