‘Haystacks – The best fell-top of all’, by Alfred Wainwright’s reckoning, ‘A place of great charm and fairyland attractiveness.’
Wainwright didn’t include this in his best half dozen. This was due to it’s lacking in the altitude department. But, he loved it so much it was the last fell he climbed while he was alive, and the last place he went to when he’d died!
AW’s ashed were scattered in a secret place at Innominate Tarn on Haystacks in 1991. More about that later.
That was Alfred’s take on it but what relevance does that have today?
Standing at 1958ft above sea level Haystacks isn’t quite a mountain. However, it’s array of features and rugged dark looks make it stand tall. Not only does it have tarns and bogs, tors and crags, streams and paths. It has excellent views of the many, many neighbouring fells over the busy Buttermere Valley, the pedestrian Ennerdale Valley and up to Great Gable and friends.
Haystacks is made primarily of ‘flow banded’ andesite lavas, 450 million years old. This is volcanic lava that has been pushed out of the earth’s surface. It flowed out, got pushed around making fantastic patterns, then cooled to form the rock we see to the West of Haystacks summit. This can clearly be seen as you descend to the Scarth Gap, the col between Haystacks and High Crag.
Haystacks route from Ennerdale
If you take a walk up Ennerdale to stay in the Black Sail Hut, just below Haystacks, I would really recommend you take a little detour and circle around Haystacks Summit (ascend Loft Beck and turn West traversing the fell past Innominate Tarn and over the top.
Descend West to meet the Gatescarth Pass then South off the Gap back down into Ennerdale. It’s an amazing route.
We do this route on our Black Sail Hut Spring Retreat.
Haystacks route from Gatesgarth Farm
The best circular taking in Haystacks would be from Buttermere or Gatescarth Farm up the Gategarth Pass.
You’ll then find yourself on my favourite walk in the whole of the Lake District, passing over the summit and down to Innominate Tarn, round to Green Crag and down to the Dubs Bothy.
After a visit to Dubs, cross back over Warnscale Beck and down to the Warnscale Bothy and Warnscale. Why not spread it over two days and camp on Haystacks, at Black Beck Tarn or stay at one of the bothies?
Haystacks – Wainwright’s favourite route
When I traversed from Haystacks, past Innominate Tarn, round to Dubs Bothy and down to the Honister Pass this became my favourite route in the Lake District. I didn’t realise at the time that it was Alfred Wainwirght’s favourite route too.
AW loved it so much that it was his last mountain walk. Richard Else accompanied him along this route to Haystacks for the TV show in the 80s, along with Eric Robson. He quite recently wrote a book about making the show, his relationship with Alfred and how he managed to convince him to make the show in the first place. It’s a really nice read and insight into what Wainwright was like.
Wainwright’s ashes were taken along this route by his wife Betty, best friend Percy Duff and sons in 1991 to be scattered at Innominate Tarn. We take this route ourselves every year to celebrate the life and works of Alfred Wainwright on the Wainwright Weekend Walk.
So, why is Wainwright’s opinion relevant today? Because Haystacks is just as he left it. It’s still as amazing as it was in 1966 when he published his 12 pages on it in the Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells.
Now, get yourself up there and post me your photo of ‘Haystacks – The Wainwright Summit’.