There’s a bible that many of our visitors carry with them on the fells, and that will be one of the Wainwright guides.
It’s a good analogy because the guidebooks have sold in biblical proportions, more than two million of them since the first of the seven-book Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells series was published in 1955.
Visiting all 214 Wainwrights is a common form of peak bagging. They are one man’s personal choice of mountains over 1000ft in height, and while there are other lists – our neighbour Bill Birkett has 541 of them, which ultra-devotees set out to tick off – doing the Wainwrights has become part of our language here.
So it was with great pleasure that we recently welcomed Mark Richards to stay here at Elterwater Hostel. Mark was a great friend of Wainwright and is author of his own Fellranger guides. One of our staff team, Pete Savin, was walking a route with him for his guidebook update.
“I have very fond memories of AW, his passion for fish and chips, his enthusiasm for new projects, an ‘infection’ we shared. We even started planning a joint guide to the (Welsh) Cambrian Way,” Mark says. But as the older man’s ability to walk was faltering, he concentrated instead on a book of Scottish Mountain Drawings. Mark developed his own series of guides and many other books including Great Mountain Days in the Lake District.
There are registers kept by the Long Distance Walkers Association and the Wainwright Society of completers, but many more people just do it for the love of the hills and their own sense of satisfaction. Some are more beloved than others; everyone is fond of Catbells and Haystacks, but few will find a kind word to say about boggy Armboth Fell.
The first continuous round of all 214 Wainwrights was completed by Alan Heaton of Clayton le Moors Harriers, a running club in Lancashire, between 29 June and 8 July 1985 starting and finishing at Keswick Moot Hall, with a total time of 9 days and 16 hours. Joss Naylor set a new record of 7 days 1 hour between 26 June and 2 July 1986. This was beaten by Steve Birkinshaw between 14 and 20 June 2014, who completed the round in 6 days and 13 hours.
Alfred Wainwright lived and worked in Kendal for most his life but he was born into a working class family in the Lancashire mill town of Blackburn and experienced the difficult times of the 1920s and 30s. Being a bright lad, however, he worked hard at improving his position, taking night school classes and later correspondence courses to qualify as a local government accountant. This eventually enabled him in 1941 to obtain a position in the council office in Kendal, just where he had wanted to be since taking a holiday with a cousin walking in the Lake District .
After his move to Kendal walking in the Lakeland fells occupied as much of his spare time as possible, becoming his obsession. His view of the Lake District is clearly expressed in the opening sentence of his first guide: “Surely there is no other place in this whole wonderful world quite like Lakeland.”
We won’t argue with that.