Wainwright society to honour the patron saint of fell-walking

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The Independent Online

Fifty years after AW Wainwright began work on the small, hand-drawn, hand-written guidebooks which have sold two million copies worldwide and made him the patron saint of walking, the Lake District is finally taking steps to commemorate him.

Fifty years after AW Wainwright began work on the small, hand-drawn, hand-written guidebooks which have sold two million copies worldwide and made him the patron saint of walking, the Lake District is finally taking steps to commemorate him.

Many remember Wainwright, who died in 1991, as a curmudgeonly, solitary northerner. But he played a central role in the popularisation of fell-walking and tourism in the Lake District with his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Now an Alfred Wainwright Society will commemorate his contribution.

The society is to be based at the Kendal Museum, where Wainwright was honorary curator for 30 years, and where memorabilia in a permanent Wainwright display demonstrates the public's fascination with him. One of his heavily darned socks takes pride of place, alongside maps he drew as a child, and a reconstruction of his office.

Though Wainwright would have baulked at the thought of a society in his name, the idea has already elicited hundreds of phone calls to the museum. An inaugural meeting planned for next month is fully booked.

"There have been many calls from people, mainly in the south, so far," said Morag Clement, curator of the museum, who has been working on the idea for years. "But there's been interest from far and wide. Wainwright played a central role in the development of fell-walking and tourism in the Lake District. But that contribution is not always recognised and the society intends to help redress that balance." Society activities will include a newsletter, lectures and walks, and possibly a dedicated "Wainwright Week" in the area next summer. Wainwright's widow, Betty, has agreed to be honorary president.

The main driving force behind the society is John Burland, a health and safety officer from Bradford, west Yorkshire, who struck up a correspondence with the author.

The unexpected level of interest is consistent with the increasing clamour for the works of Wainwright, whose 1955 guide The Eastern Fells was produced 25 years after he first visited the Lakes, when he was 23. In addition to a Wainwright trail, a panoramic plinth now stands on Orrest Head above Windermere, commemorating his work.

A biography by Hunter Davies, which covered the walker's sexual obsessions and search for a "dream girl", fuelled interest, and first editions of his works are valued at as much as £200.

Wainwright's origins were modest – he began working life in Blackburn council treasurer's department, where the neatness of his ledgers became, on his own account, a "fetish". But commerce does not seem to have been on his mind as he wrote the books which have a place in most Lakeland ramblers' rucksacks.

"One should always have a definite objective in a walk, as in life it is so much more satisfying to reach a target by personal effort than to wander aimlessly," he wrote. "An objective is an ambition, and life without ambition is ... well, aimless wandering."

He had tramped all 214 Lake District fells several times, in his third-best tweed suit, travelling only by public transport and keeping meticulous notes before The Eastern Fells was published in an edition of 2,000 by a local printer, who took copies around the shops to sell them. It was a phenomenal success, appreciated for its wit as well as detail. (Sketches depicted him talking to sheep in the rain, and asking them the way.)

Subsequent volumes also sold well and at one time kept the entire Westmorland Gazette printing works in business. Wainwright wrote each page by hand, in different scripts, made all the drawings and maps, and attended to the layouts. "Walking alone is poetry; walking in a group only prose," he wrote. "No animals have chips on their shoulders, unlike all the people I have met." BBC2 devoted a series of programmes to him in 1986, when he was 80.

The formal launch of the society is on 9 November, to be followed by a walk to the summit of Dove Crag from Ambleside Youth Hostel, the route which Wainwright had just finished when he started The Eastern Fells. Kendal Museum can be contacted about Wainwright and the society on 01539 721374.


Coast to Coast Walk

A classic devised in 1972 and beloved of British and American tourists alike. Starts at St Bees on west coast, through Cleator, Ennerdale, Patterdale, Shap, Kirkby Stephen, then out of Cumbria, through the North York Moors National Park and towards Robin Hood's Bay on the east coast.

Buttermere to Haystacks via High Stile Ridge

Haystacks, in the Buttermere Valley, was among Wainwright's favourite mountains. His ashes were left at Innominate (nameless) Tarn near the summit. There was talk some years ago of renaming Innominate Tarn Wainwright's Tarn, an idea of which AW himself would have disapproved. The walk runs along Crummock Water to the flanks of Red Pike up to High Crag and includes the path to Innominate Tarn.

Scafell Pike from Seathwaite (Borrowdale)

Scafell Pike is England's highest mountain at 3,206ft and another of Wainwright's favourites. This approach begins at Seathwaite in the Borrowdale valley and takes the Grains Gill path. Looking back from Styhead Tarn there are views of Blencathra, yet another Wainwright favourite. The Isle of Man can be seen from the top of Scafell Pike on clear days.

Round walk to Scafell Pike from Brotherilkeld

Walk through Eskdale, "the finest of all valleys for those whose special joy is to travel on foot and a paradise for artists", according to Wainwright. The round walk from Brotherilkeld takes in Esk Hause and Great End on the way up to Scafell Pike. On the way down, it takes in Scafell and Slightside.

Ambleside to Dove Crag

This walk inspired Wainwright's first entry in The Eastern Fells 50 years ago. Park in Ambleside's Rydal Road (£3.10 for eight hours) and follow a route to Red Screes and Snarker Pike to a summit plateau above Raven Crag, which offers views of Kirkstone Pass, 1,000ft below. There is a steady route back to Ambleside. The walk will be taken to commemorate the founding of the society.