Home > Walking for Beginners > Wainwright and the Lake District Walks

Wainwright and the Lake District Walks

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 6 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Alfred Wainwright Lake District Fells

The Lake District has long featured in literature, as the inspiration and home of the poet Wordsworth to the setting for the famous Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books by Arthur Ransome. But the area has never been more celebrated and explored then in the seven volumes that make up the Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, by Alfred Wainwright. They comprise a bible for Lakes walkers, and have remained in print constantly and sold over two million copies.

Although the Guides are just a fraction of the almost 50 books Wainwright published, they’ve become his best-known and best-loved works, very personal, and lovingly illustrated, books about the exploration of an area he came to love.

Who was Alfred Wainwright?

Always a walker and keen on drawing, Wainwright was born in 1907 and grew up in Blackburn, eventually becoming a council accountant. He first saw the Lake District on a walking holiday in 1930, and was immediately captured by the area, moving there 11 years later, living and working in Kendal.

But he didn’t begin work on the Guides until 1952, by which time he had them fully mapped out in his head. He’d spent the intervening years spending all his weekends in the hills, exploring all the nooks and crannies until he knew them intimately.

Curiously, he never planned to publish the guides; they were going to be just for his own pleasure. Hand-lettered, with precise, careful maps and illustrations, the first volume was almost a work of art, and Wainwright had it printed privately. Only when Kendal’s chief librarian saw it was it printed for wider distribution. Wainwright finished the last of his Guides in 1966.

What do the Guides Do?

It’s a measure of his influence that the 214 fells in the Lake District he wrote about are known as the Wainwrights, and there are people who walk them all – much like bagging the Munroes in Scotland.

People follow his paths religiously (at least as far as possible, with the changes that have happened in the Lakes since his day). His observations, sometimes pithy and witty, enliven a hike, and open walkers to the stunning vistas and pleasures of the Lakes. Often they’re not easy walks, but well worth the effort. Because of the personality Wainwright invested in them, and the perfection of his illustrations (which he actually drew from photographs he’d taken on his wanderings), the Guides are possibly the only books a walker would want to constantly consult whilst out hiking – better than any map.

He brought the Lakes alive in a way no other writer, before or since, has managed. There’s a gentle passion for the Lake District in his work, and the knowledge for walkers that they’re in Wainwright’s footsteps going up or down a fell is like treading through history, touching the past.

The Influence of the Guides

The Guides have touched several generations of walkers, and there have been TV biographies of Wainwright himself, as well as a series tracing his walks. He’s become a celebrity to the walking fraternity and beyond, a symbol of the Lakes (although he wrote about other areas, including an acclaimed book on the Coast-to-Coast walk).

The Guides themselves have been revised, bringing them up-to-date – but carefully, with the new material matching the lettering Wainwright himself used in the books. He had his favourite areas, particularly Buttermere, where his ashes are scattered, and wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions in his works.

His books make essential reading, not just for anyone planning to walk in the Lake District, but also on the walk itself; it’s like carrying a small work of art with you. He loved the fells, and that love is infectious. The Lake District offers some of England’s best walking, but it’s made even better with Wainwright.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Trying my best
    Re: Walking for Fitness: A Plan
    Hi Coralie. I can highly recommend regatta blister socks. Have tried lots of more expensive and cheaper varieties but these win…
    20 February 2018
  • WalkingAndHiking
    Re: Walking for Fitness: A Plan
    Coralie - Your Question:Hi, 1st time on this site! I walked up Moel Famau a couple of years ago and was in agony with toenails, 4…
    20 February 2018
  • Coralie
    Re: Walking for Fitness: A Plan
    Hi, 1st time on this site! I walked up Moel Famau a couple of years ago and was in agony with toenails, 4 of which fell off. I want…
    16 February 2018
  • Dave
    Re: Join A Walking Club
    What insurance is advisable for a walking group? We are constituted as a club , with an annual subscription and a constitution, but we do…
    5 January 2018
  • Stainless
    Re: Daysacks and Hydration Packs
    THE INEFFICIENT BACKPACK Your body produces efficient forward motion by performing a horizontal pendulum motion, yet most…
    28 September 2017
  • Soldier Boy
    Re: Hiking for Older People
    Do lots of walking for charity and have committed myself to 1000kms in under 30 days in the not too distant future. Apart from changing…
    2 June 2017
  • WalkingAndHiking
    Re: Beginner's Guide to Map Reading and Grid References
    lmurp - Your Question:We enjoy the outdoors and camping with our 2 young children but want to maybe…
    28 April 2017
  • lmurp
    Re: Beginner's Guide to Map Reading and Grid References
    we enjoy the outdoors and camping with our 2 young children but want to maybe venture a bit more off…
    27 April 2017
  • WalkingAndHiking
    Re: Starting a Walking Club
    Daniel Reynold - Your Question:I tried to set up a walking trekking group I put up posters organised a set date for a meeting but no one…
    7 February 2017
  • Daniel Reynold
    Re: Starting a Walking Club
    I tried to set up a walking trekking group I put up posters organised a set date for a meeting but no one came.i live in south Devon…
    6 February 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the WalkingAndHiking website. Please read our Disclaimer.