With three guidebooks in walking the Lake District to his name, including his latest release, Winter Walks in the Lake District, it's safe to say Stephen Goodwin is an authority when it comes to finding the most beautiful, rewarding and intriguing routes in the national park. He was kind enough to share with us the details of some of the gems he's discovered over the course of his wanderings.
Will Renwick: Do you have a personal favourite out of the routes in your new book?
Stephen Goodwin: No single favourite. I take the days as they come. If I want a relatively short easy day then perhaps the hike over High Rigg, with just a hard frost on its undulating hillocks, its tiny tarns all frozen over and the surrounding higher peaks mantled in snow. That can be a beautiful outing. If my mood is for something wilder then I’ll probably head for one of the ridge routes out of Grisedale or a climb up Nethermost Gully, a chance to engage ice axes and crampons.
How long did you spend planning and researching the walks - what went into it all?
In a sense the answer is decades because the book is an accumulation of knowledge gained over so many winters of hikes and climbs in the Lakes – long before I was thinking of writing guidebooks. Checking over all the routes with a deliberate intention of including them in a guide has taken about three years.
"The reward is the sheer exhilaration of meeting that challenge and finding yourself on top of a mountain so transformed by winter..."
Which route in your guide has the best viewpoint along the way?
Well all of the routes have great views, they’re bound for the fell tops after all. Even the easiest route in the book, up Latrigg behind Keswick, has a superb panorama – south across the town, along the length of Derwentwater to the jaws of Borrowdale and the central fells, while at your back rises Skiddaw and its lofty neighbours. Fabulous! And it’s only taken a hour or so to hike up there.
Did you discover any 'hidden gems' while planning the guide?
Yes, the east ridge of Nethermost Pike. I noticed this while studying the map for good horseshoe routes out of Grisedale. Then when we did it the whole mountain was shrouded in cloud – though the line up the crest is so obvious there’s no big navigational challenge (at least until you’re on the summit plateau). Just from the fun of scrambling up the snow-covered rocks I knew I’d want to go back for the view. And a couple of weeks ago I did, this time able to enjoy the now visible exposure on this fine Nethermost stairway.
A gentler “discovery" was some of the history surrounding St John’s in the Vale church which features in the lovely High Rigg walks. The present small church dates from 1845, but there is believed to have been a place of worship here, or perhaps a hospice or a hermitage, since the 13th century under the auspices of the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. There’s also a holy well tucked among the trees in the churchyard.
Is there a particularly good route that ends at or visits a particularly good pub?
The Lake District is not short of good pubs, so this is another tricky question. But try this: go for the big day over Catstye Cam and Helvellyn with a descent via Striding Edge then drop into the Traveller’s Rest on returning to Glenridding - a cosy pub, a good pint - and you’ll have earned it!
What’s a good route for those not looking for anything too technical or difficult?
There is plenty of walking in my new guide suitable for beginners wanting a taste of winter in the Lakes. The bijou top of Barrow, above Braithwaite; Latrigg or High Rigg are easy walks requiring no more than warm clothing and robust footwear. Stepping up a notch are longer walks where crampons or micro-spikes should be carried in case of ice or hard snow on paths, but which may well remain unused in your pack throughout.
What are the challenges of high-level winter walking in the Lake District?
The challenge, in a word, is “weather". Obviously it’s the snow that adds the stardust to the day. But you really don’t want it blowing over the ridges at 40 or 50 mph, nor do you want such a blanketing of cloud that you’re bent over map and compass all day. None the less it happens, so you need to be prepared - layers of warm clothing, dependable waterproofs, gloves, a flask of hot drink etc.
The reward is the sheer exhilaration of meeting that challenge and finding yourself on top of a mountain so transformed by winter that you could be high in the Alps on a perfect day. Equally, you could be hunched in the shelter of a summit windbreak, taking a sip of hot coffee while spindrift whistles over the stone wall at your back. This too is a reward of sorts, a more subtle atavistic pleasure.
Winter Walks in the Lake District, by Stephen Goodwin, is currently available to pre-order from the Vertebrate Publishing website priced £11.96 (RRP: £14.95).