Orrest Head

Date: 23 Sep 2019 Weather: 16’C, partly cloudy
Height gain: 390 ft Distance: 1.4 miles
Time taken: 45 mins Wainwrights: Outlying 7 of 116

This is where it all began.  In 1930 Wainwright visited the Lake District for the first time, travelling by bus from his home town of Blackburn for a holiday with his cousin, Eric Beardsall.   On their arrival in Windermere on 7 June they decided to climb to the summit of Orrest Head.

As Wainwright writes in his autobiography “Ex-Fellwanderer”:

‘It was a moment of magic, a revelation so unexpected that I stood transfixed, unable to believe my eyes. I saw mountain ranges, one after another, the nearer starkly etched, those beyond fading into the blue distance. Rich woodlands, emerald pastures and the shimmering waters of the lake below added to a pageant of loveliness, a glorious panorama that held me enthralled. I had seen landscapes of rural beauty pictured in the local art gallery, but here was no painted canvas; this was real. This was truth. God was in his heaven that day and I a humble worshipper.’

From that point, his one wish was to move to the Lake District, an ambition that was realised in 1941 when he successfully applied for a post in the Borough Treasurer’s Office in Kendal and moved to the town.  On 9 November 1952 he began work on his Pictorial Guides, an idea that had been slowly germinating for many years.  The start of a Wainwright tick-list was born!

All I can say is thank goodness the visibility was good on that day back in June 1930 – as he himself said ‘Orrest Head cast a spell that changed my life’.  And it’s carried on changing lives, mine included, ever since.

So – we’ve got some good walking done so far in September but the weather has now started to deteriorate.  It looks like we might have a nice morning today so we decide to head out for a short stroll to Orrest Head.  I’ve labelled it Outlying Fell number seven as that’s the order it comes in since our move to Cumbria – technically though it’s number one as we have walked it before on one of my first holiday’s here in the 1990’s.  I was underwhelmed with it that day, possibly the weather wasn’t great or perhaps it didn’t live up to its star billing.  I was therefore keen to go again (and now I wonder why it’s taken over 25 years to revisit).

Windermere is busy when we arrive and we go round the one-way system twice trying to find a parking spot.  As we emerge back onto the main route back to the A591 a spot opens up just before we reach the NatWest bank.  We move seamlessly into it as the previous car pulls away and decide the 1 hour stay allowed gives us enough time.

It feels odd putting our boots on on a town centre pavement but we’re soon ready and head up the road and across the A591 to find the start of the footpath.  It’s initially a road up through houses which then turns into a wide and well engineered track up through woodland.  We join the procession and follow everyone else – it’s predictably busy on a nice morning in September.

The path snakes pleasantly uphill under tree cover and we’re barely out of breath for whole of the 400 feet of climbing – the benefit of a good few months of hill-waking under our belts.

We reach the top and, although crowded with people, it is far more impressive than I remember from last time.  There’s quite a lot of cloud around but plenty of visibility to take in the impact of the almost 360′ views.

To the west we can make out the Langdales and the Crinkles and Bowfell behind Lake Windermere:


To the north we can see towards the Kentmere round and the High Street range:


And unfortunately they are the only two distinct views I have photos of – plenty of photos taken but mostly of the same thing.  As I’ve said before, I wasn’t planning on writing up shorter walks before I realised they were Outlying fells so didn’t plan my photo taking very well.   Perhaps we’ll go back this September (hopefully we can by then) and take a better set of photos to add in.

We enjoy the views for 15 minutes or so, moving around the top and trying to avoid bumping into all the people who are doing the same thing.  We finally decide it’s time to go and start the easy and short descent back to the car.

There are good glimpses of Windermere, both lake and town, through the trees as we start to make our way down:


We’re soon back at the car with 15 minutes to spare before we have to vacate the parking space.  Despite the crowds I found Orrest Head had more impact than the first time I saw it.  I’d like to go again when it’s a bit quieter – perhaps a clear blue evening walk at some point?

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