Alfred Wainwright and the reasons why he’s the inspiration to our love of the Lake District

View from Catbells

As you will be aware by now we have been following slightly in the footsteps of Alfred Wainwright. This is because, from the moment we first visited the Lake District, just like himself, we fell in love with the place. He’s an inspiration to all hikers out there. And his life’s work went into providing a guide for individuals like you and me to continue walking the Fells long after he’d gone. So here’s us taking our hats off to the man and telling you how he inspired all five years ago. And why now we head to the Lakes at any given chance, just like he did.

Alfred Wainwright the background story

You can find a little of this information out on our home Wainwrights page. It tells you a brief guide to who Alfred Wainwright was and just when he fell in love with the Lake District. This was on his first holiday to the National Park and he stayed at Windermere. It was in 1930 when he was 23 years of age. He admitted that this was where his love affair with the Lakes first began after he climbed Orrest Head. He said later that “Orrest head cast a spell that changed my life.”

In 1941 he changed his job just so that he could move closer to the Lake District with his first wife and son. He lived in Kendal and this is where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Eleven years later in 1952, he began work on his first pictorial guide to the Lakeland Fells. He had planned that he would write a total of seven of these pictorial guides and that they would be split into each region of the Lake District. Alfred Wainwright wrote about the 214 Fells in which he thought were worthy enough to be written down and analysed in his books.

What would become the 214 Wainwrights

These would later be known as the 214 Wainwrights. And Alfred Wainwright would have never known then just how popular his books and walks would become. Now people from all over the world travel to the Lakes to complete the bagging challenge of these Fells. This is something that even ourselves are in the process of and what we blog about for you too.

Along with the whole of the Lake District, the Fells are what draws your eyes to the skyline as you drive past each one. And when you see them, you want a piece of what they have to offer. For us, just like for Alfred Wainwright it became an addiction. When you get hooked on the mountains, they keep calling to you wherever you are. And slowly but surely you give in each time to head back to where your true path lies.

Or that’s what it felt like for him, and certainly how we feel too. How does it feel each time that you head to the Lakes?

Each of the pictorial guides to the Lakelands fells

From starting his writing and drawings of the 214 Fells this is the order in which Alfred Wainwright published the books. And the dates of when he did so.

– Book One: The Eastern Fells (1955)

This was the first of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells which he wrote. This area includes the likes of Helvellyn, Fairfield, Red Screes, and Sheffield Pike. There are 35 Wainwrights in this pictorial guide and Wainwright wrote at the end of his first book that:

“Although I take my leave of the Eastern Fells with very real regret, as one parts from good friends. I look forward to equally happy days on the Far Eastern Fells”

Alfred Wainwright

– Book Two: The Far Eastern Fells (1957)

In the second book of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells, there are 36 Wainwrights that are written and drawn about. These include High Street, Rampsgill Head, Troutbeck Tongue, and many more besides. Alfred Wainwright was a lonely walker but he liked it this way. And he quoted at the end of his second book something that made me smile when I read it. He truly enjoyed his peace and quiet, but equally wanted others to witness the sights and feelings that he did.

Rarely did I meet anyone on my exploration of the High Street Fells. Usually I walked from morning till dusk without a sight of human beings. This is the way I like it, but what joys have been mine that other folk should have!”

Alfred Wainwright

– Book Three: The Central Fells (1958)

Alfred Wainwright’s book three of the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells is based in the Central Fells. This was where there were more popular walks at the time of Wainwright writing his guides. The Fells here include Pavey Ark, Walla Crag, and Eagle Crag. All of which are a joy to hike. During his personal notes in conclusion of book three Alfred writes the following.

“The popular heights above Derwentwater I left until the holiday crowds had all departed from the scene. Alone, what celestial beauty I found there in the quiet of late autumn and early winter!”

Alfred Wainwright

– Book Four: The Southern Fells (1960)

Book four takes us to the Scafell fells. In each book, Alfred Wainwright dedicates his guide to someone or something. And in this guide, I’m happy to report that it is dedicated to the ‘hardest of all fellwalkers’, the sheep of the Lakelands. If you know me, you’ll know that the Herdwick sheep on the Fells keeps me smiling through the toughest of winter. And that I am a keen window shopper when it comes to the likes of Herdy.

The guide contains walks from the popular Scafell fells but also from the routes of Coniston Old Man and Crinkle Crags. There are a total of 30 Fells in the book and as with all of the others, here’s a taster of what Wainwright has to say on the Southern Fells. If you want to know more about the guides themselves, then check out our link here to get the whole set just like we did.

“I have said my farewell to Mickledore, and Esk House, and Bowfell and all the other grand places described in this book, with the same ‘hollow’ feeling one has when taking leave of friends knowing that it may be for the last time. For the next few years I shall be engaged elsewhere. To the north and west, and although I shall be straining my eyes to see these old favourites from afar, I shall not be visiting them during this period; and perhaps never again.”

