Chris Bonington celebrates the Cumbrian hills and paths we care for

Mountaineer Chris Bonington climbing the Cumbrian hills

Mountaineering legend Chris Bonington explains why footpaths matter and shares his love of the Cumbrian hills in an interview for the National Trust magazine.

This year, the Fix the Fells lengthsmen scheme to mend the Lake District’s paths celebrates its 10th anniversary. Mountaineering legend Chris Bonington spoke to Alan Power for National Trust Magazine about why paths matter and shares his love of walking in the Cumbrian hills.

Chris Bonington
Chris Bonington

You’ve had a love for the mountains from a very young age. What first inspired your love of mountaineering?
I was very young when I discovered the hills. My mum was a single parent, working to send me to private school. During the holidays I stayed with friends in the countryside. That’s when I started to love wandering into hills, like the Quantocks in Somerset. My grandfather retired to Dublin and I started walking the Wicklow Hills to the south of Dublin in my early teens.I got the ferry back and I saw Snowdon – I knew I had to climb it. I later hitchhiked there from London with a schoolfriend, absolutely inexperienced, in the middle of winter and we ended up being avalanched on Snowdon! I love the beauty of the hills, but also the challenge and the thrill of risk. Those things have dominated my life to the present day.

Could you tell us a bit about life in Cumbria and what makes the Lake District so special? 
I’ve lived in Cumbria for the last 45 years – in the same house for 40 of them. I live in the far north of the Lake District, on the north side of the Northern Fells. I love it – it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each valley has its own particular individual quality. I’ve lived right the way around the Lakes and I’m particularly fond of Borrowdale, the closest rock climbing area to us. It’s got so much variety, with beautiful woodlands and wonderful oak trees. The crags and the climbing it offers are excellent.

Enjoying the Lakes landscape with a four-legged friend
Chris Bonington walking his dog in Cumbrian hills

What are your favourite walks in the Lake District?
There are so many walks, but the area I’ve walked most of all is around High Pike, the hill above our home and the north east bastion of the Lake District. I must have climbed that a thousand times over the years. But there are many others that I love too, and Skiddaw is another of my favourites.

" The problem with a place that is as loved as the Lake District is that so many people trek up on the hills. They create foot erosion... But the National Trust has built paths, made of natural stone, and that enables the ground either side to be restored. It’s a great and very important job that the volunteers do. "
- Chris Bonington

What do you think of the work of our volunteers repairing the pathways across the Lake District?
It’s very, very important work. I was president of the National Trust’s Lake District Appeal about 20 years ago to raise funds for footpath restoration. The problem with a place that is as loved as the Lake District is that so many people trek up on the hills. They create foot erosion, which then worsens with rain, and eventually this creates great scars going up the hills. But the National Trust has built paths, made of natural stone, and that enables the ground either side to be restored. It’s a great and very important job that the volunteers do. 

This article originally appeared in our summer 2017 members’ magazine.

Listen to Alan Power’s interview with Chris Bonington here, taken from the audio version of National Trust Magazine. You can listen to our audio magazine on SoundCloud, or visually impaired members can receive a free CD by contacting RNIB on businesslink@RNIB.org.uk or 01733 375370.