Earlier this year, without fanfare or review, except perhaps in places I tend not to visit, Frances Lincoln Ltd published the first in a new Edition – the Third – of the Wainwrights.
For those still unfamiliar with the term, I’m referring to the series of seven guidebooks to the fells and mountains of the English Lake District produced between 1950 and 1965 by the late Alfred Wainwright (who also gives his name to the 214 fells and mountains covered therein). Wainwright’s books were a comprehensive guide: geography, maps, features, ascents, descents, ridge-routes and views. More than just guidebooks, they were works of art: hand-written, hand-drawn, hand-mapped. One man’s hand, one man’s eye, one man’s mind.
Of course, from the date of publication, each book grew steadily out of date, as the fells changed, walls and fences were put up or taken down, paths fell into disuse or were walked into being. Wainwright would have withdrawn them after a few years, when their inaccuracy became too much for his pride, but their slow-burning yet phenomenal popularity prevented this fate from occurring, and I for one have spent nearly fifty years walking with the originals in hand, literally, without once getting lost or confused (for any reason attributable to the books).
Had Wainwright had the idea earlier in life, he would have gleefully begun revisions, but completion of his Guides more or less coincided with retirement.
Eventually, a Second Edition did appear, from Frances Lincoln, revised by former taxi-driver and map-making enthusiast Chris Jesty. Jesty’s round of Editions were completed between 2005 and 2009, and he deserves a thousand rounds of applause for his superb work (if only to deflect the waves of jealousy from those who, like me, would have killed for the chance to take his place!)
Now, only ten years later, Lincolns have commissioned former newspaper editor and Lakeland enthusiast Clive Hutchby to start again. A decade has gone by since Jesty’s work, and the latter has admitted that, not being as practiced a walker as Wainwright himself, he had not checked all of the unmarked routes in the seven books, a task which Hutchby has determined to accomplish.
And now the first fruits of Hutchby’s labours is with us, as Book 1, The Eastern Fells, is available. And the first thing to be noticed is that there is a vast difference of intent between the Jesty and the Hutchby Editions. Jesty’s Second Edition was about Continuity, about Preservation and Respect. His books were Wainwright’s books, updated as required to reflect the changes wrought by forty to fifty-five years of life in the Lake District, but otherwise kept as close to the original as possible.
Sometimes, this meant changes to Wainwright’s text. Since the old boy was no longer here to apply his hand, Lincoln’s took advantage of the advances of technology and had Wainwright’s letters scanned in to be formatted as a Wainwright font. Thus, new sections, new paragraphs, could be inserted in Wainwright font, to keep the look of each page as consistent as possible, and as close to the original as possible.
It doesn’t entirely work. There is a difference, a discernible difference, between the human hand and a computer text. No matter how meticulous Wainwright was in the forming of each letter, how regularly it was formed, the weight of each pen-stroke, the amount of ink on each nib, the minute fractions of discrepancy in the spacing of letters, these are all an intrinsic part of his work, and the reader can sense these, can detect the organic nature of the work.
A computer is too mechanical. It is too regular, too even. Every ‘r’, every ‘k’, every capital ‘T’ is identical, over and over, every space between letters is exact and equal to a microscopic degree. The eye sees, and the mind registers.
So its use was as sparing as necessity required. Jesty kept everything he could of Wainwright. That’s not the case with Hutchby.
The difference is immediately noticeable. Gone are the dust jackets: the book is glued directly inside the glossy covers. And the book is slightly narrower, slightly taller. These are perhaps sensible changes, making the book physically more convenient for rucksack and anorak pockets.
But that’s not all. The title has changed. These books are no longer A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells: they are Wainwright’s Walking Guide to the Lakeland Fells. And, to distinguish this latest version from the previous two, this is not the Third Edition. It’s the Walkers Edition.
Walkers Edition? What the hell do Hutchby/Lincoln’s think the original books were? Embroiderers Editions? Police Detectives Editions? Japanese Calligraphers Editions? At the sight of those words, my hackles rose, and they have remained in a risen state ever since.
Because this is the edition in which the publishers (who are no longer led by Frances Lincoln herself) have decided that it’s going to change. And one thing that has changed once you get inside is that these books are no longer Wainwright’s. Except where it is impossible to intervene, in lettering entered onto maps, Wainwright’s hand has been removed from the vast majority of the book. Everything has been reset in Wainwright font, no matter how exact the original wording remains. Alfred Wainwright is halfway out of the door of his own Guides.
