Cumbria Scenes – 15.3.12

Innominate Tarn

Innominate Tarn (literally, Unnamed Tarn) lies open to the sun a short distance from the summit of Haystacks, on the Ennerdale side of the watershed. Lain amid rocks, with reedy shores and shingly bays, it is surrounded but not dominated by the high fells of Ennerdale: the massivity of Pillar, the unexpected roughness of Kirk Fell and, in the centre of this photo, the perfectly poised pair of Gables, Great and Green.
Haystacks has little fame. It’s the lowest fell in the rings around the heads of Ennerdale and Buttermere, but it holds up its head regardlessly, confident in its ruggedness, its sudden twists and turns, its views and its perfect Tarns. And it basks in having been the favourite fell of the late Alfred Wainwright, creator of the seven volume Pictorial Guides.
AW, as he preferred to be called, was an unusual man of old-fashioned opinions, intensely private, deeply conservative, yet immensely gifted. Born to a working class family, he studied accountancy, gaining a job with the local Council, in an era where ledgers were filled in by hand and were expected to be precise, legible and immaculate.
Already an enthusiastic walker, in 1930, with his cousin, AW paid his first visit to the Lake District, climbing Orrest Head from the railway station, and immediately falling in love with a world he had never known existed. Though it took him until 1941, finally a chance came to live in the Lakes, where, in 1948, he came Borough Treasurer for Kendal, a position he held until retirement.
Long before this, AW’s first marriage was effectively dead, and what time was free from official duties was devoted to projects. Inevitably, AW’s thoughts turned to the hills, and he began to prepare a private account of the places he had been. At first, this was a private project, a gift to his elder years, when the inability through age to climb would be alleviated by the encapsulation of the fells for his memories.
Friends who saw the project thought it far too good to be kept to himself and, encouraged by their enthusiasm, and unwilling to submit himself to a publisher’s unsympathetic eye, AW published the first of his Pictorial Guides himself, under the name of his friend Henry Marshall as publisher.
Slowly, by no more publicity than word of mouth, the Guides sold. With Book 6, the Westmorland Gazette took over as publishers, with no interference to contents. Even by 1966, when Book 7 appeared,the books were unavailable outside the Lakes. I remember my father’s disappointment on discovering that it would not be available until the week after we had our holiday in Cumberland.
But through these books, and dozens more, fame – unwanted and unwelcome – came AW’s way, though he refused to profit from the books, devoting the money to Animal Welfare. His audiences grew, walkers bought and devoured his books, the 214 summits he identified became known as ‘Wainwrights’, just as the mountains above 3,000′ in Scotland are known and bagged as Munros, after the man who first defined them.
However, Sir Hugh Munro did not produce seven books entirely by hand. There is not one letter of type nor one photograph in the Guides. Each page comes from AW’s pen, hand-written, diagrammed, mapped and drawn, same-size. Not only does he know what matters to the walker – facts, maps, ascents, features, safe descents, summits, views, ridge-routes – but he produced a work of art, in its clarity, its precision, and the simple legibility of every page.
The Pictorial Guides have no forebears nor, unless another such as AW comes along, will they have no successor.
Haystacks was AW’s personal favourite fell, and Innominate Tarn his favourite place. In 1991, after his death, in accordance with wishes expressed a quarter century before, his ashes were sprinkled along its shore, under the eyes of the mountains.
Those of us who love the fells, and whose love was fed and watered by constant study of his Guides, hold this scene as special, where the man who inspires us remains forever.

3 thoughts on “Cumbria Scenes – 15.3.12

  1. It depends on how you define ‘altruist’. Hunter Davies’s biography of AW is absolutely fascinating. Whilst I find so much to envy him – his skill, his success and above all how much time he’s spent walking – if I had met him we would have disliked each other intensely for our opinions on everything else.

  2. hi mbc, just popped in to say hello and to thank you for the pleasure you gave me on CU when you posted your landscapes. I really enjoyed seeing them and found the way you wrote about them very moving. Wishing you all the best with your writng future, glo

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