Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) will always be known for his famous Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells which he compiled between 1952 and 1966. These handwritten and hand-drawn works of art have given inspiration to all true fellwalkers for the past forty years. For this labour of love, as he called it, he was awarded the MBE.
He collaborated with the photographer Derry Brabbs for seven best selling titles and a further one with Ed Geldard; there were also three very popular BBC2 television series.
He was chairman of Animal Rescue, Cumbria, and due to book royalties he contributed to the charity, a permanent shelter has been established near Kendal.
Wainwright was also the creator of A Coast to Coast Walk, which is 190 miles (305 km) long from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire and is now of one most popular long distance walks in the country.
Alfred Wainwright died in 1991 and a memorial to him can be found in the church at Buttermere, his ashes were scattered above the village on his favourite mountain, Haystacks.
John Burland, the founder of the Wainwright Society has put together this short biography of AW
Alfred Wainwright was born on 17th January 1907, the youngest of four children at 331 Audley Range which was about a mile from the centre of Blackburn. His father was a stonemason who was unemployed for long periods and was also a drunk, for sometimes quite long periods. His mother was totally different. She was a god-fearing and hard-working woman and she brought him, his brother Frank and his two sisters, Annie and Alice up in decent, respectable if rather poverty-stricken conditions.
His first encounter with the wonders of Lakeland happened on the 7th June 1930 when as a young man of 23; he travelled with his cousin Eric Beardsall from their home town of Blackburn, changing buses at Preston, to eventually arrive in Windermere. It was Whitsuntide and they ascended the lane from Windermere Bus Station to the nearby summit of Orrest Head, a hill 780 feet high overlooking the town.
What he beheld from the summit was a scene of loveliness, a fascinating paradise, Lakeland’s mountains and trees and water spread out below him. He described this experience as follows ‘I was totally transfixed, unable to believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like this. I saw mountain ranges, one after another, the nearer starkly etched, those beyond fading into the blue distance. Rich woodlands, emerald pastures and the shimmering water of the lake below added to a pageant of loveliness, a glorious panorama that held me enthralled. I had seen landscapes of rural beauty pictured in the local art gallery, but here was no painted canvas; this was real. This was truth. God was in his heaven that day and I a humble worshipper’.
In 1941 he moved from Blackburn to Kendal to take up a position with the Borough Treasurer’s department in the town, rising to the rank of Borough Treasurer in 1948. Virtually all his spare time was taken up walking the Lakeland fells until he knew them intimately. On 9th November 1952 he started work on a series of seven guides to the Lake District Fells that took up the next thirteen years of his life. The first page he penned was the ascent of Dove Crag from Ambleside. The Pictorial Guides were completed in September 1965, Starling Dodd in the Western Fells being the last fell visited.
Following completion of the guides AW worked on a guidebook about the Pennine Way and then in 1973 devised and wrote about a long distance walk he had created from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay entitled A Coast to Coast Walk. This trail that he devised has subsequently become one of the most walked routes in the United Kingdom, if not in the World.
Between 1965 and 1990 AW created a further 50 books, either guidebooks or sketchbooks of areas mainly in Northern England and Scotland. He passed away on 20th January 1991 in Kendal Green hospital near to the home where he had lived for virtually fifty years.