Walking The Wainwrights

A Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells

Wainwright was 45 years old when he sat down on the 9th of November 1952 to write A Pictorial Guide To The Lakeland Fells, his meticulously planned 13 year project of a 7 book series about the 214 fells we love today.

Setting off on the bus every weekend from his house in Kendal, he walked the fells from Nab Scar to Clough Head; between Thirlmere and Ullswater, natural borders of what he called The Eastern Fells. He would return home on Sunday to continue his full time job of Kendal’s Borough Treasurer during the weekdays; in the evenings he would draw and write about his adventures and the details he’d discovered.

Map of the Eastern FellsMap of the Eastern Fells
Map of the Eastern Fells

Each chapter would discuss one fell, following the same template throughout the 214; an introduction, ascent routes accompanied by 3 dimensional maps (a style devised by Wainwright himself), ridge routes to other fells, descent routes and of course a description of what you will find when you’ve reached your goal of summitting.

First edition of Book 1 – The Eastern FellsFirst edition of Book 1 – The Eastern Fells
First edition of Book 1 – The Eastern Fells

The Eastern Fells published by Henry Marshall, from 1963 The Westmorland Gazette would take over this roll.The Eastern Fells published by Henry Marshall, from 1963 The Westmorland Gazette would take over this roll.
The Eastern Fells published by Henry Marshall, from 1963 The Westmorland Gazette would take over this roll.

The first book, The Eastern Fells was published in 1955 by AWs friend Henry Marshall who lived in Kentmere (Chief Librarian at Kendal). Another friend, Sandy Hewitson of Bateman and Hewitson Ltd agreed to print the books but it was actually the Westmorland Gazette who eventually printed 2000 copies, one of which is pictured above, signed by Wainwright himself in his trademark green ink (first edition photographs are courtesy of Chris Butterfield*).

Signed copy of a first edition of the Pictorial Guide.Signed copy of a first edition of the Pictorial Guide.
Signed copy of a first edition of the Pictorial Guide.

The first place to sell this book was Patterdale Post Office, famously known for selling a wide range of Wainwright memorabilia today.

Patterdale Post OfficePatterdale Post Office
Patterdale Post Office

Being a big success, Book 1 paved the way for another 6. The seven volumes took Wainwright 13 years to complete; and he didn’t retire from his Kendal job until a year after the last book was published.

The Pictorial Guide – printed straight from the Alfred Wainwright’s manuscript.The Pictorial Guide – printed straight from the Alfred Wainwright’s manuscript.
The Pictorial Guide – printed straight from the Alfred Wainwright’s manuscript.

What was truly unique and special about Wainwright’s books was that they were all printed from Wainwrights manuscript, typeset was not used at all! This had not been done for centuries. What’s more, all of the pictures throughout the series were pen drawn by Wainwright. These books are warm and comforting; familiar and intimate. These books were a success, and the reason so many people get hooked on the journey of walking the wainwrights, even if they don’t know it!

Pictorial Guide box setPictorial Guide box set
Pictorial Guide box set

Having walked the Wainwrights, obsessing over my project; using it to overcome trauma and illness, I love these fells. I don’t know if I could do without them. There are hundreds of summits in Lakeland and most of them mean nothing to most of us, but because AW lovingly included these 214 ‘Wainwrights’ in his books we’ve adopted them as our own and have come to know them intimately.

Thank you AW.