After that, the Hutchby Edition has built up a prejudice in me that is impossible to overcome. I have read the originals so often that, if the printing plates were to be destroyed, the whole series could be recreated, intact, by scanning my memories. They were neat, precise, sometimes almost lyrical, and Wainwright knew how to let a page breathe. Hutchby suffocates pages, adding and adding lines and paragraphs of font, changing as he goes.
It’s one thing if these amendments are updates, removal of obsolete and irrelevant references, updating details, even adding descriptions to paths in places that didn’t exist for Wainwright when he walked. This is Hutchby’s job, his purpose, and generally he does a decent job of it.
But too often, too intrusively, too self-importantly, Hutchby cannot resist making changes that exceed this remit. He cannot resist swamping pages with additional information, cross-referring to other chapters, paragraphs of etymological construction of fell names, changes to Wainwright’s opinions to substitute his own, adding information to one page that duplicates Wainwright’s existing statement of the same thing on the next!
It begins to look as if the book is taller so that Hutchby can cram all these titbits into page bottom paragraphs without distorting the maps.
The majority of this additional information is unnecessary. If Hutchby were doing his own guide, it might be interesting background material, but it’s offensive to me because of the way in which it detracts from the source material. It’s no longer Wainwright’s guide, not with this guy Hutchby running round the edges, sticking his stuff on all over the place with drawing pins, and chopping bits out just so he can write his thoughts instead.
And it’s against the whole purpose of the enterprise, which was to be purely and cleanly about the fells, focused upon what the walker wanted – and needed – to get them to the top of a fell and, what’s more, safely down again. Hutchby’s clutter is antithetical to that spirit.
To take one random example, go to Hart Side 8, showing the view. Wainwright makes the comment, ‘The view is disappointing. Although Hart Side has a considerable altitude, it does not overtop the main ridge to the west, which hides all the high fells beyond. Intervening ground to the east conceals most of Ullswater’. There are no updates which alter or qualify that brief statement, but Hutchby still feels the need to alter it, by changing the first line to, ‘The view is generally disappointing.’ (italics added).
That’s Hutchby’s opinion. This is Wainwright’s book. Hutchby should be keeping his damned nose out of things and not trying to set up his own opinions.
The Helvellyn chapter is the first to be seriously molested, with some of the changes sensible and necessary, whilst others are just more examples of Hutchby’s obsession with making changes. An extended section on Striding Edge is introduced, complete with new maps and drawings, covering two full pages, which is very useful, and it’s paralleled by giving Swirral Edge a half-page – no maps, no drawings – that is achieved by cutting Lower Man’s page in half in a decidedly perfunctory manner.
Elsewhere, Hutchby rejects the gradient plans of the respective Western and Eastern Approaches, is curiously obsessive about forcing an ascent over Catstycam in as a ‘new’ approach and, for no discernible reason whatsoever, swaps the order of the Eastern and Grasmere approaches pages.
Actually, this Catstycam issue is typical of another distinct difference in approach. Wainwright treated his readers with respect. He was performing a useful, invaluable task for them, but (contrary opinions noted) he was not leading anyone by the hand. He trusted his readers to make connections, and to plan and think for themselves. Hutchby doesn’t. Anyone with half a brain can look at the Helvellyn chapter and work out that there’s a route of approach over Catstycam. Hutchby pushes it repeatedly, clogging up a scene where there are already several approaches, making the book even fussier.
Only when reaching the final pages is there any relief: Wainwright’s original Personal Notes have been preserved intact, his handwriting now a jarring contrast to the mechanical print. No doubt, at some future point, these too will be reset in the font, to preserve the unity of the Volume, but for now they are a small mercy.
No, I do not like this Third Edition. Indeed, I am opposed to almost all the new ideas that have gone into it, and unless someone of true taste and enlightenment comes into authority at Frances Lincoln, I can only see this trend worsening in future Editions.
Nevertheless, I will be buying them, and when I get back to the fells, I will be carrying them. Whatever the faulty aesthetics, it must be remembered that these are Guide Books, and their principal concern is accuracy and fidelity to the fells as they are in 2015 and the immediate future.
In that, I have no doubt that Hutchby can be trusted to have done the right job – and if he hasn’t, disgruntled and misled walkers will be flooding Frances Lincoln’s with complaints and criticisms, and Mountain Rescue will undoubtedly have things to say as well. And armchair walkers like myself would get all smug, which I firmly do not want to see.