A newly published book celebrates the love Alfred Wainwright had for the Dales, reports Roger Ratcliffe.
Few writers have their names turned into merchandising brands and their initials used as logos on everything from hats, sweatshirts and scarfs to CDs and DVDs.
But that is all part of the phenomenon of Alfred Wainwright since his death in 1991. He has become synonymous with walking in the Lake District thanks to the extraordinary series of handwritten guides he produced between 1952 and 1966. Less well-known, however, are his walking books on Yorkshire and the Pennine hills.
Now, a new north-south route has been devised through the Yorkshire Dales using for the most part paths he described in two of his later books, Walks in Limestone Country from 1970 and Walks on the Howgill Fells published two years later. Named the Howgills and Limestone Trail, the new route stretches for 76 miles from Kirkby Stephen, at the top of the long Mallerstang valley, to Settle on the southern fringe of the Dales.
An accompanying guidebook has been produced by Wainwright’s own publisher, Frances Lincoln, and after a glance at the cover you could be forgiven for thinking that it is yet another tome from the man himself, sent from his final resting place high above Buttermere in the Western Lakes. His unmistakable handwriting has been digitised, however, and the book was compiled by husband-and-wife walkers David and Heather Pitt, two members of the Wainwright Society which preserves and celebrates the writer’s heritage.
The hand-drawn maps and vignettes, too, resemble Wainwright’s own characteristic pen and ink work but they have been produced by one of his friends Ron Scholes, an 83-year-old ex-teacher in Stoke-on-Trent. The overall result is a book which follows in the great tradition of Wainwright, and one which he might even have thought of producing himself one day.
“Wainwright was passionate about Yorkshire, and passionate about the Pennines,” says David Pitt, “yet there is a hardcore of walkers from whom his work was only about the fells of Lakeland and nowhere else. Well, Heather and I are passionate about the Yorkshire side of Wainwright and we felt it deserved a great deal more recognition.”
The new Howgills and Limestone Trail and its guidebook are intended to complement the 247-mile Pennine Journey trail based on Wainwright’s now famous walk in 1938 from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall and back. The book he wrote about the experience lay in a drawer for almost half a century until it was finally published in 1986.
David was editor of the guidebook for the Pennine Journey, and he says: “We’re hoping that some of those people who walk the new Howgills and Limestone Trail to Kirkby Stephen will then link to the Pennine Journey footpath, which by the way is now in the process of being signposted through the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and then use it to return to their starting point in Settle. It should make a really great circular walk.”
The new route is divided into seven daily sections, the first three winding through the Howgill Fells from Kirkby Stephen to Sedbergh. Wainwright was particularly fond of these fells and wrote in his famously poetic style: “They are sleek and smooth, looking, from a distance, like velvet curtains in sunlight, like silken drapes at sunset; they are steep-sided but gently domed, and beautiful in a way that few hilly areas are.”
The northern half of the Howgills is currently under consideration as an extension to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which already includes the southern portion. The result of a public inquiry is expected later this year.
From Sedbergh the new trail bypasses Dentdale to Barbondale and cuts through classic limestone country popular with potholers above the villages of Casterton and Leck to an overnight stop at Ingleton. From there it turns northwards to cross some of the best-preserved limestone pavement in Europe, beneath the western flank of Ingleborough. The final day involves a circuitous route to Settle via the slopes of another of the Three Peaks, Penyghent, and a visit to the historic Victoria Cave in which archaeologists found bones from pre-Ice Age animals like hippopotamus, elephant, rhinoceros and hyaena.
Wainwright waxed every bit as lyrical about the Limestone Dales as he did the Howgills, writing in 1970: “It is a land of surprises. For the explorer there are places of fascinating interest, of strange beauty, of thrilling adventure, such as are not to be found elsewhere. This is a region unique, without a counterpart, but its charms are shyly hidden. Those who seek and find them are often enslaved. The appeal of a landscape may lie in its towering outlines or rich colours or verdant foliage or simple rural charm. But in general the limestone country lacks these attributes. What it has, and what is peculiar to it, is a wonderland created by its rocks: a chaotic assembly of glittering white crags and pinnacles and fissured pavements and crevices, sometimes beautiful, sometimes grotesque.”
Rail theme to country hike
Howgills and Limestone Trail: A New Walk in the Footsteps of Alfred Wainwright by David and Heather Pitt is published by Frances Lincoln. A background theme to the walk, writes David Pitt in the introduction, is the area’s railway lines. One of them is the Settle-Carlisle line which runs between the start of the walk at Kirkby Stephen and Settle. Another is the Stainmore railway, built to carry coal from County Durham to the steel furnaces of Barrow.