A Wainwright

Alfred Wainwright

Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) will always be known for his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. These handwritten and hand-drawn works of art have given inspiration to all true fellwalkers for the past forty years.

Alfred Wainwright in the Lake District, Cumbria. Circa 1970. Photo by Homer Sykes
Alfred Wainwright in the Lake District, Cumbria. Circa 1970. Photo by Homer Sykes

Alfred Wainwright was born in Blackburn, the son of a stonemason, and brought up in poor circumstances. Aged 13, he left school to start work, and became an office boy in Blackburn Borough Engineer’s Department. When he was 23, he managed a holiday away from home, and went to the Lake District for a week. He often came back to walk the hills, having passed exams and become a municipal accountant.

Alfred Wainwright
Alfred Wainwright

In 1941 he was appointed to a position in the Borough Treasurers Office in Kendal. He started doing pen and ink drawing of the fells. He started exploring and drawing and made a start on what was to become his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. There is a recreation in the Kendal Museum of Natural History of Wainwright’s office.

All his books of drawings (apart from ‘Walks from Ratty’ which was published by the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway) were published by The Westmorland Gazette, in Kendal. Many are now out of print, but the remainder are now published by Frances Lincoln.

Alfred Wainwright Books & Memorabilia (link below) is an interesting online resource for AW enthusiasts. Dedicated to Wainwright’s book publishing and printing history, it features original Westmorland Gazette printing materials from the Pictorial Guides as well as other unique and rare pieces of memorabilia.

Many of Wainwright’s associates regularly contribute to the AWBM website . The ongoing work is not only preserving Wainwright’s printing history, but also Cumbrian printing history.

In 1972 Wainwright devised the Coast to Coast Walk, which traversed what he described as ‘the grandest territory in the north of England’. The walk starts at St Bees, travelling through Cleator, Ennerdale, Rosthwaite, Patterdale, Shap, Kirkby Stephen, up to Nine Standards Rigg, then out of Cumbria, through the North York Moors National Park, heading towards Robin Hood’s Bay on the East Coast.

There is a stone tablet set into the windowsill of a south window of St James Church, Buttermere, as a memorial to AW. The window looks out on his favourite place to walk, Haystacks, where at his wish his ashes were scattered.

Hunter Davies has written the book ‘Wainwright the Biography’ in which he reveals a far more complex man – passionate, witty and generous – than any reader of his guides might suspect.

Wainwrights Yard was created in 2006 in Kendal, as a new development with a mixture of new retail units, a Booths Supermarket, the offices of the Westmorland Gazette, and a public square. Within this public square are a number of slate slabs with reproductions on them of pages from Wainwights ‘Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells’.

Alfred Wainwright in the Lake District, Cumbria. Circa 1970. Photo by Homer Sykes
Alfred Wainwright in the Lake District, Cumbria. Circa 1970.
Path leading up from Grasmere. Photo by Homer Sykes

Some forty years ago, the young photographer Homer Sykes was sent on a commission by the Telegraph to photograph Alfred Wainwright for their weekend colour magazine. A few years earlier he had finished his legendary guidebooks, and had become a cult figure in the North of England. Homer handed over his transparencies, and forgot about them.

A few years ago, Homer Sykes was in Keswick taking photographs of the Blencathra fell pack for a new book, called ‘Hunting with Hounds’, and saw the great Wainwright industry that had built up. He then attempted to find his old photos of AW, and eventually found five, which you can see on his website, www.homersykes.com, and from where you can buy high quality prints (link below).

Related Links :


  • Coast to coast walk: 190 mile walk from St Bees, Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire, originally designed by A. Wainright
  • The Pennine Way National Trail
  • A Pennine Journey: A 247 mile circular walk from Settle recreating the original journey made by A. Wainwright in 1938, passing through the North Pennines, Eden Valley and Yorkshire Dales areas of Cumbria

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