Revising the Lakeland Guides

(published in the Wainwright Society Newsletter in 2003)

In 1980 I wrote to AW offering to revise his Lakeland guides and enclosing two pages of revision notes on the Patterdale approaches to the Helvellyn range. He replied that he didn’t want any revision published in his lifetime, but that the Westmorland Gazette might be interested.

In 1988 I sent a further six pages of revision notes to Andrew Nichol of the Westmorland Gazette. He said that he thought that the revision should take the form, not of additional pages, but of alterations to the original artwork. When I called on him the following year I said that he must have had offers from many people to revise the books and that I would quite understand if he gave the work to someone else, but he said that there was no question of that. I then approached A.W. again, and although he still didn’t want the revision published in his lifetime, he said that I could start work if I liked.

This was all the encouragement I needed, as I knew that the work would take many years, and I decided to start in 1990. I was living with my mother in Dorset at the time, and she suggested that we move the family home, but so that she could be independent she wanted to find somewhere that was near a railway station, a Mountain Goat bus stop and a supermarket. After looking at a number of entirely unsuitable properties we found the house in Windermere that is now called ‘Orrest End’. It appealed to me because it stood at the foot of the path along which Wainwright made his very first ascent in the Lake District. Incredibly, it also stood directly opposite the railway terminus, the Mountain Goat bus terminus and Booth’s supermarket. We put in an offer, but we were unable to sell our house in Dorset, the deal fell through, and on April 30th, 1990 I left for the Lakes in a motor caravan.

Four months later I had checked every feature on the maps and every word of text in the Eastern, Far Eastern and Central Fells. There was not single path, wall, fence, building, gate or stile that had not been scrutinised. Whenever it rained I would plan the route ahead, but there was so little rain I only got as far as the end of Book Four.

Of the three books I worked on the one I enjoyed most was The Far Eastern Fells, for here I was on the fringes of Lakeland where there weren’t so many people about. I used particularly to enjoy driving along the road to Mardale Head early in the morning in the company of rabbits and big brown owls. Among the other animals I saw were a red squirrels, red deer, feral goats, a fox, a ring ousel, a redstart, lizards, frogs, toads, golden-ringed dragonflies and an emperor moth caterpillar. Among the plants I saw were monkey flowers and starry saxifrage. In Skelghyll Wood near Ambleside I came across a fallen tree trunk. By placing one foot in front of the other and measuring my shoes I was able to work out that it was 146 feet long.

These were the golden days. I was totally dedicated to what I was doing, and I really believed that my work would be published. I studied the books and compared them with the landscape so much that I felt that I could tell exactly what changes the author would have made to the maps and text if he were revising them himself.

By October the following year I had made all the necessary alterations to the artwork of Books One and Two. When I started on the work I thought that it would be impossible to get all the new text exactly the right length to replace the existing text without encroach­ing on the margins, but I found that I was able to do this. By this time the books had been taken over by Michael Joseph, who decided that they should not be revised. I was later to make alterations to A Coast to Coast Walk and Pennine Way Companion which would be published and for which I would be paid, but I would never again experience the same satisfaction that I found in the Lake District in 1990.