Monday, 25 October 2010
Walk cheerfully over the world
Cumbria's fells are associated with my great namesake, Alfred Wainwright, whose seven guides to the Lake District mountains contain much interest beyond his meticulously detailed, spidery ways to the summits. As a person, alas, he holds very little appeal for me. Read Hunter Davies' biography Wainwright (Orion 2002) and I think you'll see why. More appealing in character, although not so inspired an author, was his immediate predecessor William Palmer, whose output was even more prolific than AW's. So prolific, indeed, that some suggested of his more far-flung walking guides that he might not actually have been to the southern parts of the UK which he described.
I spoke about Palmer to a meeting of the Wainwright Society a year or two ago, after a friend lent me one of his early books which had handmade drawings on the lines of AW, although nowhere nearly as accomplished. Was Palmer an influence on the great man, I speculated? Anything he could do, AW could perhaps do better? And if something such as the Palmer book could get into print, then why not Alfred's own work? It cannot be proved, I don't think, after working my way through assorted Palmer papers in the Cumbria county archive. But books such as Wanderings in the Pennines (Skeffington and Son 1951) froms whose endpapers I took this map, are an enjoyable read and have odd treasures, rather as the Pennines' barren wastes do too.
A walker really after my own heart was Benny Rothman, the Manchester Communist who played a robust part in the opening-up of miles of previously private footpaths, notably on Kinder Scout where he was arrested at the Mass Trespass in 1932. I devote a long section in True North to the radiant idealism of men such as Rothman and the joy which they took not only in the hills and wilderness - something eloquently shared by Wainwright - but more important, in seeing their fellow human beings indulging in the same delights. AW surely had that deep down, but he knew how to hide it. Rothman and his pals feature deservedly and heroically in Freedom to Roam by Howard Hill, published by Moorland in 1980. Does anyone recognise my title for this post btw? It's George Fox's famous instruction to Quakers, which continues: "answering that of God (or we might also read Good, MW) in everyone."