Monday, February 26, 2007

Alfred Wainwright's Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells

Grasmere, December 1994 (from the rear of the Gold Rill Hotel)
11" x 17" pen and sepia ink in Daler Rowney sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Last night I watched a television programme about Alfred Wainwright and the development of his Pictorial Guides of the Lakeland Fells. Between 1952 and 1966, Wainwright created seven hand written and hand drawn guides to fell walking and all 214 fells in the Lake District and published them himself. His books have been an inspiration to many walkers in Lakeland (as he liked to call it) over the past 50 years.
Being an Illustrated Account of a Study and Exploration of The Mountains in The English Lake District (subtitle for the Pictorial Guides)
When I was a child, Wainwright was the man who produced the very small books about walking in my parents' bookcase which I used to find fascinating. When I studied geography at school and university, I always used to produce very neat maps and diagrams of geomorphological form - just like Wainwright's. When I became older I became, like him, that very curious mix - an accountant who liked to draw in pen and ink. (He was Borough Treasurer of Kendal Borough Council between 1948 and 1967). When I became older still I became an examiner of accountants and every December used to make the journey up to Grasmere in the Lake District to find out how much that year's candidates knew about 'management'. On breaks from examiners' duties and when time permitted, I walked the fells and started to draw them in pen and ink - albeit very quickly (see top) as there were always more scripts to mark! Maybe that very early exposure to Wainwright drawings enabled me to understand how drawing can be used to record the landscape we know and love? Those annual visits to Grasmere in winter certainly reawakened my love of drawing in pen and ink.

The books are still published in their original format - now by Frances Lincoln . A boxed set of the Guides was produced to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their production (see link at end). There is also a project to update them which will take several years. Royalties from his books go to support an animal rescue shelter in Kendal.

Wainwright went on to write and draw many other books - including the pictorial guide to the Coast to Coast walk which stretches across 190 miles from St Bees Head on the west coast to Robin Hood's Bay on the east, passing through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors. (see link below). This walk was rated second in Country Walking magazine's 50 Best Walks in the World.

"Wainwright - The Man Who Loved The Lakes" was an hour long documentary on BBC4 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wainwright's birth. It's repeated tonight at 7.30pm and is followed at 8.30pm by the first of four programmes "Wainwright's Walks" covering four of his fell walks. Tonight the walk is to the tarn at the top of Haystacks - chosen by Wainwright as the final resting place for his ashes after his death in 1991.

The Wainwright Society keeps a Register of all those who complete the ascents of all 214 fells - and features on its website:
  • Ellen Regan who completed them all by the age of 9 years and 10 months - having completed her first age 3 years and 11 months! If you'd like to know more about what it's like to fell walk in the Lake District read Ellen's account "The Youngest Completer?"
  • Jordan Ross - who inspired by Ellen went on to complete them all by the age of nine years and 7 months; and
  • Jonathan Broad - five days older than Jordan from Cockermouth, who managed to complete all 214 in one year.
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Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for this post. Some know that I used to be a mountain guide (Mt Rainier), and wanted to share that a couple of my chums hold records for "through hiking" the Pacific Crest Trail.
Very glad to hear of your English trough hike. Never gets wet there, does it?

Making A Mark said...

Aha - I wondered how long before the first weather joke! ;)

Jana Bouc said...

Your blog is the best art resource on the internet. I always learn so much here and so appreciate the time and effort you put into it! From art history to an all encompassing view of the modern day art World (world with a capital W since you showcase people from all over), you open our eyes and provide a feast for them. I set aside time for your blog the way I used to for the Sunday New York times. Thank you for making the world a better place!

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