Discovering Alfred Wainwright MBE

Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) probably did more than any other person in history to promote walking in the hills of the Lake District. His seven-book Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, published between 1955 and 1966 remains the standard by which other guidebooks are held.

Wainwright grew up in Blackburn, Lancashire, and first came to the Lake District aged 23. Arriving at Windermere Railway Station, like many visitors he climbed the small hill of Orrest Head. The view from the top changed his life, starting what he later described as a “love affair” with the Fells (hills and mountains) of the Lake District.

Eventually, in 1941, Wainwright moved to Kendal. In 1955 he began a single-minded task of producing walker’s guidebooks to all 214 Fells. Each guide covered an area of the Lakes, and each chapter described one Fell. The guides were hand-drawn and hand-written in ink, and contained descriptions of various routes to the summits of each Fell, sketches of the scenery, descriptions and diagrams of the views, and safe routes to neighbouring summits. They also are filled with Wainwright’s own musings, some of which are definitely from a different age! The quality of the work however was extraordinary, as was the size of the task.

Wainwright struggled at first to find a printer and publisher, but in the end the Westmorland Gazette newspaper in Kendal took on both roles. He didn’t anticipate much interest originally. However, since their first publication, his guides have sold over two million copies.

Wainwright published over 40 books by the time of his death in 1991, including a guide to the Coast-to-Coast walk, (a long-distance path from West to East across the North of England), which he devised himself. A shy and sometimes difficult man, Wainwright loved animals, and set up a shelter for rescued animals near Kendal with money from his books. His ashes are scattered on a hilltop near Buttermere. 

Original and updated versions of his guide books remain on sale, including in the Windermere Tourist Information Office.