Robson answers YOUR questions about Alfred Wainwright

Eric Robson - friend of Wainwright and chairman of the Wainwright Society - gives us a great insight to the life and mind of AW.

Mr Robson has taken time to answer some of your best questions.

Take a look and tell us what you think on our Trail forum or our Country Walking forum

Click here to check out some great DVDs and books of Wainwright's favourite walks.


I give thanks to A.W for making my walks in Lakeland so much more enjoyable with those wonderful guides. Did A.W. ever acknowledge the debt he owed to his first wife publicly or in private to anyone? She kept his home, put his dinner on the table, brought up his son Peter - without her he may not have achieved those wonderful lakeland guides.
He did acknowledge his mistakes and regretted them deeply but it�s always dangerous for outsiders to make judgements about the relationships of other people.


We have Wainwright's glorious books to help us on our way, enabling us to name every significant peak and hillock,and strategically placed rowan tree. What map, or book or hearsay did he use to get around, and how did he come by all those wonderful names for places? Spurious i know, but what pipe tobacco did he prefer?
His initial study of the Lake District topography was with the help of Bartholomew maps. He eventually moved on to Ordnance Survey mapping and was always delighted when he found a mistake. He read widely and picked up many local names from his extensive library of Lakeland books. Three Nuns was his preferred puff.


I too am a great fan of the Lakeland guides. I wasn't always, it took me some time to appreciate their beauty and elegance. Obviously the Pictorial Guides were a vast all-consuming piece of work. In his later years could AW still get out and enjoy the Lakes uncluttered by a guide-book writer's view? And what did he pack in his rucksack for a day in the hills?
A.W. had a very uncluttered mind. Wherever he was he took time to let the sense of place settle in. In later years his trips into the mountains were journeys to visit old friends. His rucksack contained very little � a plastic mac and maybe a sandwich and a flask. Oh, also a spare box of dry matches for the ever present pipe.


I'd be very interested to know which part of the Lakes Wainwright enjoyed walking in the most, and his favourite mountain.
That�s a hard question. It depended on which bit of the Lakes he was studying at the time. Take your pick. Anything high, rocky and with a great view. He did, however, share a love of one smaller mountain with me. He particularly liked the �Mini Matterhorn� of Stickle Pike above the Duddon.


AW said on ocassion that he never intended to produce his Lake District guidebooks for publication. Being an avid fan of his guides and reading numerous books about the great man himself I suspect that he always intended to publish the guidebooks as an escape from his then current domestic situation and furthermore his own insecurites as an individual. Would you agree? Is this something you picked up on when you shared his company?
Wainwright often changed his mind. I�m always rather suspicious of the people who claim to know what was going on inside the great man�s head � for example the people who are certain he would have objected to a statue in his honour in Kendal. I don�t know what his view would have been but suspect he would have been really chuffed � even though he would have hated going to the unveiling. So far as the books are concerned he did, originally, conceive them as a private aide memoir, but very soon realised they were too good to grace just one set of bookshelves.


Did AW ever consider producing any guidebooks to other areas of the UK in such depth as he did of his beloved Lake District? Was he perhaps naive in his views of other landscapes? Always comparing them to the Lakes?
I think one lifetime�s work is probably enough for one lifetime. Having completed his labour of love in the Lake District he knew he wouldn�t be able to do any other area to the same standard, therefore didn�t try. He acknowledged the delights of Scotland and Wales in his mountain sketchbooks.


AW without a doubt has set a benchamark in many many ways on walking guidebooks. Furthermore, it is unlikely that anyone will ever exceed what AW achieved with his guidebooks to the Lakes. However, in this digital day and age do you suspect that as time goes by his guides will be forgotten? Will they be adapted to another means or use in technology?
I agree that his guides are the benchmark by which other guidebooks are measured which is a bit unfair because A.W.�s books are so much more than guidebooks. They�re little masterpieces of philosophy and poetry and cartography. As I�ve said on many occasions � any fool can write a guidebook. I�ve written guidebooks. Wainwright�s publishers have begun to embrace the new technologies. You can already buy Wainwright The Podcasts. I�m sure that his  (now revised) Pictorial Guides will eventually be available in cyberspace. A.W. would have harrumphed at the thought but anything that brings new generations of fell walkers to Wainwright�s pioneering environmental ideas is welcome.


Does Eric know whether AW was aware of how much the popularity of his books was contributing to the erosion of the fells (which, today, is exemplified by the Fix the Fells project), and what he thought about the irony of this situation?
I disagree that it�s Wainwright�s popularity that has been a prime cause of erosion of the fells. The huge increase in fell walking numbers is much more to do with the designer of the M6 than with Wainwright. The motorway brought the population of Lancashire within day-trip distance of the Lakeland mountains. If you follow A.W.�s advice and find your own routes across the mountains rather than slavishly following the herd you�ll find places where there�s scarcely a footpath.


