I confess that I haven’t read every single bit of all seven of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides. I’ve flicked through most of them. Maybe even all of them, although I can’t remember a single thing about any of the Western Fells, so who knew if I actually did read that one. So when I say that Mungrisdale Common is the fell that Wainwright liked the least, to be honest I’m rather making it up.
But of the fells I have looked at, this is clearly a contender for his most hated place in Lakeland. It’s true that he’s rather disparaging of several fells, most notably from my adventures being Thunacar Knott which he described as “completely unphotogenic”, “drab”, “dreary” and “deficient in interest”. But that’s veritable praise compared to what he has to say about Mungrisdale Common, which starts with “there is little on these extensive grass slopes to provide even a passing interest for an ordinary walker”. He declines to give any diagrams of the ascent route as “there is little point in providing diagrams of ascent that will never be used.” And for good measure, goes on to say “precious holiday hours should not be wasted here” and that the Common has “no more pretension to elegance than a pudding that has been sat on.” No, Wainwright really didn’t like the place.
Of course Wainwright didn’t anticipate the existence of Wainwright bagging when he wrote those words; that by the very virtue of him writing about Mungrisdale Common, scores of people would end up visiting the place not because they had any wish or desire to do so, but because they had to to say they had been there. Because, unfortunately, visiting the ‘Worthwhile-only’ Wainwrights (however many that may be) isn’t a thing, yet visiting them all, is.
So I had to go, purely because Wainwright had put it in his book. In a book where he’d told me not to go there. It’s the vicious circle and no mistake.
There’s no direct path between Blencathra and Mungrisedale Common, and given his withering remarks of the place, Wainwright certainly wasn’t going to give his readers a route between the two. So instead I had to make up a route, marching north-north-west off the top of Blencathra, and aiming for a rough track that I could see crossing the common in the distance.
It was one of those awkward descents, diagonally cutting down Blencathra’s slopes in such a way that my left leg was always extended further than my right, making walking particularly uncomfortable. A couple of times I slipped, with my foot twisting in the wrong direction, making walking particularly uncomfortable. Thankfully it wasn’t anything worse. Can you imagine phoning Mountain Rescue and saying you needed help leaving a place so boring that Alfred Wainwright had done his uttermost to persuade you not to visit? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
And boy was it boring. Mungrisedale Common was plain dull. Just a massive grassy moor, with the only interest being the aforementioned track that had been worn into its surface only by Wainwright baggers who had been sent here on a terrible journey as punishment for crimes that they were unclear they ever committed.
It was only a mile or so to get there, but felt so much longer. The only moment of any interest was when I passed two other walkers. We exchanged pleasantries, but left unspoken the only real purpose of our visit; a visit that could be best worded as “bloody Wainwright.”
When Wainwright first visited the summit itself, it was hard to find due to the whole place being, well, rather flat and dull. These days there’s actually a small cairn, which at least provides some tiny interest. As I approached there was even a man standing next to it. Perhaps he really liked Mungrisdale Common. Certainly he was taking enough photographs of the place to suggest he had some appreciation of it.
Maybe he liked it so much, he wouldn’t have appreciate a shared comment of “bloody Wainwright”. But who knew? He’d gone by the time I got there; wandering down another path towards Bannerdale Crags. Which meant I had the summit to myself. Just me and a small cairn that lay surrounded by a pool of peaty water.
I am of the firm belief that when you get to a summit, you should treat it with some respect. That you should spend some time there, admire the views. Make a moment of the fact that you’ve got there. But Mungrisdale Common severely tested that philosophy. There was little to see, and nowhere even to sit to read Wainwright’s dismissive treatment of the place I was stood. In short, I couldn’t wait to get off the place so I could head to somewhere vaguely more interesting instead.
But Mungrisdale Common had one more thing to make me wish I’d never visited the place. As Wainwright points out “A thousand tufts of tough bent and cotton-grass crown the plateau forming the summit, yet not one can be comfortably reclined upon, this being a summit that holds indefinitely all the water that falls upon it.”
It’s no lie. If there was ever a drought and the powers that be decided that draining Mungrisdale Common would be the cure for all of the UK’s lack of water problems, well they’d find themselves with enough water to hydrate the population of the UK for nearly twenty years. Yes, Mungrisdale Common is wet all right. Of that I can certainly tell you for sure, having, in my rush to get off the fell, I managed to put my right foot down in a spectacular deep puddle. Barely a minute later, the same foot went under again for a second dunking.
And in such circumstances, in such a location, there really is only one thing that can be muttered with a grimace on your face.
“Bloody Wainwright,” I said to no one in particular, and made haste for a fell with vaguely more interest than the one I was on.