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What is a Wainwright? A quick guide to peaks in the Lake District

Mosedale
Lake District National Park is one of the UK’s crown jewels of hiking (Image credit: James Forrest)

The Lake District National Park is one of the UK’s crown jewels of hiking and if you’ve been eyeing up bagging some peaks there, you’ve no doubt come across the term Wainwright in your research. So what is a Wainwright? We take a look at this English mountain designation and explain what it means and how to get started bagging Wainwrights. 

What is a Wainwright? 

A car driving in the lake district

The Wainwrights don’t necessarily have distinguishing characteristics such as all being above a certain height, however they are all mountains and they are all within Lake District National Park (Image credit: fotoVoyager)

Unlike, say, the munros of Scotland, which are mountains over a certain height, the Wainwrights are simply a list of peaks – better known locally as fells – that were outlined in British walker and author Alfred Wainwright's seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells which were published between 1955 and 1966. 

So, the Wainwrights don’t necessarily have distinguishing characteristics such as all being above a certain height, however they are all mountains and they are all within Lake District National Park. That said, all but one of the Wainwrights (Castle Crag) are over 1,000ft tall.

How many Wainwrights are there? 

A winding mountain road in the Lake District

There are 214 Wainwrights that range from small hills to major mountains (Image credit: Alexander W Helin)

There are 214 Wainwrights that range from small hills to major mountains. For each one, Wainwright describes the route and provides details of the distance and elevation gain, complete with hand drawn illustrations that he created over a period of 13 years. His intention for the book was to offer a comprehensive guide to fellwalking in the area, rather than a list of mountains to be completed, and the work is still considered a definitive guide to walking in the Lake District. 

What is the difference between a Wainwright and a Birkett? 

Autumn colors on Haystacks in Buttermere

The Birketts are another list of peaks, described by Cumbrian writer and climber Bill Birkett in his 1994 guidebook Complete Lakeland Fells (Image credit: joe daniel price)

The Birketts are another list of peaks, described by Cumbrian writer and climber Bill Birkett in his 1994 guidebook Complete Lakeland Fells. Again, these peaks are all within the Lake District National Park and unlike the Wainwrights, these peaks are defined as all being over 1,000 feet. As you might imagine, this list includes many Wainwrights; in fact, of the 541 Birketts, 209 are Wainwrights. 

What is the highest Wainwright? 

Scafell Pike

At 3,209ft, Scafell Pike is the highest Wainwright (Image credit: James Forrest)

At 3,209ft, Scafell Pike is the highest Wainwright. It is one of the most popular hikes in the Lake District, and made our list of the best hikes in the UK. Its peak is part of a horseshoe of fells formed by an inactive volcano and its prominent ridgeline of rocky crags and narrow cols makes it one of the most distinctive peaks in the country. 

How to get started as a peak bagger 

Hikers on Langdale Pikes in the Lake District

If you have completed all of the Wainwrights, you can apply to be listed on a register held by the Long Distance Walkers Association (Image credit: David C Tomlinson)

A person who summits all the Wainwrights doesn’t have a special name, and in fact, Alfred Wainwright probably never considered that doing so would become a significant feat to others. However, it is a popular pastime and if you have completed all of the Wainwrights, you can apply to be listed on a register held by the Long Distance Walkers Association.

Though not easy, bagging the Wainwrights is a popular pastime in part because the majority of the peaks are relatively accessible. If you want to get started, here’s what we recommend:

  • Pick up the seven guidebooks and use them as your hiking companion.
  • Get yourself some proper hiking boots that will handle boggy and rocky terrain alike. 
  • Start with the smaller peaks such as Castle Crag, Latrigg and Loughrigg and work you way up to the big ones.
  • Pack a rain jacket and other rain gear like gaiters and waterproof trousers – the Lake District averages 200 wet days every year.
  • Plan ahead and figure out which peaks you might be able do together in a single day.  
  • Study up on mountain safety – Lake District mountain rescue saw a record number of callouts in 2021.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.