Book review: Wainwright’s Lost Tour by Ed Geldard

Wainwright's Lost Tour
Wainwright's Lost Tour

In May 1931, 24-year-old Alfred Wainwright set out with three friends on a walk which would prove to be a gruelling test of man’s endurance against nature.

It was almost exactly a year after his first, life-changing trip to the Lake District which inspired a lifelong love affair with the area’s breathtaking beauty and magnificence. The experience was ‘a revelation so unexpected,’ he later said, ‘that I stood transfixed, unable to believe my eyes.’

Back home in Blackburn, Wainwright set his sights on a return visit the following spring for a six-day tour which would enable him to see every valley, mountain and lake… even though, realistically, they might not all be physically visited.

He mapped out a route, visiting ‘everywhere worth mentioning’ but avoiding the tourist traps and picnic spots. The walk, he promised his three work colleagues from the Borough Treasurer’s office in Blackburn, Jim Sharples, Harry Driver and Eric Maudsley, would be arduous but well worth the time and effort.

Dogged by the notoriously wet and temperamental Lakeland weather, the ‘grand tour’ of Whitsuntide 1931 ultimately failed to achieve its objective but it did sow the seeds of his worldwide famous seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells.

And it would be another 60 years, after Wainwright’s death in 1991, before the six foolscap sheets on which the great author, illustrator and walker mapped out that long-ago Whit tour, would once again see the light of day.

Shortly after Wainwright’s death, Eric Maudsley, the sole surviving member of the group, made available the details of that holiday which, unknown to anyone, he had kept for 60 years.

And now professional photographer Ed Geldard, who formed a strong friendship with Wainwright towards the end of his life, has recreated the tour in remarkable detail, giving a breakdown of the route, along with 180 magnificent colour photographs.

From Orrest Head with its lovely views of Windermere and the Coniston fells to the beautiful Troutbeck valley and from scenic Angle Tarn Pikes to Patterdale and its surrounding fells, this is a journey through what Wordsworth described as ‘the loveliest spot that man has found.’

The tour is also a perfect itinerary for keen walkers looking for a genuinely informative guide to walking in the Lakes and who would like nothing better than to follow in the great man’s footsteps.

It is also a fascinating discovery for Wainwright aficionados who can delight in this ‘missing page’ from the life story of the man whose Lakeland love affair has become an integral part of its history.

(Amberley, paperback,£12.99)