In 1938 most people were full of fearful portent, keeping their heads down and certainly not leaving home in casual leisured pursuits. Yet AW decided to wander with the larks amid fell country as it gave him great solace, he knew it was the one sure antidote to all the horrors he was hearing on his crackling radio. So he embarked upon a wander, largely along roads, remember that the roads of the 1930s were more like the green lanes of today. Though he wrote up his quirky travelogue, this was composed without a genuine sense that it might soon be, or even one day published. It was not until his later years that he shyly owned up to having a ‘forgotten’ manuscript stowed in a drawer. Its publication caught the imagination of a ready audience who were able to take pleasure in a new view on the enigma that was Alfred Wainwright.
Some twelve years after his death the Wainwright Society was founded in his memory and I was privileged to lead the first Society walk from Grasmere. On that walk I met David and Heather Pitt who, with a supportive team of Ron Scholes (who knew AW well), artist Colin Bywater and other Society members, got to work in creating a walking route: a wonderful grand circular tour inspired by Wainwright’s ‘A Pennine Journey – The Story of a Long Walk in 1938’. Their ‘A Pennine Journey’ is a celebration of the wonderful landscapes that AW knew. The original and the new routes embark northbound from Settle; both classic routes heading for Hadrian’s Wall, itself a remnant from the Classical Age. But now with dedicated rights-of-way and Open Access they could fashion a largely green trail weaving through the hills and valleys by a succession of enchanting landscapes.
Knowing AW as I did he would have been every bit as enthusiastic in the route plotting process as David. He loved to spread out a map on a table and armed with a pencil and rubber frequently sketch options for new trails and I witnessed him often doing precisely this. I introduced him to the idea of doing the Cambrian Way and subsequently he invited Ron Scholes to write a guide for which he might prepare line drawings, though the Scottish Mountain Drawings series took precedence and the dragon’s spine of Wales got short shrift. However, sometime later he returned to Wales and prepared a couple of Welsh Mountain Drawings books.
AW was very encouraging to my early efforts to become a walking guide writer, specifically because of our shared love of pen & ink drawing. Though having, at AW’s behest, embarked on a guide to the entire South West Coastal Footpath in 1973 I was disappointed when the project was stopped in its tracks after I had just completed the North Cornwall section. I learned that it was feared that the quality of my line-art might eventually develop to eclipse that of the great man; an utter nonsense. AW never said an unkind word to me, his nurturing was appreciated and I spent a dozen happy weekends with him. However, other creative people emphasised that I should aim to define my own signature style and eventually this I managed to do a few years later with a guide to the Offa’s Dyke Path. Nonetheless, AW was a huge figure in my early development and I will always be grateful for his gentle words of encouragement. I have so many fond memories of walking with him, all done at a time when he was shunning the media. I have respected the man I knew in the 1970s and kept all his correspondence private.
Always the more important thing is the ‘influence’ of the great man and that extends to a wide range of people: those seeking confidence to explore and those seeking confidence as they venture to discover their own creativity and extend the way we share and engage in the remarkable world about us.
It is true that Alfred Wainwright was unique. Yet looking forward many more people can and will become creative beacons in their own time. No more genuine examples are David and Heather Pitt, who have tenaciously brought their own expression of ‘A Pennine Journey’ into the communities through which it runs. It is waymarked throughout its entire course and now has found its place on Ordnance Survey OL maps. This is an amazing achievement and it is hoped will soon be followed by the much-needed annotation of ‘A Coast to Coast Walk’ from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. Walking routes are always inspired; AW had the vision for a west/east route that would eclipse the Pennine Way which he found a slog. Tony Drake conceived both the Cotswold Way (my first guidebook in 1972) and the Cambrian Way. Tom Stephenson envisaged the long green trail of the Pennine Way, though this route has lost much of its early lustre from the 1960s. Now the mix of bog-trotting and mill-flag marching are lamentable ingredients that sit poorly beside many of the new generation of landscape and culturally inspired trails.
This new edition of A Pennine Journey will give walkers many happy hours in wonderful countryside. AW was always keen to encourage walkers to watch where they put their feet. Now, with environmental care uppermost in our minds, think to spread the load of your footfall whenever you find a worn path. The days when we casually asserted that a path is a right-of-way so we have rights is changing, now the greater right is to be respectful of where you are and what impact you are having - that is our responsibility.
Mark Richards Geltsdale July 2015