In the Footsteps of Wainwright

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Post by Chris Butterfield.

THWACK! Wainwright was suddenly thrown forward, almost dropping his freshly lit tobacco pipe as the vehicle came to an abrupt stop. “Oops” blurted Eric nervously, while checking to see if Wainwright was okay. “I think the tracks are broken so we will have to navigate the rest of this bog by foot.”

It’s been 30 years since Wainwright passed and my thoughts focus on the wonderful legacy he left behind: A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. We can keep his memory alive and honour his remarkable achievements by following in his footsteps and exploring the places he once loved.

In his later years he disapproved of many changes to the area. Cars and coaches were becoming more commonplace as people flocked to the Lakeland towns. Car parks and caravan sites were spreading like a virus throughout the valleys. I often wonder how he would have viewed the world today, with the advent of mobile devices and social media. Many of us yearn for days gone by when life seemed simpler, and the summers were warmer.

Remembering the past was the focus of a day planned by Richard Else and myself: a walk to Haystacks to celebrate the 35th anniversary of AW’s final climb to the summit in 1985. It was also a poignant day of reflection for Richard, Producer of the original BBC Wainwright TV series, as all the memories from that cold wet day came flooding back.

Richard on the old tramway path above Honister Mine.

My wife Priscilla and I met Richard and his wife Margaret at Honister Slate Mine. The bright summer morning and still air were a far cry from the weather conditions everyone faced over three decades earlier. Richard was in a nostalgic mood and brought with him the exact same Nikon camera and zoom lens he used on the original journey.

Margaret, Richard and Priscilla take a moment to absorb the scenery.
Nikon FM2
The original Nikon FM2 used in the BBC Wainwright TV series.

We followed the disused tramway path to Dubs Quarry, near the foot of Haystacks. As we started to climb, Richard remembered the original ascent with Betty and the crew in a Land Rover. They took the old mine road to the quarry, where they disembarked and carried the equipment the rest of the way. Wainwright and Eric Robson followed behind in a hired tracked vehicle which came complete with a driver. Richard recalls looking behind and seeing this noisy monstrosity slowly bumping its way up the road behind them, with its distinguished passengers just holding on for dear life. Still, it was the only vehicle they could acquire to get Wainwright as close as possible to the foot of Haystacks.

On the approach to Dubs Quarry. Nikon FM2.

After an hour or so, we approached the bothy at Dubs Quarry. Richard identified this as the place they disembarked from the Land Rover, and hoped Wainwright, in the tracked vehicle, would be able to continue closer to Haystacks. Between Dubs Quarry and Black Beck Tarn, one of the tracks detached from the vehicle and it came to a complete stop. AW and Eric had to walk a little bit further after all.

Priscilla navigates Warnscale Beck.
Richard above the Buttermere Valley.

After a short climb, the four of us finally reached Innominate Tarn where we had lunch, bathed in glorious sunshine. The water level had dropped considerably, making it difficult to identify where Wainwright had been filmed. Priscilla and Margaret headed for the summit, while Richard and I remained by the tarn. We used screenshots from the film to aid us, and after a couple of hours we identified all locations. It was a very surreal moment finding the very same solitary stone that Wainwright had sat on alone, deep in his thoughts, while being filmed from a distance.

Innominate Tarn. Nikon FM2.
Richard and Chris by Innominate Tarn
Relaxing on the Wainwright rock.
Priscilla and Margaret taken with the Nikon FM2
A well earned rest. Nikon FM2.
Richard Else by Innominate Tarn
Remembering Alfred Wainwright.

Although I’d climbed Haystacks several times before, it wasn’t until I explored it thoroughly with Richard that I appreciated AW’s love for this fell, and why he chose the Tarn as his final resting place. It is such an unassuming fell. Wainwright described it as “a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds”, and he was right. There is so much to explore on this craggy plateau, and you will always find something new. It was a great honour for Priscilla and myself to accompany Richard and his wife on this special day, remembering a Lakeland legend who enhanced the lives of millions by bringing the fells to life and making them accessible to all through nothing more than pen and ink, love and devotion.

Wainwright on Haystacks 2
Wainwright by Innominate Tarn in 1985. Nikon FM2

All Nikon FM2 Photos courtesy of Richard Else, BBC Producer and author of Wainwright Revealed.

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