Alfred Wainwright

– Book Five: The Northern Fells (1962)

This is one of our favourite areas in the Lake District and so when we got the guides, this was one of the first that we read. It contains a grand total of just 24 Fells. And these include Skiddaw, Blencathra, and Dodd. There are also some much lesser known Fells such as Mungrisdale Common (which you can read about in our Blencathra round walk here).

“These were glorious days for me. Days of absolute freedom, days of like feeling like the only man on Earth.”

Alfred Wainwright

– Book Six: The North Western Fells (1964)

So the North Western Fells are laid out in book six of the Alfred Wainwright Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Another one of our favourites, but this may be because we were located in Cockermouth. So these Fells were very much seen and walked by us more often than others. It just means we must get to the other regions much more to truly feel as Wainwright would say ‘close friends’ to them too.

There are 29 Fells in this region documented by Alfred Wainwright and some of these include Hindscarth, Whinlatter, and Grasmoor. Upon writing his notes in conclusion to the area he wrote some kind words.

“In other areas, I have sometimes tired a little of repeatedly tramping the same tracks, but not here. Times without number I came off the hills faces with a long trudge down Whinlatter, or along the Coledale mine road of Newlands, until every stone and every tree became familiar, but never rain or shine, did I do so wearily, but only regretting that another day was done.”

Alfred Wainwright

– Book Seven: The Western Fells (1966)

The last of the books that conclude the Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. And this is the Western Fells. Located around Ennerdale, Loweswater, and Northern Wastwater, there are some stunning mountains to climb in the area. To conclude the 214 Wainwrights, this guide finishes with the final 33 fells in the series.

Alfred Wainwright concludes his book with the following perfectly summed up ending.

“I wish you all many happy days on the fells in the years ahead. There will be fair winds and foul, days of sun and days of rain. But enjoy them all.”

Alfred Wainwright

How one man inspired others, and ourselves

Alfred Wainwright was 48 years old when he completed his first book. He only ever really wanted the books for his own personal interest. And he didn’t know where he would find a publisher to print his book either. But two of his friends took charge of the publicity and the printing and this is where it all took off.

Even as he was completing the pictorial guide, he never knew if he would ever return to some of his favourite Fells. He spent so much of his time and life recording what he loved that he knew the Lakelands inside and out. And this is why he is such an inspiration to us. Because of him, we can hike the Fells just as he did all those years ago.

Now over two million copies of Alfred Wainwrhgts books have been sold for others to follow in his footsteps. He has become an inspiration to many including us. Who sees it as not only a challenge to climb all 214 Wainwrights, but to make the memories which he himself said were so important on the Fells. Being away from the hustle of our busy lives and on the Fells has a sense of freedom which you can’t get anywhere else.

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Alfred Wainwright Quotes

For us, Wainwright’s quotes are perfectly said. They bring a tear to my eye when I read some too. They truly feel heartfelt and just come straight from who he really is, and what he truly believes. And this is raw emotion which I just love. Here are some of my personal favourite quotes from him. And yes we do use them throughout my blogging, and we also add some quotes from his pictorial guides too. Just because they fit in so well with the blogs we write. So we hope they give you the same inspiration as they do for us.

Alfred Wainwright and his life’s work

He was a shy man who in his own words ‘grew up to be anti-social’ and wouldn’t talk to even lone walkers on the Fells which he wandered himself. But through being his absolute self and never changing for anyone, he created a legacy that most never do.

He did something unknowingly to help millions of hikers out there to enjoy the Lake District and the hills too. He spent almost thirteen years writing the pictorial guides. With the amount of information in those books, it equates to an average of a page a day. This includes his own drawings and maps with the routes which he describes throughout the guides.

After he completed the pictorial guides to the Lakelands Alfred Wainwright went on the write multiple other guides and books. One of his other famous walks is the Coast to Coast across England from St Bees Head to Robins Hood Bay.

He continued to walk the Lakes for over four decades and his favourite Fell in the Lake District was Haystacks. Before his death in 1991 he asked for his ashes to be scattered here in an Innominate Tarn. It was something that his wife, friend, and sons carried out and this is where his final resting place lies.

On climbing to the top of Haystacks we stood just for a moment or two beside Innominate Tarn to pay our respects. To Alfred Wainwright, a man who had changed our lives with his guide books and sheer love of the place. And one that we can fully understand each and every day.

Alfred Wainwright 1907-1991

Photo of True Freedom Seekers in the Lake District for earnings disclosure page

True Freedom Seekers

Hazel and Zoe

We hope you find our walks and adventures in the Lake District helpful. And we wish you much fun and success on bagging the Wainwrights yourself. If you want to share any stories with us then please feel free to. Have a super day.

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