Walking with Wainwright

A recent trip to the Lakes reminded me of my love for the ‘Wainwright Books’. Alfred Wainwright’s A Pictorial Guide to the Lakes consists of six volumes of meticulously researched maps of every fell in the Lake District. What’s unique about this guide is its relationship to the landscape – the books are made for, and only really make sense in, the landscape for which they were written. Each fell has an entry, consisting of profiles of each walkable route up the fell, maps of the summit, and smaller strip-maps of ‘ridge routes’ to neighbouring fells. The ascent/descent maps are particularly impressive: they are presented ‘vertically’, so that the top of the map shows the peak of the fell. The walker is presented with an image which corresponds to the walk in front of them – with small details like individual rocks and trees hand-drawn to help navigation. The result is a map which is uniquely oriented around the body-landscape relationship: it only makes sense to someone walking in these fells.

The construction of these must have been a mammoth task – Wainwright walked both up and down each fell, following alternative routes and exploring all routes in mist – all to provide this comprehensive guide to getting up and down the fells. For the upper reaches of the fells, where the contour lines become too thick for the larger scale maps, these guides are vastly superior to the Ordnance Survey maps.

There’s an excellent reflection on this in the article ‘Landscape and value in the work of Alfred Wainwright‘ by Clare Palmer and Emily Brady from 2007 in Landscape Research 32(4).

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