Alfred Wainwright

Alfred Wainwright
Born (1907-01-17)17 January 1907
Blackburn, Lancashire, England
Died 20 January 1991(1991-01-20) (aged 84)
Cumbria, England
Occupation Accountant, Walker, Writer, Illustrator, Cartographer
Genre Mountain Topography
Literary movement Geographical and Scenic

Alfred Wainwright ("A.W.") MBE (17 January 1907 – 20 January 1991) was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, published between 1955 and 1966 and consisting entirely of reproductions of his manuscript, has become the standard reference work to 214 of the fells of the English Lake District. Among his 40-odd other books is the first guide to the Coast to Coast Walk, a 192-mile long-distance footpath devised by Wainwright which remains popular today.


Alfred Wainwright was born in Blackburn, Lancashire into a family which was relatively poor, mostly because of his stonemason father's alcoholism. He did very well at school (first in nearly every subject)[1] although he left at the age of 13. While most of his classmates were obliged to find employment in the local mills, Wainwright started work as an office boy in Blackburn Borough Engineer's Department. He spent several years studying at night school, gaining qualifications in accountancy which enabled him to further his career at Blackburn Borough Council. Even when a child Wainwright walked a great deal, up to 20 miles at a time; he showed a great interest in drawing and cartography, producing his own maps of England and his local area.

In 1930, at the age of 23, Wainwright saved up for a week's walking holiday in the Lake District with his cousin Eric Beardsall. They arrived in Windermere and climbed the nearby Orrest Head, where Wainwright saw his first view of the Lakeland fells. This moment marked the start of what he later described as his love affair with the Lake District. In 1931 he married his first wife, Ruth Holden, a mill worker, with whom he had a son Peter. In 1941 Wainwright moved closer to the fells when he took a job (and a pay cut) at the Borough Treasurer's office in Kendal, Westmorland. He lived and worked in the town for the rest of his life, serving as Borough Treasurer from 1948 until he retired in 1967. His first marriage ended when Ruth left three weeks before he retired (suspecting him of infidelity) and they divorced. In 1970 he married Betty McNally (1922–2008), a divorcee, who became his walking companion and who carried his ashes to Innominate Tarn at the top of Haystacks.[2][3]

Wainwright was a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan and a founder member of the Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club.[4] He had no time for organised religion, and was agnostic.[5] On Desert Island Discs, he described himself as having once been shy but having grown up to be antisocial and would avoid speaking to others, even lone walkers on fell tops.

Wainwright died in 1991 of a heart attack. According to his biographer, Hunter Davies, he left everything, including his house and royalty income, to Betty. His son Peter received nothing.[6]

Pictorial Guides

Book One of the Pictorial Guide

Wainwright started work on the first page of his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells on 9 November 1952.[7] He planned the precise scope and content of the seven volumes and worked conscientiously and meticulously on the series for the next 13 years at an average rate of one page per evening.

According to Wainwright, in his autobiography Fellwanderer, he initially planned the series for his own interest rather than for publication. When he published his first book it was privately, as he could not face the prospect of finding a publisher. His friend Henry Marshall, Chief Librarian of Kendal and Westmorland, took charge of publicity and administration, and his name appears as publisher on the early impressions. Another friend, Sandy Hewitson (of Bateman and Hewitson Ltd) agreed to print the books using Wainwright's original manuscript, although the printing was done by the Westmorland Gazette in Kendal, who had taken over Bateman and Hewitson Ltd. From 1963, the Westmorland Gazette became his publisher, and its name appears on the first impressions of Books Six and Seven. Wainwright's books were in turn taken over by Michael Joseph in the 1990s. When they ceased publication in 2003,[8] the rights were bought by Frances Lincoln.[9]

Between 2005 and 2009, all the Pictorial Guides were updated for the first time, to take account of changed conditions on the fells. The revisions were made by Chris Jesty, and the publishers used an imitation font of Wainwright's hand lettering to make the alterations look as unobtrusive as possible. The most notable changes were the inclusion of photographs of the Lake District by Derry Brabbs on the front covers, rather than the drawings that were on the covers of the originals, and footpaths shown in red on the maps. These revised versions are titled 'Second Editions'. Revised editions of Wainwright's other Pictorial Guides, A Coast to Coast Walk, The Outlying Fells of Lakeland, Pennine Way Companion, Walks in Limestone Country and Walks on the Howgill Fells were published by Frances Lincoln between 2010 and 2014, with the amendments again being made by Chris Jesty.

