Alfred Wainwright

Alfred Wainwright

Alfred Wainwright’s early years come under scrutiny on the airwaves with two programmes about the curmudgeonly fellwalker.

This evening, Eric Robson, chairman of the Wainwright Society, presents BBC Radio 4’s The Man Behind the Mountains.

Journalist Robson, who from time to time attempted to drag on-screen conversation from a less-than-verbose Wainwright, is set to re-evaluate the writer’s reputation.

The BBC said: “It is 80 years since Wainwright first visited the Lake District. For a boy brought up among mill chimneys, noisy factories and dirty canals it was a magical revelation; love at first sight. He would go on to write more than 40 guidebooks and encourage millions to follow in his footsteps.
“Wainwright was a recluse; on the surface curmudgeonly and intolerant. The mysteries and rumours that surrounded this elusive character added to the personality cult that made his Pictorial Guides to the Fells international best-sellers.”

The programme analyses the Blackburn-born fellwalker’s influence on modern-day mountain walking.

“Before Wainwright, most people would stand in the bottom of a valley and say they could not reach the top,” the programme makers said.  “Then they would see his way of dissecting mountains, for Wainwright is every bit as clever as the man who invented the London Underground map. He took a mountain, he filleted it, turned it into a two-dimensional image and made it more understandable.”

Robson, who remained a friend of Wainwright until his 1991 death, has an extensive personal collection of archive material of Wainwright in conversation which reveals an unfamiliar side to this complex character.

The programme will be broadcast this evening, Saturday, from 8 to 9pm.

And on Monday, the first of a two-part television broadcast will follow Wainwright Society member and radio DJ Stuart Maconie as he follows in Wainwright’s early steps along The Pennine Journey.

The recently revived route recreates the young Wainwright’s first long-distance foray, from Settle on the southern boundary of the Yorkshire Dales national park, up the Pennines to Hadrian’s Wall, and back again by a parallel route.

Maconie is joined by writer David Pitt, who produced a Wainwright-style updated guidebook of the route and who is using profits from the book sales to waymark the walk.

A Pennine Journey, written in 1938 by the Blackburn writer as the dark clouds of European conflict built across England, lay unpublished until for more than 50 years and, as well as painting a picture of pre-Second World War England, provides insight into the young Wainwright’s psyche.

The BBC Inside Out broadcasts, the first of which, on 18 October, will be followed by the second part on 25 October, will only be screened in the BBC North West area at 7.30pm. Sky viewers can also access the programmes on channel 978, but the programme should be available on the BBC’s iPlayer from Tuesday 19 October.

The films include interviews with David Pitt, editor of the Pennine Journey guide, Ron Scholes, long-time friend of Alfred Wainwright and cartographer of the Pennine Journey guide, and also that man Eric Robson again, at various locations along the route of Wainwright’s walk.

Mr Pitt and fellow Wainwright Society members hope to have the route included as a long-distance trail on Ordnance Survey maps once the waymarking is of an adequate standard. The writer is currently negotiating with local authorities through which the Pennine Journey passes.

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