Article by Chris Butterfield
“Do you do much walking?” asked Wainwright.
“No, I have four children and quite a big garden. When I did my national service, I was in Korea and did enough fellwalking to last me a lifetime, thank you very much.”
Andrew Nichol laughed as he recalled his response to Wainwright’s opening question when he first met him at his Kendal Green home in May 1982. “I wasn’t off to a good start,” he said.
Harry Firth had been the General Printing and Book Publishing Manager at the Westmorland Gazette for many years and retired in June 1982. Andrew was the Works Manager at the time and succeeded Harry. Unfortunately, the book publishing department had seen financial losses for two consecutive years. A third year would have resulted in the department being closed and 35 jobs lost. Andrew knew the solution to the revenue problem was the Wainwright books, but Wainwright was reluctant to do publicity.
Andrew discovered that the Gazette didn’t own the copyright for the books, which was serious but also presented an excellent opportunity. With the chairman’s approval, Andrew offered Wainwright £40,000 for the copyright, providing he did publicity. Wainwright agreed and could now afford to build a headquarters for his charity, Animal Rescue Cumbria. This move turned things around for the Gazette and brought them back to profit. Andrew and Wainwright worked closely together for almost ten years and became close friends.
When I began researching Wainwright’s book publishing history in 2017, I was fortunate to connect with many individuals who were former associates and friends of Wainwright. Andrew was one of my key contacts who opened many doors for me, and I will be forever grateful to him.
Andrew had always regretted not paying his respects to Wainwright at Innominate Tarn on Haystacks, where his ashes were scattered. On many occasions, Andrew became quite emotional about the subject and said he owed it to Wainwright to visit his final resting place.
Fulfilling Andrew’s wish became a mission for my wife Priscilla and me as thanks for everything he had done for us. He was still very active for a man in his late 80s, so we arranged to take him to Haystacks ourselves. We arrived at the slate mine early one morning in the summer of 2020 and made our way to Innominate Tarn via the old quarry track. Andrew was in good spirits and surprisingly energetic on the steep climb from the car park, so it was an encouraging start.
Unfortunately, the heavens opened, and the heavy rain forced us to shelter in Dubs Hut at the halfway point. We warmed up with coffee, but after a few minutes, Andrew began shivering, so we abandoned the attempt and returned to the car. His safety was our priority, so it was the right decision.
Priscilla and I were saddened that the weather had beaten us back, and with autumn on the horizon, we doubted we’d have the opportunity again. The following year, the pandemic struck, and with it, all hope of helping Andrew fulfil his wish. In 2023, he turned 91 and was slower on his feet. There was no way of getting him to Haystacks now…or was there?
I considered contacting the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team for help. After some deliberation, I decided against it. The team members were there to rescue people from the fells, not carry people up them. I didn’t want to put them on the spot with such a delicate request.
We reached out for advice from a friend, Sheila Richardson, who had known Wainwright. She thought it was a great idea to contact the CMRT. Unknown to us, her friend, Derek Tunstall MBE, was an honorary member who had served 25 years with the team, and she contacted him with our proposal. Derek was delighted and raised the subject at the next team meeting.
Two weeks later, Derek contacted me with wonderful news. The team was delighted to help facilitate the challenge of assisting Andrew in climbing Haystacks. Most members were brought up on Wainwright’s guidebooks and considered the author’s work intrinsic to Lakeland, so this expedition meant a lot to them. Initially, it was decided that eight members would be involved in the climb, but when word got out about the project, this number increased to seventeen, along with Martin Pickavance, the chairman of the CMRT.
Winter was closing fast, so we met early one morning at Honister Slate Mine car park in late October. Martin arranged for several rescue vehicles to transport us all to Dubs Hut. From there, we would walk the rest of the way, with the team carrying a stretcher if required. BBC Radio Cumbria reporter Helen Millican also joined us to record the story as it unfolded. After brief introductions and interviews, the Land Rovers were underway, and we arrived at Dubs Hut in good time.
The team quickly prepared their equipment for the last mile on foot. Andrew insisted he wanted to complete as much of the walk as he could under his own steam. The team and Priscilla were close by to assist him on his journey. He walked a considerable distance and only required the stretcher for the difficult sections. He was an inspiration!
On the final 100m ascent to the plateau of Haystacks, Andrew insisted he climbed the stone steps himself, with the team’s support. As we gained height, the cloud base lifted to reveal sunshine for the first time that day. At the top, there wasn’t a breath of wind, and it was as though Wainwright paved the way for his friend to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this remarkable place. The team raised their trekking poles as Andrew approached the tarn and performed a respectful guard of honour.
Andrew thought he would never visit his friend’s final resting place, so it was a very emotional moment for him. I’ll never forget the joy in his eyes just being there. He had waited over 30 years for this day and was delighted that the team went to such lengths to make his wish come true.
One of the stand-out memories of the day was witnessing the rescue team working in unison, which was immensely impressive. Everyone instinctively knew their role, and there was great camaraderie between the members. I have nothing but respect for their courageous work.
The story’s widespread impact was unexpected, especially after the BBC’s initial involvement. I hadn’t anticipated local and national TV coverage. Andrew Nichol, known for his modesty and reserved nature, was a concern for me regarding the sudden spotlight. To my surprise, he received the attention positively, feeling honoured that his story resonated deeply with others. He recognised the event’s significance, particularly with its connection to Wainwright. His family was thrilled, seeing this renewed focus on Wainwright as rejuvenating for him. Ultimately, this experience has been a positive one for Andrew.
As a gesture of gratitude for assisting Andrew in fulfilling his wish to honour his friend at Innominate Tarn, I organised a Wainwright talk at the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Base. The event was a success, attracting a large audience and raising £426.90 in proceeds, all of which were donated to the rescue team. I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated. Your support made this meaningful contribution possible.
On Saturday, 11 May 2024, a special Wainwright event will be held at Rheged, Penrith, where some new Wainwright-related content will be revealed. Special guests will also be in attendance. Additionally, all book sale royalties that evening will be donated to the CMRT, who will also be present at the venue.
Since the walk, I have worked closely with Rosemary Gutteridge, whose father, Ken Shepherd, had taken many photographs of Wainwright and Andrew together. These photos reveal a friendship between publisher and author that blossomed over the years. This ongoing project has so far uncovered almost 70 Wainwright-related photos, most of which have never been published.
All the available film footage and audio captured on the day is currently being compiled into a documentary by film producers Chris and Lorena Linke, whose previous show, “The Herriot Way”, has recently earned an EMMY® Award nomination from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Finally, a huge thanks to the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team for making Andrew’s dream a reality. They are a registered charity whose members are unpaid volunteers who operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, attending practices and incidents. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the team’s formation. During that time, they have attended over 3,000 incidents. The CMRT rely solely on voluntary donations to operate, so please get in touch with the team via their website if any readers wish to donate.Back to top of page