The publishers announced in 2014 that Clive Hutchby, the author of The Wainwright Companion, is working on the third edition of the Pictorial Guide, with the first volume, The Eastern Fells published on 26 March 2015 followed by "The Far Eastern Fells" on 8 October 2015. These revised versions are titled 'Walkers Editions'.[10][11]

Later works

Wainwright followed the Pictorial Guides in 1968 with the Pennine Way Companion, applying the same detailed approach to Britain's first long-distance footpath. This was for many years a leading guide to the Pennine Way, rivalling the official guide book by Tom Stephenson. Wainwright's book consists of a continuous strip map of the route with accompanying commentary, with an unusual quirk: because the route goes from south to north (bottom to top on a map), contrary to normal reading order, the map and commentary start at the bottom of the last page and work upwards and backwards towards the front of the book. The guide was prepared with the aid of four helpers (Harry Appleyard, Len Chadwick, Cyril Moore and Lawrence Smith) and its preparation was affected by the major outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in 1966 and 1967, which closed access to many of the moors.

In 1972 Wainwright devised the east-west Coast to Coast Walk, as an alternative to the north-south Pennine Way. The Coast to Coast, he declares in his guidebook, which follows the same format as the Pennine Way Companion, "puts the Pennine Way to shame" for scenic beauty, variety and interest.[12] The 190-mile route traverses the north of England from St. Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, passing through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors national parks.

The Outlying Fells of Lakeland (an idea he had previously rejected), published in 1974, was his last major guidebook. Thereafter he concentrated on sketchbooks of larger-size line drawings until his eyesight began to fail in the mid-1980s. His Ex-Fellwanderer, an autobiographical work published in 1987, was intended to be his last written work, but he continued to lend his name and some written commentary to a series of "coffee table books" featuring the photography of Derry Brabbs.

Television and radio

By the mid-1980s Wainwright was a TV personality; he featured in five television series for the BBC, presented by farmer and broadcaster Eric Robson and devised, directed and produced by Richard Else.

A BBC documentary about Wainwright's life was broadcast on Sunday 25 February 2007 on BBC Four, before a four-part series of walks. This first series covered Blencathra by Sharp Edge, Castle Crag, Haystacks and Scafell Pike from Seathwaite.[13]

The second series, broadcast in 2007, included Catbells, Crinkle Crags, Helm Crag, Helvellyn from Patterdale, High Street from Mardale and Pillar. A six-part series entitled Wainwright Walks: Coast to Coast was broadcast on BBC Four in April and May 2009 and on BBC2 from 21 July 2009,[14][15] and presented by Julia Bradbury.

A Granada TV series Wainwright Country included Eagle Crag, Great Calva, Knott Rigg, Pike O'Blisco, Stybarrow Dodd, Thornthwaite Crag and Yewbarrow.

In 2010, Eric Robson presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary called "The Man behind the Mountains" (16 October 2010).[16]

Wainwright Walks Series One was released on DVD in June 2007 and Series Two was released in January 2008. Wainwright Walks: Coast to Coast was released on DVD in June 2009.[17]


Innominate Tarn on Haystacks, Wainwright's favourite fell, where his ashes were scattered.

Wainwright's Pictorial Guides have been in continuous publication since they were written and have sold more than two million copies.[9] Although a number of more up-to-date guides are on the market, his books remain among the most popular for their depth, detail and unique style. His division of the Lake District into seven areas, and choice of fells to include, have been followed in whole or in part by subsequent writers such as Mark Richards.[18] The Coast to Coast Walk is one of the most popular long-distance footpaths in the United Kingdom despite its lack of official status, and has spawned various guidebooks by other authors. In 2003 it was voted the second best walk in the world in a survey of experts conducted by Country Walking magazine.[19] The popularity of Wainwright's books of drawings and large-format photographic books has not matched that of the guides.

