The minibus in front of us pulled to the side of the road by the youth hostel at the top of Honister Pass and out of it tumbled a bunch of walkers, ready to set off for various high-level points.

Some of them, no doubt, were bound for Haystacks - but by a rather easier route than the one we'd chosen, given the already-elevated starting point.

With the car in low gear we dropped down the other side of Honister and managed to tuck into the last remaining parking place in the small pay-and-display car park across the road from Gatesgarth Farm, at the southern end of Buttermere.

Then we surveyed the challenge ahead. To the south of us was the shoulder of Fleetwith Pike, to the west the towering mound of High Fell. And between the two, in shadow, were the rippled multiple peaks of Haystacks. That was where we were heading, on what the great Wainwright described as a "short mountain excursion that ranks with the very best".

We were about to follow his tracks, on one of his favourite walks, to the tarn where at his request his widow scattered his ashes.

To Wainwright, and to other seasoned Lakeland fellwalkers, it might be a short excursion. But to a middle-aged couple more used to Dales lanes and woodland footpaths it was a rather more ambitious outing than usual.

After studying Wainwright's book and taking advice from friends, we'd decided to take the path that climbed diagonally from the south-western corner of the lake up to Scarth Gap, between Haystacks and High Crag ("one of the pleasantest of the foot passes," according to AW).

It was a good, well-made path that we joined as we skirted the small wood at the bottom of the slope and began the ascent. It was rather less well-made, but still clear enough, from halfway up as we plodded through a gap in the wall and picked our way among boulders and tumbled stones, always heading for the pass above us.

At a fence the path veered to the left, heading for the rocky heights of Haystacks. We could just about pick it out as it wound its way up towards the summit via a series of steep, climbing zigzags and ledges.

We set off up it only to meet a couple of a similar age carefully picking their way down. The steadily-increasing cold wind had unnerved them and they'd decided not to risk the climb to the summit.

We edged past them and continued upwards. I'm blessed with a wife whose reaction in such circumstances is "We've come to climb to the top so let's get on with it!"

There was a bit of rock scrambling involved in getting to the top of the ridge, only to discover that the actual summit was still above us. Still, with more scrambling we finally made it and looked down on the glorious sight of Buttermere laid out in the valley below us, with Crummock Water beyond. And there, in full view on the other side of High Crag, was Ennerdale Water.

Small wonder Wainwright loved this glorious place and was able to claim for it that "for a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure." Who could fail to be inspired and uplifted by the views all around?

We couldn't savour them for as long as we would have liked, though. Driven from the summit by the wind gusting from the north, we picked our way round the back of the crags, and with Great Gable ahead of us across the high moor we dropped down to the shelter of the pretty stretch of water known as Innominate Tarn.

This was Wainwright's special place, and it was close to here that his ashes were scattered. As we perched on a pair of water's-edge rocks and ate our sandwiches, we thought of the words he had written in 1966 in his book Fellwalker, nominating his preferred final resting place: "And if you, dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boots as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me."

The climb up had taken us two hours, travelling at not much more than a mile an hour. The descent to Warnscale Bottom was to take us even longer - partly because of long pauses to admire the views, partly because it doesn't do to rush down steep and rocky paths that are strewn with loose stones.

From Innominate Tarn we followed the ridge path eastwards, passing the end of Blackbeck Tarn and climbing up to the next ridge, encountering along the way several group of walkers making their way to the top from the Honister summit route.

At a junction of tracks we faced a choice: should we go ahead towards Dubs Quarry on the slopes of Fleetwith, crossing Warnscale Beck and then turning left to follow the old quarry road (more a stony path) down the far side of it? Or should we take Wainwright's preferred route down the rocky Western side of the beck and cross it via a footbridge in the valley bottom?

We opted to go with AW, even though it meant an initial slide on our backsides down a sloping rock to reach the path below. It was slow going, finding and losing the path as we descended on braced legs to cross Black Beck and continue steeply down, watching where we put every foot and stopping (as Wainwright always recommended) on the many occasions when we wanted to enjoy the view down the valley.

The last quarter of a mile was an easy footpath stroll back to the car park, nursing a tremendous sense of achievement. With the help of a couple of painkillers the arthritic Priestley hip had held up nicely. In fact the next morning there was less stiffness than usual. It seemed that the Haystacks workout had done it good. It was around teatime when it caught up with me!

Step by Step
  1. From Gatesgarth car park, cross road and go through gate stile. Follow broad path ahead towards a triangular plantation. Go through gate stile and up side of plantation, turning left to walk along top edge of it on climbing path. Stay with it to a gap in the wall.
  2. Go through this and continue in same direction on now-rocky path to climb towards Scarth Gap.
  3. With a fence ahead, veer left and soon start rather steeper climb, sometimes a scramble, which is a bit tricky in places but clearly defined and eventually arrives at top of Haystacks passing Summit Tarn a few feet below.
  4. To begin return trip, pick your way past this tarn and work your way left around back of Haystacks to join well-worn path to Innominate tarn. Continue on clear path past tarn and stick with it as it dips and winds to eventually pass end of attractive Blackbeck Tarn and climb up through narrow gap to next ridge.
  5. At junction of paths, either keep ahead towards quarry, cross Wanscale Beck and turn left on quarry road or do as we did and take steep fork to left and proceed with care down nearside of beck to eventually reach valley bottom.
Fact File

  • Start: Gatesgarth Farm at Buttermere end of Honister Pass on B5289.
  • Time for five-mile walk: Four hours
  • Going: Challenging
  • Map: OS Outdoors Leisure 4, English Lakes North Western
  • Toilets & refreshments: None for miles around.