Having just returned from a week in the Lake District, I can’t resist digressing somewhat from archival themes. I always use the Wainwright guides to the fells, and this time in particular I really got into reading them. They are really quite an astonishing achievement – seven books covering all of the peaks, with detailed information, sketches, views and charming and amusing anecdotes. My favourite of the moment is a description of a route up to Pike o’Stickle, ‘a continuously steep and unpleasant scramble in prickly, unstable scree, and of interest only to searchers after stone axes…In a buttoned up plastic mac, the ascent is purgatory.’ (A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells: The Central Fells, originally published 1958). I wonder about this observation, as Wainwright wasn’t the plastic mac type – more the tweed jacket and pipe type. I should say that in general he writes very movingly about the beauty of the hills – but if a walk is dull and lacks interest he is happy to say so! Anyway, the books are true works of art, and the astonishing thing is that right from the start he planned how long each book would take, decided that the whole labour of love would take 13 years, and he finished one week ahead of schedule! When you think about all the plans and charts and meetings and reschedulings and so forth that so often happen with work projects, I think it is a wonderful achievement that he just made a decision and carried it out so remarkably punctiliously and successfully.
I did fall to wondering whether there is an archive of Wainwright’s papers. I believe that the Kendal Museum have many of his ink drawings, but I don’t know whether there are any papers in existence. That would surely be a great archive to have.
Image taken from Jack’s Rake overlooking Stickle Tarn