The 214 fells described in the Pictorial Guides are now generally known as the Wainwrights,[20] and visiting them all is a common form of peak bagging. The Long Distance Walkers Association maintains a register of walkers who have completed the Wainwrights; as of 2013 there were 674 people on the list, of whom 40 had completed more than once.[21] Dave Hewitt estimates that the total number of completers could be over 50% higher than the LDWA's figure.[22] The Ramblers Association reported in 2008 that a boy of six years, four months and 27 days had become the youngest person to complete the Wainwrights.[23] In April 2009 a boy aged five completed the round and became the third member of his family to do so after his older sisters held the 'Youngest 214 Completer' previously.[24] Wainwrights On The Air is a scheme whereby amateur radio enthusiasts aim to make contact with or from the Wainwright summits.[25]

Wainwright was a supporter of animal rights and explained that the publisher of his books gave most of the profits from his books to animal charities.[5] In 1972 he became chairman of Animal Rescue Cumbria, and donated enough money to enable the foundation in 1984 of Kapellan, a shelter for stray cats and dogs in Kendal. After his death the society was renamed "Animal Rescue Cumbria – The Wainwright Shelter".[26]

The Wainwright Society was inaugurated in 2002, with the aim of keeping alive the fellwalking traditions and ideas promoted by Alfred Wainwright through his guidebooks and other publications.[27]

On 27 June 2008 a landmark road bridge, in Blackburn, was opened and named the Wainwright Bridge in his honour.[28]

John Burland, founder of the Wainwright Society, wrote and devised a dramatic presentation of his life and works which was presented at the Wildman Theatre at Ilkley Playhouse as part of the Ilkley Literature festival on Thursday 15 October 2009. During 2010 & 2011 a further 17 presentations were made.

In 2013, a memorial toposcope was unveiled on the hills near his home town of Blackburn.[29]


Books written or illustrated by Wainwright

Small-format walking guidebooks

Large-format guidebooks, illustrated with colour photographs

Books of drawings

Books of photographs

Local history books

Autobiographical works


Original illustrations, maps and forewords in other books

Books and maps comprising previously published material

Books based on Wainwright’s life and work

In addition to the above works, many other books contain previously-published illustrations by Wainwright, or whose subject matter has been inspired by his life and works.

See also


  1. BBC 4 documentary, February 2007
  2. A. Wainwright, Memoirs of a Fellwanderer (Frances Lincoln, London, 1993)
  3. Davies, Hunter (26 August 2008). "Betty Wainwright: Wife and muse of A. Wainwright". The Independent. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
  4. The Alfred Wainwright Centenary 2007, The Wainwright Society Archived 23 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. 1 2 "Radio 4 Desert Island Discs". 32 minutes in: BBC. 1988-09-04.
  6. Davies, Hunter (2013). Wainwright: The Biography. Hachette. ISBN 9781409139669. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  7. W.R. Mitchell, "Solo walks and evening work: Wainwright remembered" in Dave Hewitt (ed.), A Bit of Grit on Haystacks (Disley: Millrace, 2004), p. 23
  8. "Wainwright guides are shelved". BBC. 14 January 2003. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010.
  9. 1 2 "Wainwright guides saved". BBC. 2003-02-14. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  10. "The Wainwright Guides - A Third Edition of the Walks". 21 February 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  11. Clarke, Anna. "Updating the Wainwright walking books will be a labour of love for Clive". Westmorland Gazette. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  12. A. Wainwright, A Coast to Coast Walk (London: Frances Lincoln, [1973] 2003). ISBN 978-0-7112-2236-6
  13. "BBC Four - Wainwright Walks - Episode guide". BBC. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  14. "Wainwright Walks: Coast to coast". BBC4 website. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 2009-07-21.
  15. "Wainwright Walks". Julia Bradbury website. Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 2009-07-21.
  16. Archive on Four: The Man Behind the Mountains Archived 4 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine. (BBC website - retrieved 18 Oct 2010).
  17. Campbell, Malcolm. "Wainwright Walks: Coast to Coast with Julia Bradbury". DVDActive. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  18. Mark Richards website Archived 6 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. "Coast walk tops trek to Everest", BBC News, 23 November 2004, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 2006-10-22.. Retrieved 22 October 2006.
  20. "Walk the Wainwrights in The Lake District". Archived from the original on 15 November 2010. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  21. Long Distance Walkers Association – Hill Walkers Register Archived 24 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
  22. Dave Hewitt, "Interlude: A few thoughts on Fellbagging" in Hewitt (ed.), A Bit of Grit on Haystacks (Disley: Millrace, 2004), pp. 87–88
  23. "Youngster's sweet feat". Walk: the magazine of the Rambler's Association (18: Spring 2008): 15.
  24. Online Fellwalking Club - Regal Regans Claim the 214 Crown!
  25. "Wainwrights On The Air". Archived from the original on 28 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  26. "Animal Rescue - Cumbria". The Wainwright Society. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  27. "Wainwright Society Aims". The Wainwright Society. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  28. Archived 12 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 2013-09-15.

Further reading

External links

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