Revisiting Whitbarrow

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Article by Chris Butterfield.

Chris Jesty, author and cartographer, played a significant role in the Wainwright story. They corresponded for many years, and on a couple of occasions, Chris offered to revise the Pictorial Guides. Wainwright eventually gave him his blessing on the understanding that the revisions would not be published until after his death.

The Westmorland Gazette ceased publication of the Wainwright books in 1992, and the publishing rights were transferred to Michael Joseph. The new publishers weren’t favouring major revision work, so Chris was only authorised to produce minor changes.

In 2003, Frances Lincoln succeeded Michael Joseph as the new publisher and the managing director; John Nicholl supported the guidebook revisions. Chris was delighted and devoted a decade of his life to this delicate task, making changes only where necessary.

A selection of Chris’s work.

I met Chris three years ago whilst researching Wainwright’s publishing and printing history, and we soon became friends. I was surprised to discover that Chris had not been fellwalking for quite some time. I suggested we revisit a selection of his favourite fells, and he agreed.

Whitbarrow features in The Outlying Fells of Lakeland Pictorial Guide and is a hill that Chris is particularly fond of. I had not climbed it before, so Chris was keen on leading me on one of the finest routes to the summit. Wainwright described this walk as ‘…the most beautiful in this book; beautiful it is every step of the way…All is fair to the eye on Whitbarrow.’

We arrived at the car park near the hamlet of Mill Side just after sunrise. The walking conditions were perfect: clear skies with only a wisp of cloud. Chris brought both his revised guide and Wainwright’s original to highlight his changes to the route.

Planning the Route Ahead
Planning the route.
Comparing Editions
Comparing editions.

At 6 am, we made our way towards the southern end of Whitbarrow Scar and followed the path to the right. As we reached higher ground, we were greeted by an unusual sight; an isolated bench faced a wall of trees.

A Solitary Bench
A Solitary Bench.

The path turned sharply left, and we continued the steep climb through the woods. Eventually, we reached a gate where Chris included a well thought out detour to the original guide. It was a short walk through some trees to the southern ridge.

Within minutes, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve and Arnside beyond. I wondered why this short detour didn’t feature in the original guide. Maybe it was impassable back then.

Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve
Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve and Arnside beyond.
The Southern End of the Whitbarrow Ridge
Chris takes in the view whilst explaining how he revised Wainwright’s route to Whitbarrow.

Back at the main path, we continued to gain height, and eventually, the trees thinned out as we approached the limestone plateau of Whitbarrow Scar. The way ahead to Chapel Head Scar was noticeably clear, and we could see the distant summit cairn of Lord’s Seat.

Limestone Plateau of Whitbarrow Scar
Chris makes his way towards the summit of Whitbarrow.

Whitbarrow is a nature reserve and home to an abundance of rare flora and wildlife. Cattle and sheep also graze on the summit all year round. As we traversed the scar, Chris occasionally paused to name distant fells and other points of interest. Chris was feeling energetic and full of enthusiasm to reach the summit.

A Sculptured Windswept Yew Tree
A sculptured windswept Yew Tree.
“Don’t forget to watch where you are putting your feet…” A. Wainwright.
The Limestone Escarpment
Limestone Escarpment.
Chris Approaches the Summit
Almost there.

We eventually reached the summit cairn, a memorial to Canon G.A.K. Hervey, the founder of the Lake District Naturalists’ Trust. Chris and I absorbed the magnificent panorama before descending through the woods via a southwesterly path.

The Summit Cairn
The summit cairn.

There was one more point of interest Chris wanted to reveal to me, which was the main feature of the walk for him. As we made our way along the valley back to the car, he pointed out a small river at Beck Head that emerges from the limestone escarpment. It is a beautiful scene, and you can see the water flowing from beneath the crag—a grand finale to a beautiful morning.

A stream emerges from beneath the limestone escarpment.

Thanks to Chris for being the guide on this walk and for expanding my knowledge of this particular area. We have more hikes planned, rich in history, including many locations that Chris hasn’t revisited since revising the guides. Maybe he, too, will discover something new.

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