Revising the Lakeland Guides

(published in the Wainwright Society Newsletter in 2009)

When I submitted an article to this magazine in December 2002 about my unpublished work on the revision of the Lakeland guides I never dreamed in my wildest moments that six months later I would be back at work, and that this time my work would be published. I knew that both the publishers (Michael Joseph) and Betty Wainwright were opposed to the idea. I thought that I was incapable of the dedication that I knew was required, and in any case I was far too old.

Then, before the article was published, the books were taken over by Frances Lincoln, who were in favour of the revision. They were able to persuade Betty that it was a good idea and me that I was capable of doing it. I started work on June 2nd 2003, which happened to be exactly fifty years from Coronation and the announcement of the first ascent of Everest. Two days earlier I had finished listening to a serialised account of the ascent on the radio, and this was just the thing to get me into the right frame of mind for my own forthcoming adventure.

I gave up all activities apart from my work and turned down all invitations, except where publicity was involved. I would give interviews for magazines and later read that I had said things that I was quite sure I had never said. You might think that this couldn’t happen on radio or television, but it can: on the television series Mountain, by carefully cutting out much of what I said the producers were able to make me tell millions of people that seven plus one equals ten.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to identify some of the unfamiliar wild flowers I came across, including starry saxifrage, alpine lady’s mantle, bird’s eye primrose, wild thyme, cowberry, butterwort, bistort and bugle. I also identified eight different kinds of caterpillar, but I never identified those I saw on June 11th, 2007. I was in one of the remotest parts of the Lake District, the moors above Iron Crag near Ennerdale, and there were caterpillars every few inches over an area more than a quarter of a mile across. There must have been millions of them. They were dark grey or dark brown with wide yellow stripes along their sides and five narrow yellow stripes along their backs.

I had another interesting experience on January 15th, 2007. I was driving along the shore of Ullswater, well above the level of the lake, when a wave came up and completely covered the windscreen, so that for a moment I couldn’t see where I was going.

On January 14th, 2005 I walked through a plantation below Black Fell, and there were so many trees blown down it was very difficult for me to find a way through them. There was hardly a tree left standing. I later approached the plantation from another direction and found it impossible to get through. I had never encountered anything like it before in my life.

On another occasion I went up Rosthwaite Fell from Stonethwaite. In the valley the fields were so white with frost it looked like snow. Everything was covered in spikes of ice a quarter of an inch long. In the afternoon I watched dark shapes like amoebae moving downwards under sloping slabs of ice.

Two days later I went up Grey Friar from Seathwaite Tarn. Before long I was above the clouds, which doesn’t happen very often because I don’t usually go up in the mist. I could see the tops of Caw and the Black Combe range, but I couldn’t see Stickle Pike because it wasn’t high enough. When I got higher I could see the top of the cloud extending right across the Irish Sea with Ingleborough and the highest peaks of Snowdonia sticking out of it. On the way down I saw what looked like masses of white waterfalls at the top of the cloud layer. It must have been some sort of mirage.

Although my name appears on the cover, all the changes you see in Books 5, 6 and 7 were made by Kate Cave. All I did was to provide the pencil drawings on which her work was based. She is also responsible for some of the layout. On High Pike 12 in Book 5, for example, I just typed out the text and asked if she could can get it to fit by sacrificing the illustration in the bottom left-hand corner. Then she did the rest.

One day the books will need revising again. Perhaps there is a young person reading this who will take up the challenge.

[The published version is slightly different.]