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Ex-RAF flight sergeant still has ‘drive’ to scale peaks with granddaughter at 87

A former RAF flight sergeant and grandfather-of-11 has been scaling mountains with his granddaughter after not losing “the drive” to climb and because he would “hate to be watching Coronation Street” instead.

Fred Ward, 87, said he finds the act “exhilarating” and has been climbing the Wainwright mountains in the Lake District with his granddaughter, Kathryn Mulville, 37.

Mr Ward, from Kendal, Cumbria, said an “average day on the hills” consists of climbing around 3,000 feet over 10 or 11 miles, spending around seven hours scaling a peak.

The great-grandfather-of-14 began climbing mountains during his time in the RAF which he joined in 1952, and he has since completed climbs of all 282 Munros in Scotland, as well as Mont Blanc in the Alps, where he reached the summit in 1981.

Fred Ward and Kathryn Mulville pictured at the 3,120 feet summit of Helvellyn
Fred Ward and Kathryn Mulville pictured at the 3,120 feet summit of Helvellyn (Kathryn Mulville/PA)

Having not lost his “drive” and “urge” to climb, Mr Ward encouraged his granddaughter Ms Mulville, a CT clinical support worker in the NHS, to join him on his excursions, and the pair have climbed between 40 and 50 peaks of the 214 fells in the Wainwrights over the last 18 months.

“The very act of climbing, I find exhilarating, and to get to the summit is very satisfying,” Mr Ward told the PA news agency.

“An average day on the hills for me would be something like, 3,000 feet, 10 or 11 miles, seven or eight hours.”

He added: “I’d hate to be in some old folks home sat round the television watching Coronation Street.”

Mr Ward began climbing during his time in the RAF, in which he served for more than 30 years as a ranked flight sergeant, a technical author, and a guided missile fitter, saying it’s “where the climbing and walking bug got to me” after he organised climbs for his fellow airmen.

“I still have that drive in me,” he said.

Fred Ward pictured on the summit of Mont Blanc in 1981
Fred Ward pictured on the summit of Mont Blanc in 1981 (Kathryn Mulville/PA)

“I don’t find as much enjoyment walking on the flat, no matter how beautiful, but I need to be on the hills.

He added: “I’m quite fit, stamina is no bother for me, but the frailty of the human body sometimes makes me trip.”

Mr Ward said Ms Mulville approached him around two years ago “because she wanted to get fitter”, and as he was “already in the mountaineering business” but without the means to drive, “it was the ideal combination”.

“She had the transport and I had the expertise to take her on the hills,” Mr Ward said.

“She’s taken to it like a duck to water.”

The pair have climbed between 40 and 50 of the Wainwright peaks together, including the 3,000 feet mountains such as Scafell Pike, Helvellyn, and Skiddaw.

Fred Ward and his granddaughter Kathryn Mulville during a climb
Fred Ward and Kathryn Mulville have climbed between 40 and 50 peaks in the Wainwrights (Kathryn Mulville/PA)

Scafell and Scafell Pike are classed as two separate peaks within the Wainwrights, with the latter being the tallest in England at 3,210 feet, while the former is slightly smaller at 3,162 feet.

“I wanted to get Kathryn up the 3,000 feet peaks in the Lake District, and we did them all except Scafell,” Mr Ward said.

“I’d like to get Kathryn to finish them off, complete the Wainwrights, but age is chasing me all the time.

“I’ve had one or two falls, so I’m fighting against that part of me, and the part of me that just wants to be on the hills which I enjoy thoroughly.”

Of their excursions together, Mr Ward said his granddaughter Kathryn is “imbued with the same spirit” as him in their “drive” to scale the hills.

Fred Ward pictured on the summit of Scafell Pike
Fred Ward pictured on the summit of Scafell Pike (Kathryn Mulville/PA)

“She just likes to get out there and go for it,” he said.

Ms Mulville, a single mother-of-two, added: “He’s good fun to be around, he’s good company.

“I don’t really have much of a social life these days, and on the weekend when my children are with their dad, I’d rather go to bed early and go for a walk the next day.”

Mr Ward’s wife, Loretta, died 18 months ago at the age of 82 after 62 years of marriage, with Mr Ward saying he has “stepped into her shoes somewhat” in looking after his large family of five children, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Of his climbing, he added: “All my family worry about me, all 30 of them.

“One or two falls makes you think twice about these things, but nevertheless, it doesn’t deter me.

“And I’ve got my faithful helper Kathryn looking after me.”