A Meeting at St Bees

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My research into Wainwright’s book publishing history is now in its fifth year. I have become friends with many wonderful and interesting people who knew Wainwright personally. One such acquaintance of the late great fellwanderer is author and photographer Sheila Richardson. She was also a regular contributor to Cumbria magazine and was a former chair of Animal Rescue Cumbria back in Wainwright’s day.

Sheila had corresponded with Wainwright for a short time before finally meeting him in the late 1980s. Wainwright was impressed with her writing which was a huge encouragement. With newfound enthusiasm, she published many books and magazine articles over the next decade.

I first discovered Sheila’s work when I acquired A Lakes Christmas, published in 1991. A good friend of mine, Richard Jennings, informed me that she still lived in Workington. I contacted her by phone, and she was delighted to speak about her memories of Wainwright. We eventually met for lunch at her home in Workington, and it was a pleasure to be in her company.

A Lakes Christmas by Sheila Richardson.
Sheila wrote a lovely message in my copy.
Photo of Wainwright taken by Sheila.

She also spoke fondly of her time with the former Westmorland Gazette book publishing manager, Andrew Nichol. She had not seen him for over thirty years and was delighted to learn that he was a good friend of mine. I saw this as an excellent opportunity to arrange a meeting between them for the first time in three decades.

I was working on my new Wainwright Memories book, and part of the project involved a visit to the start of the Coast to Coast Walk at St Bees. Andrew never returned to this location since his last visit with Wainwright in 1989. Sheila did not live that far from St Bees, so this provided a convenient meeting point. She was delighted with the prospect of seeing Andrew again and was excited to reconnect after all these years.

A few days later, my wife Priscilla and I arrived at Andrew’s Kendal home, and we all set off together. It was a bitterly cold day, but the sun shone brightly for us. Within a couple of hours, we arrived at St Bees, and Sheila was already there taking photos on the beach. She recognised Andrew immediately, and despite the freezing winds, they stood out in the open and embraced. It was wonderful seeing these friends together once again.

Old friends reunited.

Getting out of the cold was a priority, but Andrew and I had to take a few photos on the beach for the book project. The wind howled around us as we made our way down to the pebbly shore. Our eyes were streaming from the icy gusts coming in from the sea, so we needed to move fast. We quickly got into position, and with somewhat forced smiles, we all managed to pose for the camera and get the shots done.

We headed back to the shop for a sandwich and thawed our hands out around a hot mug of coffee. After eating, Priscilla and I watched intently as Sheila reminisced about Wainwright.

Catching up after three decades.

Sheila recalled her interview with Wainwright for Cumbria magazine. She arrived at his Kendal Green home on a Friday morning, and she was relieved to see Andrew there in a meeting with Wainwright, which calmed her nerves. After a short time, Andrew headed back to the Gazette, and Sheila spent the next few hours chatting with Wainwright.

It would be the first of many visits by Sheila to Kendal Green, and they soon became good friends until he passed away in January 1991. They shared the same passion for animals and walking, and Wainwright was very impressed with her writing style. He was also a willing participant in several photographs taken for the article.

A page from Wainwright’s ledger from his time as Kendal’s Borough Treasurer. Sheila kindly donated it.

Both Andrew and Sheila were deep in conversation for over two hours, reliving their experiences with the master fellwalker. It was sheer joy to be in their company for this special moment.

Despite the cold, we had a great time at St Bees. With old friendships rekindled, we planned to meet up again very soon. Once more, we will be honouring the memory of Wainwright, but this time with his favourite dish of all, fish & chips.

Andrew and Priscilla at St Bees Priory.
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