Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
"Indeed, Wainwright was about the clumsiest mountaineer I have ever known." So says Harry Griffin. Harry knew AW well enough to call him Alf. Wainwright much preferred solitary walks and Harry was one of the very few who had walked with him when he was creating The Pictorial Guides. In the early days AW didn't have walking boots, but wore ordinary town shoes and a lightweight mac. And he never learnt to use a compass. Harry offered him a lift in his car, but he doggedly insisted on catching the bus. When Harry offered him a rope to get up a simple scramble, "Alf recoiled from this as if it had been a poisonous snake".
And yet if knowing everything about the Lakeland mountains, walking every inch of every track, tracing the paths and the shape and pattern of every fell, dedicating one's life to the delineation of the hills and becoming the living embodiment of fell-walking to millions of people makes one a mountaineer, then Alfred Wainwright was the greatest Lakeland mountaineer of them all.
His second wife, Betty, describes him as "a sensitive, shy man who sought anonymity, hiding himself behind a gruff exterior".
David Johnson, who only ever knew Wainwright, as most of us do, through his printed books, has sought out a 120 people who encountered that gruff exterior and are happy to recall their memories of meeting AW.
John Jordon lost the route following his daughters up Red Pike. "From out of the clouds came a voice, 'You're a big lad, just put your foot there and grab that rock.'" And then, when he drew level with "the pair of boots and brown trousers neatly tucked into brown socks", he was told, "Cross the ghyll and follow the track - it's well marked." Then, for no reason, he said, "I'm not Wainwright" and disappeared.
Joss Naylor, the fell runner, gave him a cursory greeting as he was running up Fleetwith Pike in the 1970s.
Michael Brooks asked AW why he didn't do a sketchbook on the Alps or the Dolomites or the Pyrenees, but Wainwright wanted nothing to do with foreigners and didn't want to go south of Blackburn.
When Sue Lawley twisted his arm to go on Desert Island Discs, he insisted she came to Salford for the programme and that he got a fish and chip supper out of the deal. His luxury was to be a small mirror to see how his beard was developing and he also wanted a photograph of Blackburn Rovers in 1928 when they won the FA Cup and a photo of his wife, Betty, "who's been a treasure to me, and continues to be".
An Eden Sketchbook was dedicated to Frank Tebbutt, who founded the Animal Refuge in Wetheral. Frank knew nothing about this, until a signed copy arrived in the post. AW would turn up unannounced and sit down with Frank and talk about the animal rescue business. "Our meetings," says Frank, "were always business like and serious, but never combative - after all, we shared a common interest."
There were many others who met Wainwright. Hunter Davies, Eric Robson, Bill Mitchell, Derry Brabbs, John Marsh, Mike Harding and Mark Richards all knew him and worked with him.
Wainwright told Peter Gillman that he often lulled himself to sleep retracing the steps of a favourite walk: "He would recall the route up Scafell, . . . 'And by the time I've got to Lord's Rake, I'm asleep.' "
Some of the recollections are brief from people who treasured their one encounter with the old curmudgeon, others are lengthy accounts of slowly developing friendships, of kindnesses and encouragement. For everyone in this book their encounter with Alfred Wainwright was a special moment in their life.