WR Mitchell : Fond memories of walking the fells with Mrs Wainwright

MY friendship with Alfred Wainwright, the celebrated fell-wanderer, and his second wife, Betty, endured for many years and ended with Betty's recent death at the age of 86. On the last occasion we met, she was a wisp of a lady, with snow-white hair. She was spirited and, using her walking aid on wheels, promptly arranged a garden tour.

I was with Bob, Colin and Stan, fellow members of the Geriatric Blunderers' Walking Club of which Betty was president by dint of providing us with afternoon tea at least once a year.

Betty McNally, who was in the nursing profession, had come into Wainwright's life when he was in a sad plight. He was existing on a regular order of provisions from the Co-op, fish and chips, and the fumes from an almost continuously burning pipe.

On our occasional visits to her home near Kendal, books, paintings and even statuary reminded us of the indomitable Wainwright whom I first met in the early 1950s when his printer showed me the as yet unprinted pages of his first book.

Bob knew AW and Betty from visits paid to their home on Kendal Green. Betty was ever-hospitable. AW would sit there, head immersed in his morning newspaper, while Betty and Bob put the world to rights.

When AW's fell-walking days were over, and with AW's approval, we had occasional forays on the hills, recalling some of his more amusing words of advice, such as the necessity of knowing the difference between a ripe bilberry and a fresh sheep dropping.

One excursion provided Betty with an amusing memory. AW was left in the car, parked at Dent.

Our path led up Flintergill to the head of Deepdale, and back to Dent by that delectable valley. Into view came a local farmer. He was wearing wellies – one green, one black. I commented that this was odd. Said the farmer: "Nay – my lad's got a pair just same."

On our return to the car park we found a fretful AW. Someone had recognised and accosted him. He was not pleased.

Betty was the chauffeur when AW came to see me at the office in Clapham shortly before I retired. She announced that she would walk round the village. Would he be all right? AW said: "I think we'll find something to talk about."

Several hours later, when I waved them off, Betty was at the wheel and AW's head and shoulders were framed by the back window. He detested seat belts, which were at that time obligatory only to those sitting in the front seats.

On the Blunderers' last visit to President Betty, we insisted on making afternoon tea, which was a single course – toast. With three men involved, we had scorched fingers, and no two pieces of toast laid out on a dinner plate were of the same hue. Betty was amused at the tonal range – from ginger to ember.