Memoirs of a Fellwalker

A. Wainwright

Anyone who has had more than a passing interest in the English Lake District will have come across the name of 'Wainwright', generally associated with guidebooks to the Lake District mountains, or fells, as they are more properly known.

This, his last book of an output of 60 books, is an overview of his recreational career as a fellwalker extraordinaire. He not only walked all the mountains of the Lake District, he wrote track notes and drew meticulous drawings of them, which I found exceeded the photographs from which they were derived in legibility. He had a passion for the mountains which probably exceeded that of AR, and was only happy when alone in their fastness.

He describes his growing up in the slums and mills of Blackburn before and just after the Great War, amid grinding poverty, and the time when, at the age of 23, he had saved up the £5 to enable him to take a holiday in the nearby Lake District, of which he had only seen photographs so far. From the train, he saw the sea for the first time. Thus began a lifelong love affair with those hills and valleys. As soon as he could, he left his parental home and moved to Kendal, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He followed the career of an accountant, as Borough Treasurer, and enjoyed the challenge of keeping neat and accurate records, and training his staff to enjoy the satisfaction of a job [however mundane] well done. This carried through to his guide books, in which all text was hand-printed, something of which he was very proud. He even went to the extent of hand-justifying the lines [meaning that there was a straight margin on both left and right hand sides, as books generally are].

Wainwright [he never divulged his given name] confessed to being at a loss with mechanical devices, and a simple camera [which he never adjusted for varying conditions] was the most complex item that he ever owned. Not until he met his second wife did he have access to a motor-car [hers], which gave him a much greater range of movement than he had before. By this time he had also begun to visit the Highlands of Scotland, as much as public transport would permit. Having a car allowed him to eventually visit all of the Munros [peaks over 3,000ft high], to photograph them and to climb some.

His eyesight had never been good from his earliest days, and toward the end of his life it failed him completely, so that he had to rely on his memory of the tracks that he had walked over the past 60 years. In her foreword, his wife Betty describes how she scattered his ashes beside a hilltop tarn, in accordance with his wishes.

I commend this book to all who have developed a love for those hills, even though, through necessity, it may only be exercised through "". The copy which I read I found by chance, as you do, in my local municipal library.

Reviewed by David Bamford, June, 2009

This article is ©2009 by David Bamford, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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