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COAST TO COAST with WAINWRIGHT

When A. Wainwright began his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells in the late 1950s, he knew that there would come a time when he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his beloved fells in person. He thought, ‘when I’m an old man and I can’t walk the hills, these will be memories for me.’ But as the books started to take shape, he realized that, ‘these might be useful for other people too.’ Fifty years on, his books are still the Lakeland fell-walker’s first port of call.

Alfred Wainwright, known by his fans as simply AW, fell in love with the Lake District in 1930 when he climbed to the top of Orrest Head in Windermere. There were no huge factories but mountains, no stagnant canals but sparkling crystal-clear rivers. In short, his Blackburn hometown gave way to a landscape of immaculate beauty, untouched by industry. When he returned to the Lake District as a grown man, he started a 13-year odyssey, tirelessly climbing the fells every weekend to relish in their beauty and document their evergreen paths. He organized 214 fells into seven meticulously illustrated books. Many more books would follow including A Coast to Coast Walk, a 192 mile walk he devised himself beginning at St Bees Head on the Cumbrian coast and ending at Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Yorkshire Coast. It would become one of the most popular long-distance walks in Britain.

When Wainwright’s guides fell out of print in early 2000, Frances Lincoln Publishers outbid over thirty other publishers to acquire the rights to publish them. Managing Director John Nicoll said, ‘We are really thrilled to be publishing these books which I have known all my life. As a boy who was born and brought up at the foot of Kentmere in the heart of the Lake District I remember treasuring each new volume as it was published. Now I am honoured to be the publisher of these extraordinary books and look forward to introducing them to a whole new generation.’

At the centenary of Wainwright’s birth in 2007, John Nicoll’s hopes to bring the fell-walking legend’s work to a new generation were boosted with the help of the BBC. An hour-long documentary, The Man Who Loved the Lakes, was broadcasted on BBC4 and BBC2 and captured an audience who had neither heard of Wainwright nor been to the Lake District. A four-part series called Wainwright’s Walks hosted by Julia Bradbury was commissioned soon thereafter. And suddenly, Wainwright mania gripped the nation. The 2008 RHS Tatton Park Flower displayed a Wainwright-themed garden designed by Darwen Council to reflect the Lakeland landscape, calling it Wainwright’s Love Affair. Fryers Roses launched the Wainwright Rose at the Hampton Court Palace Flower show. Blackburn saw the dedication of a new £12 million bridge to Wainwright, Thwaites Brewery launched the Wainwright Ale and Frances Lincoln published Wainwright’s TV Walks, a compilation of all of the featured walks in the BBC Walks series and then Wainwright: The Podcasts, a collection of eight walks including introductions by Eric Robson and a free CD with commentary narrated by Nik Wood-Jones, the voice of Wainwright in the BBC series. It seemed that the legend was quickly becoming a national treasure.

When Wainwright took his last walk on the fells in the late 1980s, he said, ‘And the mountains wept tears for me that day.’ But Wainwright’s legacy lives on. In early 2009, Julia Bradbury will take on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast trek in a 6-part series to be aired on the BBC. To celebrate, Frances Lincoln has brought back into print Coast to Coast with Wainwright, a new edition of the classic photographic book containing spectacular new images from Derry Brabbs. As more people come to discover Wainwright and the passion with which he documented his fells, they too will share in the ‘place of great charm and fairyland attractiveness’ that is the Lakeland Fells.

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When Wainwright commenced working on his now famous, and invaluable, Lake District fellwalking guides, he divided the high ground of the Lake District into seven zones. These became the basis of hs seven main books. The se arbitrary regions were carefully selected climbing areas bounded by valley bottoms, lakes, rivers and passes. Of course this means that the average climber is likely to require more than one guide when spending a day or two in the Lake District, as towns and lakes are likely to be on the edge rather than in the middle of the region. We have indicated the regions chosen on the map to the left, using the familiar colours of the guides in question.

In addition to the main seven guides, there is an invaluable extra guyide to the 'Outlying Fells'. This is ideal for the average tourist who wants an easy, but rewarding stroll. Indeed some of the walks covered in this latter book, which largely covers the area around the edge of the Lake District, provide some outstanding views - Gummers How, Orrest Head, Black Coombe, Irton Pike and Whitbarrow, for example.

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