Like a drug, I need my regular fix. I can’t stay away for too long, it’s an addiction that needs feeding. Thankfully my problem is easily cured – a trip to the mountains is my only salvation.
The mountains are calling and I must go.
My love affair with the Lake District began 12 years ago. I’d been persuaded by a friend to join him for a weekend break in Keswick. It was my first experience of walking the fells and at the time I’d no idea what to expect. Little did I know that this would prove to be a life-changing experience.
‘THERE STOOD BLENCATHRA, ITS SWEEPING CURVES BATHED IN GLORIOUS SUNSHINE’
My first glimpse of the impressive Lakeland peaks was from the car. As we drove down the A66 towards Keswick the view in front quite literally took my breath away. It was a beautiful day and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. There stood the majestic Blencathra, its sweeping curves bathed in glorious sunshine. A little further on our left was the steep face of Clough Head, standing tall and proud at the head of the Helvellyn range. There was a stunning view in every single direction I turned. I was already getting excited and we’d not even reached our destination.
We were heading towards the tiny village of Grange to walk up my first ever Lakeland fell, Catbells. I was promised a steep and challenging climb with unbelievable panoramic views at the summit as my hard-earned reward.
I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment we began to climb above the valley bottom I was in complete awe. The feeling of being immersed in the outdoors with the sun on my back and amazing views of mountains in every direction will always remain one of my favourite memories.
‘HE WAS MOVING EFFORTLESSLY, COMPLETELY WILD AND FREE’
As we approached the summit we were passed by the lonely figure of a runner, I couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone want to run up a mountain? I was out of breath just walking! In comparison to me he was moving effortlessly, completely wild and free. What was this strange and wonderful sport? I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It was an image I couldn’t get out of my head and when I returned home after the weekend I was determined to try fell running for myself.
16th April 2016
Fast-forward 12 years. Today I’m making that very same journey I did all those years ago. As I head down the A66 I’m once again greeted by the ever-changing face of Blencathra and the range of impressive peaks that first helped me fall in love with this beautiful place. I can’t wait for my newest adventure to begin.
I’ve been invited to Keswick to take part in a blogging event hosted by the outdoor retailer George Fisher, in partnership with Patagonia. The aim – to raise the profile of the organisation Fix The Fells and to make others aware of the fantastic work that they do. The event is also being held in conjunction with Patagonia’s Worn Wear tour. The Worn Wear program celebrates the stories of the clothes we wear. The company’s dedicated repair team keeps outdoor gear in action longer and provides an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments when they’re beyond repair.
I’m excited to meet the other bloggers and then embark on my own adventure for the day. It’s my choice what I decide to do but there’s only one thing I have in mind. I’m eager to return to the place where my fell running obsession began back in 2004.
‘TODAY, FOR A CHANGE, I CAN ENJOY THE FELLS AT MY OWN PACE AND LEISURE’
After a quick meet and greet at George Fisher, I make the short journey from Keswick to Grange and begin my steep walk to the summit of Catbells. It’s a fantastic opportunity to try out all my new inov-8 gear in the environment it was made for. There is of course another reason to climb this fabulous peak as today I can watch the two fell races that are taking place on this mountain range – The Anniversary Waltz and the Teenager With Altitude. Both are extremely tough challenges and not for the faint-hearted, especially the latter which has a strict selection policy for those even attempting to make the start line. I was initially planning on taking part in the Waltz but time constraints mean that I’ll have to settle for spectating. To be honest, I’m not too disappointed as after a few months of hard racing my body feels ready for a break. It means that today, for a change, I can enjoy the fells at my own pace and leisure.
‘IT’S POPULARITY IS WELL DESERVED, IT’S SHAPELY TOPKNOT ATTRACTS THE EYE OFFERING A STEEP BUT OBVIOUSLY SIMPLE SCRAMBLE’ Alfred Wainwright
I take my time to reach the summit. Just as I arrive the sun breaks through the clouds and I’m basking in its warm golden glow. I find a quiet spot to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views. There is no other place I’d rather be right now. Laid before me is the magnificent sight of Derwent Water with the mighty Skiddaw rising into full view and Blencathra in all its splendour. To the east lies the Newlands Valley and beyond it the Coledale Round with the intimidating summit of Grisedale Pike poking majestically through the clouds. Towards the west I admire the great Helvellyn range and beyond. I can appreciate why Alfred Wainwright described this as a firm family favourite, a beloved place where people of all ages can climb the heights together. It’s in this perfect moment that I’m reminded exactly why and how I fell in love with the Lake District.
‘NOW IT’S TIME I GAVE SOMETHING BACK TO A SPORT AND A PLACE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH WITHOUT RETURN’
Since that first ascent of Catbells I’ve worked hard to become one of the country’s leading fell runners. The journey I embarked on all those years ago has been very challenging yet extremely rewarding. I’ve so much to be thankful for and the Lakeland fells will always hold a deep and special meaning to me. I’ve enjoyed running on the trails and paths in all kinds of weather conditions. I’ve met some amazing likeminded people along the way and made lifelong friends. We’ve shared experiences that have changed my life and shaped the person that I am today. Each and every visit has been memorable – the mountains are where I belong and I’m always drawn back to them. Now it’s time I gave something back to the sport and to the place that has given me so much without return.
‘FOR YEARS I’VE TAKEN THEIR AMAZING WORK FOR GRANTED’
Fix the Fells protects our spectacular Lakeland fells from erosion. Their team of skilled rangers and volunteers repair and maintain the mountain paths that are used by so many of us. It should also be noted that they receive no government funding and rely solely on income generated from donations and partners. After the heavy flooding at the beginning of this year there is much work to be done. Without our help and support it would be an insurmountable task to repair all the damage that’s been caused by nature’s powerful hand.
For years I’ve taken their amazing work for granted – it’s easily done. I’ve used the fells for my own benefit and enjoyment and not once contributed or spared a thought to the great work that they do. I know I’m not alone either. Millions of people each year walk, climb and run in this beautiful environment and it’s important that we now work together to preserve the trails and paths so that we may continue to enjoy them for many more years to come.
So what can we do to help?
Everyone can help by keeping to the paths wherever possible to avoid causing erosion damage and by raising awareness of why that is important. You can of course make a donation to the organisation to ensure that they can continue their superb work – every penny counts! You could also volunteer to help with vital restorative work and improvements to the appearance and functionality of the Lakeland fells. Most importantly we need to make sure that we publicise and support this superb organisation as much as possible. Please spread the word, encourage others to get involved, but most of all respect our beautiful environment.
The mountains need us and we must obey.
All photographs taken by Robbie Jay Barratt
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