The most mountainous area in England, and including the only English summits over 3,000ft, the Lake District is situated wholly within modern day Cumbria although historically it was shared by Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland. It is tempting to say that the Lake District owes its fame to the poetry of Wordsworth and the walking guides of Wainwright but in truth they are just two of the finest and, in their very own different ways, the most eloquent, advocates of a region which has a magical combination of lakes, woodland, tarns and fells of all shapes and sizes. To protect the area the Lake District National Park was founded in 1951. One of the first National Parks to be created in Britain it is the second largest after the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland.
Following Wainwright it has become common practice to subdivide the Lake District into 7 main regions, each one corresponding to the corresponding volume in his magnificent series 'A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells'. In order that the books were published these are; the Eastern Fells, Far Eastern Fells, Central Fells, Southern Fells, Northern Fells, North Western Fells and the Western Fells. A much later volume, 'The Outlying Fells of Lakeland' rather handily covers all the fringe areas of the National Park which were not included in the original set. I'm not going to even attempt to compete with Wainwright's descriptions but here are my brief thoughts on each area.
The Eastern Fells are, for the most part, a high, long ridge extending from the Kirkstone Pass north to end abruptly at Clough Head. The Eastern Fells include Helvellyn, one of England's few 3,000ft mountains. While Helvellyn is one of the most popular mountains in the Lake District, being more accessible than Scafell and Scafell Pike it is one of Helvellyn's ridges, Striding Edge, that has really caught the imagination. It is an undeniably exciting walk but is so popular you can find yourself literally having to queue up at some of the more tricky sections. One of the finest walks in the Eastern Fells is the Fairfield Horseshoe from Ambleside. A personal favourite of mine was the steep climb up on to Red Screes via Middle Dodd with fantastic retrospective views of Hartsop.
The Far Eastern Fells are to be found to the south and east of the Eastern Fells. While there is nothing quite as exciting as Striding Edge there are some fantastic ridge walks to be had in the Far Eastern Fells including the Ill Bell ridge which in its more extended form is part of the Kentmere Horseshoe. The highest and finest mountain in the Far Eastern Fells is High Street, whilst the summit itself is rather dull the climb to the top via Rough Crag and Long Stile from Mardale is one of the finest climbs in the Lake District, the retrospective views of Haweswater are just superb. Also to be found in the Far Eastern Fells is the beautiful valley of Martindale, actually a number of different valleys (Bannerdale, Boredale and Ramps Gill), Martindale is, to my mind, one of the gems of the Lake District and offers a wonderful array of fells to climb.
The Central Fells include the ever popular and dramatic Langdale Pikes including Pavey Ark, Loft Crag and Harrison Stickle and my favourite of the bunch Pike O'Stickle. Loughrigg and Helm Crag, close to Grasmere are two of the more frequently climbed of the lower Lakeland fells. Loughrigg in particular is quite lovely. Further north the Central Fells are generally broader, less dramatic and in places often quite boggy. The likes of Ullscarf, High Tove and High Seat are never going to compete with the Langdale Pikes for popularity but for people who prefer a bit more in the way of solitude they can often be more appealing than some of the busier areas. The view north from High Raise, the highest of the Central Fells, is one my favourites in the Lake District.
The Southern Fells include some of the highest and most dramatic scenery in the Lake District including, Scafell Pike, at 978m (3209ft), the highest mountain in England. Apart from the Scafells other popular mountains include Bowfell and Crinkle Crags, the latter providing another of the great Lakeland ridge walks. Although completely overshadowed by neighbouring Scafell Pike the views from Lingmell are fantastic, especially of Wastwater if climbing the fell from that direction. The Southern Fells also contain the Coniston group including Swirl How, Wetherlam and the Old Man of Coniston itself. Close to the latter is Goats Water below the dramatic face of Dow Crag, another of my favourite spots in the Lake District.
With the exception of favourites such as Skiddaw, Blencathra and Latrigg I think it is fair to say that the Northern Fells are generally fairly quiet compared to other areas of the Lake District. This is of course not a bad thing. Personally I have a lot of affection for the Northern Fells. The ridge walk over Ullock Pike, Long Side and Carl Side and on to Skiddaw is fantastic whilst Blencathra has two very exciting ridges in Hall's Fell and Sharp Edge (for my money more exposed than Striding Edge). The northernmost hills, called the Uldale and Caldbeck Fells, are generally much smoother and remind me somewhat of the Howgill Fells and are just as enjoyable to walk on.
The North Western Fells feature some of the finest ridges in the Lake District including fine walks on to Grisedale Pike and Hopegill Head. That perennial favourite Cat Bells was the scene of my first Lake District fell walk. The summit features superb views of Derwent Water, the Vale of Keswick, Borrowdale and the Newlands Valley. Prominent in the Cat Bells scene are another couple of fine fells, Hindscarth and Robinson. North of the Whinlatter Pass the fells are generally much lower and access to them often requires at least some sort of route through the plantations of Whinlatter Forest.
The Western Fells are, for most people, the least accessible group in the Lake District. However, they also contain some of the finest mountains including Great Gable and Pillar. Steeple, while really a rocky offshoot of Scoat Fell has one of the finest summits. After Cat Bells my next walk in the Lake District was climbing Fleetwith Pike from Gatesgarth and returning via Haystacks. To this day it remains one of my favourite walking memories, the retrospective views of the Buttermere valley from the climb were unbelieveable, it was also easy to see why Wainwright held Haystacks in such high esteem, modest though it is in height compared to the surrounding mountains.
Years after completing the original 7 volume series Wainwright produced a further guide called the 'Outlying Fells of Lakeland'. Rather handily this covers all the hills on the fringes of the Lake District, especially the Black Combe area, the Furness Fells and the Shap Fells. Of the Outlying Fells the only ones I've really had any experience of are the Shap Fells which are, in reality, a natural continuation of the Far Eastern Fells.
After the Yorkshire Dales the Lake District is the area I've done the most of my walking. After my first visit in August 2005 I quickly became hooked and shortly after reading through Wainwright's inspirational books I made a decision to try and climb all 214 fells featured in his original 7 volume series and which are collectively known as the 'Wainwrights'. As of the beginning of 2012 I'm closing in on completing them with just 17 left to do. So far it has been a wonderful adventure.