Pin It

Wainwright Walks: Books and Guides

by admin on July 27, 2013

I admit that it could be argued that “guides” are books and therefore the “and” in my title here is meaningless. However, I’m going to defend my wording.

Alfred Wainwright is best known for his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. These have a distinctive format and style. He developed it in the 1950s for his Lake District walking series (published between 1955 and 1966) and subsequently used it in writing about hillwalking in other areas. These are what I refer to here as “guides”. Most were in portrait orientation although some, such as Walks on the Howgill Fells, were of the same size but in a horizontal landscape format.

Some of his other books are more conventional in style containing a combination of photography and prose. One of my favourites is Fellwalking with Wainwright (1984) describing eighteen of his favourite Lake District walking routes. The photographs in this case were supplied by Derry Brabbs.

To the best of my knowledge the only book illustrated with much of Wainwright’s own photography during his lifetime is Fellwalking with a Camera. In this volume he explains that on his walks he would take black and white photographs to supplement his memory when working on the sketches for publication.

It was not until 1988, just a few years before his death, that a selection of these photos was made widely available in Fellwalking with a Camera. Quite apart from the more general biographical interest this book demonstrated that, contrary to his own opinion of himself for many years, Wainwright was a competent photographer.

Another category of Wainwright book was the Sketchbook. These consisted of drawings, some the same as in the Guides but at larger scale and many unique to the Sketchbook series. As with the Pictorial Guides themselves these were grouped into seven geographical divisions of Lakeland. Other areas of the country, as well as parts of Scotland and Wales, and several rivers of North West England were given the Sketchbook treatment.

In 1975 he produced a memorial volume to his adopted county of Westmorland as it was due to be absorbed into the newly formed Cumbria on local government reorganisation. Then in 1977 came Kendal in the Nineteenth Century, a book of sketches of a different kind. Wainwright drew them from old 19th century photographs, often fading with age, to preserve a record of the old grey town while John Marsh provided the historical research to accompany the pictures.

There are two other categories of book that I must not miss. The first is the long-distance walk, the prime example being that on Alfred Wainwright’s own Coast to Coast route in 1973, an excellent supplement to his Lake District walking routes. Finally, there are his autobiographical volumes. Although snippets about the man himself come through in the Guides, Fellwanderer in 1966 was his first truly autobiographical book. According to its subtitle it was designed to tell The Story Behind the Guidebooks. Twenty one years years later, no longer able to roam the fells, he followed it with Ex-Fellwanderer.

The man himself left this world more than twenty years ago. There are other Lakeland walking books, many guides to routes for walking in the Lake District, but it seems unlikely that in the near future any will totally replace the Wainwright walks. I wrote something similar in the previous article here but it’s worth repeating. Books about him and reprints of his own will surely continue to flow from the printing presses for years to come.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: