Field notes: Journeying through the Nuttalls

Escape to the hills as Tom Hayek, the Trust's England and Wales Development Manager, recounts his journey to visit the 258 Nuttalls

At the top of pillar rock with pillar behind detail

In 2010 one of my neighbours asked me whether I would like to join them on the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge. It involves climbing Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (the three highest peaks in Yorkshire) in one go - around 24 miles and 5,200ft of ascent. 

Despite being fairly sporty, I hadn’t climbed a decent hill since I was at school more than 15 years before, but I joined their merry gang and completed the route in around 10 hours with a decent dollop of pain and emotion along the way. Needless to say, I’d underestimated the task!

What I did gain from that day in the Pennines, though, was a sudden and entirely unexpected passion for hills. Some of my friends had dabbled in Munro-bagging over the years, but having just completed a career change into conservation, I was reluctant to spend that much time travelling to the furthest reaches of Scotland (little did I know I would end up working for an organisation so embedded in the landscapes of the Munros!)

The Nuttalls list

I did some research and found that a couple called Anne and John Nuttall had produced a list of English hills above 2,000ft which had then taken their name – the Nuttalls (their books celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2020).

In November 2010, I left on my first trip to start ticking off the list and walked Great Whernside and Buckden Pike, close to where the inspiration began in the Yorkshire Dales. By April 2011, I had climbed another four, taking me to nine of the 258 that would eventually be required to complete the list (the true number has changed over time) and I set off for the Lake District to tick off the summits on the Glaramara ridge above Borrowdale. 

Tom on Gragareth

^ Testing conditions on Gragareth

The thick fog and low visibility that had accompanied me all the way from Sty Head was starting to lift as I heard the excited cries of a crow to my right. At exactly the moment visibility improved enough to see the bird, it became a cloud of black feathers as a peregrine hit it from above; both of them disappearing out of view into the valley. This was the first of many incredible wildlife experiences I was to have as I made my way through the list.

Wild and memorable

A series of shoulder operations meant a depressing two-year gap without any hills between 2013 and 2015, before restarting and having some really incredible wild and memorable experiences along the way (alone and with friends).

These included: carrying my 13 month-old nephew up Bleaklow Head on my back; sleeping under an old curtain (forgotten sleeping bag); being literally lifted off my feet by a wind gust; carrying my friend’s dog on my shoulders after he was hit by sudden cold exhaustion; negotiating restricted areas; lots of blisters (rarely mine!) and obviously every type and combination of weather known.

Another real highlight was learning to climb in order to complete the only peak requiring roped ascent: Pillar Rock above Ennerdale. Climbing is now a significant part of my life and something I wish I’d found many years ago.

In July 2019, I completed the final peak with a long-planned ambition to finish on the highest point in England; Scafell Pike. Joined by my wife and 10 friends, number 258 was ticked off and, in a moment, nine years of focus on a goal came to an end. 

Tom and co on Scafell

^ Tom and friends on the final summit - Scafell Pike 

Along the way, I had ascended roughly eight times the high of Everest from sea level, walked around 900 miles and, for the last trip, raised more than £1,500 for my two chosen charities: Rainbow Trust and Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue. 

Now it’s time to plan the next challenge!