Lake District Lovers

My Alfred Wainwright Obsession

Alfred Wainwright in the Lake District

I have been an outdoor enthusiast since leaving school and I spent most of my early years exploring Yorkshire’s countryside around Bradford. In my late teens I moved to Mytholmroyd near Halifax. This is where I discovered the rugged, but equally beautiful South Pennines, with its rolling hills, wild open moorland, and its smoke blackened gritstone rock. One afternoon I stumbled across a trail called the Pennine Way. I was intrigued and did some research using a second-hand copy of Wainwright on the Pennine Way purchased from Hebden Bridge. I had no idea know who this Alfred Wainwright fella was, but as far as I was concerned, he had written an excellent book! The walk was nearly 270 miles long but, being a student, how could I find the time and money to take on a trail of this magnitude? This was a challenge I had to shelve… for now.

During my twenties, my career as an engineer took centre stage of my life, and I didn’t venture beyond Yorkshire for years. I planned my first trip to the Lake District at the age of 28, a winter walk to Scafell Pike from Langdale. The landscape was unlike anything I had seen before and I simply had to return.

Walking the Pennine Way

Many years went by and I met a wonderful woman called Priscilla, and we married in the winter of 2011. My ambition to walk The Pennine Way had never escaped me, so we made it our holiday for the summer of 2013. We completed this mammoth trail in 19 consecutive days of glorious sunshine, and it was a life changing experience for us both. Not only did we make some fabulous new friends en route, we were fortunate enough to be interviewed on Belgium TV for a documentary based on Hadrian’s Wall.

There were many highlights during the walk, but my favourite days were spent in my beloved Yorkshire. We didn’t see a soul for days, but it mattered not, the Dales were our faithful companions. After a few days, the North Pennines were looming ever closer. I remember dragging my heels as I wanted to savour my home county for as long as I could.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk

The positive experience on the Pennine Way encouraged us to walk Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast in 2015. The route was pure genius, and it prompted me to begin a full investigation into this enigmatic Wainwright character. I was already familiar with many of Wainwright’s publications, having read a handful of his books, and it wasn’t until later that I picked up his A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells series. How did he accomplish this amazing body of detailed work decades earlier? I was determined that 2016 would be the year I would discover everything there was to know about Alfred Wainwright. My own journey was about to begin.

Alfred Wainwright's Coast to coast walk

Although my collection of Alfred Wainwright’s books slowly increased, my obsession with his work didn’t really kick in until September 2016. Michell’s of Cockermouth held one of their regular Antiques & Fine Art auctions. This particular auction drew quite a crowd, as Hunter Davies, Wainwright’s biographer, was selling much of his Wainwright memorabilia. I successfully won over half of the items I bid for, but even at this early stage, I wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

The Eastern Fells

Another trigger which prompted me to become a serious collector, was when I was given the opportunity to own a magnificent ‘signed’ The Eastern Fells Book One first edition from 1955. I noticed there were many editions and physical variations of the same books. For a new collector, this was a minefield! There was no online resource to make sense of it all, so I decided to do it myself. It was the start of a long journey to acquire everything Wainwright had written in all its forms. I think I am quite obsessive by nature, if I set myself a task, I take it to the extreme. Most enthusiasts collect first editions, whereas I am acquiring the full printing history of each book. Something that has never been done before.

Alfred Wainwrights Eastern Fells signed copy

One of my greatest acquisitions was the complete manuscript to Wainwright’s final book published by the Westmorland Gazette in 1988, Fellwalking with a Camera. The manuscript contains writing never before seen by the public. To my knowledge, there are only two private owners who own complete Alfred Wainwright manuscripts, and I am proud to be one of them.

Alfred wainwrights fell walking with a camera signed copy

Although Wainwright has been gone nearly thirty years, everything still feels fresh to me, as though he is still around. During my pursuit for more knowledge, I have unravelled stories that have yet to be made public. This proved there is still more of his story to tell. I have forged many great friendships with authors, artists, presenters, and even associates of Wainwright. I am thankful to everyone for giving me their time over the years. My work now consumes all my free time. It is a journey that both my wife and I have been very lucky to experience.

Westmorland Gazette

With the primary focus of my work being the books, my attention turned to Wainwright’s publisher. Andrew Nichol was the book publishing manager for the Westmorland Gazette for many years, and he worked directly with Wainwright for almost a decade. He was responsible for raising book sales from 24,000 in 1982 to 87,000 within five years. Andrew has become a very close friend over the last few years and has shared with me a wealth of Wainwright knowledge. He eventually introduced me to David Rigg, the former printer of the Wainwright books, and the owner of long time Kendal printers, Titus Wilson.

In 2018, I was given a full tour of Titus Wilson printers by David, and he revealed the full printing process from the raw materials to the finished book. This led to the discovery of Alfred Wainwright’s 50th Anniversary guidebook printing materials. This series of books were the last to be printed in Kendal, in 2005 after which the printing eventually moved to China. I have since located more material, including the original Westmorland Gazette guidebook negatives. There are many fascinating stories behind all these historical items that have yet to made public.

Custodian for the Alfred Wainwright Printing Material

Months later, David and I were having lunch in Kendal, and I was showing him my latest haul of Wainwright memorabilia. He was taken aback by how serious I was and how far I had come. He paused for a moment, and then he hit me with it, “Chris, I have been thinking. You should be the custodian of all the existing Wainwright book printing material. I will be retiring in a few years, and I can’t think of anyone else with the same passion to pass this on to. This material has been stored here gathering dust for decades, but you are the only person who has ever come forward to show interest in it”.

As you can imagine, I was speechless. I didn’t expect anything like this. It was an honour to be chosen to take care of this historical Cumbrian printing material. No one at Titus Wilson really knew just how much original material existed. It was stored in the loft, amongst other printing material, that had been lying there for decades. The task of finding it all was not an easy one, there were no short cuts, I had to pull out and examine every piece of printing material that Titus Wilson had ever produced. It took me and my wife weeks to go through everything.

Chris Butterfield and Cumbria magazine

Historical Wainwright Archive

It is probably the biggest collection of Wainwright material in private hands, and it continues to grow weekly. I am still in the process of cataloguing everything. The material includes negatives, positives, artwork, blocking, dust jackets, cases, manuscripts, proofs, documentation and more. Together with my ever-growing book collection, they form an historical archive of Wainwright’s publishing history that I hope to keep in good order for years to come. Maybe in the future, there can be a way of displaying this work for the public to see.

In addition to a growing social media following, a website dedicated to Alfred Wainwright will be launching soon. I have written many articles for the national media, and I am the official Wainwright blogger on Julia Bradbury’s ‘The Outdoor Guide’ website. My work features in Terry Abraham’s upcoming ‘Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn’ film. This will be the finale to this award-winning series.

Through Wainwright’s writing, I discovered the natural beauty of both the Lake District and Yorkshire. From breathtaking fell top views of Cumbria to the lush green valleys of the Dales. If I can encourage just one person to discover Wainwright and the places he loved, then my work has been worthwhile.

You can find out more about Chris Butterfield and his ongoing Wainwright work on his Facebook page and group:

Alfred Wainwright Books and Memorablia

Alfred Wainwright Page

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