Once every week for two years and on every day of every holiday a quiet,middle aged Kendal man has been out and about on the eastern fells of the Lake District – almost always alone – exploring, writing, sketching and photographing and collecting the results in a bulky pocket book. Two or three days ago this long labour of love, together with hundreds of hours of patient, painstaking work in the quiet of his study at night, came to splendid fruition with the publication of what I sincerely believe to be the most remarkable book of its kind about the Lake District ever printed.
The book is remarkable first of all because every page – the text, the lovely drawings, the accurate maps, the revealing diagrams –have all been penned by the author and then printed from 300 engravings. It is further remarkable in that each of the 300 illustrations – drawings, diagrams and maps are correct to the smallest detail.
No book about the Lake District has ever carried this tremendous wealth of detail before. Perhaps no greater example of one man's patience in the sphere of a book production has been seen since the days of those beautifully illuminated books done by the monks of years ago.
Even if you have no interest whatever in the Lake District you will be staggered by this book, by the care and effort that have gone into its production and also by the remarkable fact that the book is only the first of a series of seven. Let me tell you more about the modest author and this latest addition to Lakeland literature. He is forty-eight-year-old Mr Alfred Wainwright, for the last seven years borough treasurer of Kendal, and his book is the first volume, The Eastern Fells, of A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells (Henry Marshall, Low Bridge, Kentmere, Westmorland, 12s 6d).
Mr Wainwright, a Lancashire man, has been exploring the Lake District fells for twenty years, but something over two years ago he decided to examine them minutely and to record his impressions in notebook form. He had no thought of publication. He divided the whole area into seven parts and decided to make a start with the area most easily accessible by bus from Kendal. This is the area, covering about 50 square miles of territory, bounded on the west by the deep trough of Dunmail Raise and Thirlmere, to the east by the trench of Kirkstone Pass and Ullswater, and to the north by the broad Keswick to Penrith gap. This is the area covered by his first book. His second, on which he is now working, will be called The Far Eastern Fells, and, all being well, five others dealing with the whole of Lakeland will follow in their turn.
Mr Wainwright is not greatly concerned about valleys, lakes and villages. His great interest is the fells, and in his book he deals, in the very greatest detail, with thirty-five of them, from lordly Helvellyn and its satellites to little-visited Great Mell Fell, from mighty Fairfield and its fine precipices to Nab Scar, which the Lakes poets knew so well. It makes little difference – except in length of description – whether the fell is a fine mountain or a humble hillock; each one receives the same complete and careful treatment.
Each fell is illustrated by lovely line drawings – accurate, often dramatic and always artistic – by carefully drawn maps showing all possible routes, by diagrams indicating special points of interest, by smaller drawings of crags, cairns, waterfalls and so on, and by most detailed indications of the views from the summits. We are shown full panoramas in the form of outline drawings of the views from eight points of the compass or in other ways, such as concentric circles with the distant mountains accurately plotted. The text is detailed, informative, even amusing at times.
Mr Wainwright, as I have said, had no intention at first of publishing his notebook. He was persuaded to do so later by friends who realised that nothing so painstakingly complete, so beautifully finished, had ever been done before. Incidentally, although the author is the most unassuming of men, it is pleasant to discover in the Clough Head section a self-portrait – typically, a back view.
It would be niggardly of me to criticise a book that is going to give a great deal of pleasure to thousands of people, but I have already told the author that he runs the risk of taking all the adventure, all the joy of discovery, out of the fells by the very completeness of his work. His answer to this is that publication of his own discoveries – many of them never before mentioned in print – will encourage other fell-walkers to rediscover them for themselves.
He also poses many questions – 'Who cut this strange path across the fells and with what purpose?' – and deliberately leaves them unanswered. People purchasing the book will have to decide for themselves whether to use it as a guide, treasure it as an inspiring reference book or browse through it as a work of art.
Mr Wainwright made, on an average, six visits to each fell to collect his information and get the material for his illustrations and diagrams, but he went up Raise eight times before he had a view from the summit. On his trips he has taken many hundreds of photographs – not for publication but to help him with his illustrations, which in each case have been checked and elaborated on the spot.
His panoramas to show the hundreds of summit views have also been drawn from photographs and checked and double-checked both on the spot and at home, on the map, with compass and protractor. All the maps have been accurately reproduced by hand – in most cases to the scale of 2 inches to the mile – from the 2/2 inch map, and the book is charmingly dedicated to 'the men of the Ordnance Survey'.
The hand-printing of the text is a work of art in itself – delightfully readable and attractive. Each page had to be done at least twice, and each line is carefully planned. You will notice, for instance, that each line finishes exactly on the margin with no parts of words carried onto the line below. Not one piece of type has been used, even for the embossing of the cover. All had been done by hand, for it was originally intended as a personal notebook only.
Mr Wainwright is now hard at work on his second book, and he tells me that the whole project, the seven books, will take him perhaps ten years. 'One man's way,' as he says in his introduction, `of expressing his devotion to Lakeland's friendly hills.' May I wish him many happy days in his further journeyings in the Lakeland he loves so well.
AH (Harry) Griffin: First published in the Lancashire Evening Post-27th May,1955.