Why was AW so against groups enjoying the beautiful landscapes?

Groups make noise. He loved silence broken only by the whisper of streams and mountain winds and the cries of the mountain birds.


What would AW make of today's outdoor clothing and equipment, in particular devices like GPS?
I think he might have been quite taken with GPS ( but would probably never have mastered using it) � practical he wasn�t. Wainwright in lycra and with walking poles doesn�t bear thinking about.


What was AW's favourite real ale at the time? And also, which did he consider to be the best Lakeland pub? He stayed at the Kirkstile Inn on more than one occassion and this is still one of the best if not the nest pub in Lakeland IMO

I don�t think he had a favourite ale or pub. The most he�d ever drink was a sipped-at half of the first thing he came to. Much preferred a cup of tea and a fish and chip shop.


Eric, what is your fondest memory of your time spent with Alfred? Was he difficult to interview due to being quite a private man? Did he ever give you anything or share anything with you that you keep private and are unwilling to share so as to keep your own unique piece of Wainwright history?
Favourite moment. During filming of the BBC series when he sat down by Innominate Tarn on a day of horrific weather when it had taken us hours to get from the Honister Quarry road. He had thought he�d never see the place again. Alive at any rate.
Yes he was difficult to interview because he always engaged his brain before opening his mouth and expected others to do the same.
Did he ever share a secret? Yes, he did and I�m not going to share it!


There's a link on the Wainwright Society homepage at the moment to an article in the Independent on Sunday, entitled. "Alfred Wainwright: Grumpy, reclusive and eccentric". These sorts of less than complimentary adjectives often crop up when people that did not know AW write articles. Having spent time with the man, what adjectives would you use to describe him?
People have always mixed up AW�s shyness with surliness. In reality he was a kind, gentle, generous and surprisingly poetic man (for an accountant).


Slightly off AW.....but is Mr Robson going to produce anymore Great Walks DVD's soon? His Wainwright Memorial Walk DVD is a favourite of mine
Don�t mind off-topic. Currently editing the new great walks DVD which is an exploration of the Coniston Range by Stuart Maconie from Radio 2.
The one after that which I�m about to shoot is a new (and quite tough) long distance walk called THE SAINTS AND SINNERS TRAIL from St Bees to Whithorn in South West Scotland.


I am intriqued by a few things regarding Wainwright that I would appreciate a bit of extra information on please if possible.
a) Wainwright's book "The Pennine Way Companion" is to my knowledge unique in that the author so clearly mentions his duistate for the subject on which he is writing. Wainwright so clearly mentions his dislike of the Pennine Way at the end of the book describing it in no less than a few pages!. He has disliked his particular journey so much that he mentions to the reader that they have no chance of ever meeting him on the Pennine Way. This surely must be evidence that Wainwright was not so concerned about publishing as if he had been so concerned he would not have been as negative as he was. Clearly, he had some trials on the Pennine Way, that it barely stoppped raining the whole way through was one. But, do you have any extra insight into Wainwright's view of this particular journey please?
b) Famously, Wainwright fell waist high into some bog and had to be extricated by some moors person (was it a game keeper?). My question is regarding the Pennine Way at that time, I know that Wainwright's journey occurred before the footpaths were created or upgraded so Bogland was a risk, but if there had not been anyone around, would Wainwright really not have been able to extricate himself?
c) I know that it has been mentioned somewhere that Wainwright, perhaps surprisingly, was not that sure-footed. That he was perhaps a little bit clumsy on his feet. I would like to know, what does that mean? Did it mean that he would slip on wet grass, that he was not that good a scrambler, that he would have to think constantly about his footsteps?
d) How did Wainwright view rock-climbers and did he never aspire to rock-climbing himself? I believe that for example he did not complete "Broad Stand".
You're right - he disliked the Pennine Way with a passion. He was also one of the most honest writers going. Just because a book was involved didn't mean he had to add a pretty gloss to the picture of interminable peat hags that he found along the way.
Wainwright in the peat bog. One thing AW certainly wasn't was light on his feet. He could probably have floundered his way out of the peat but it would have been a serious struggle. For him to ask assistance of a stranger ( with all the embarrassment that involved) shows just how serious the situation was.
AW's view of rock climbers was that they were either heroic or insane. Sometimes both. In the same wy that he could never work out why Percy Duff's motorbike didn't fall over on corners he could work out how the climbing fraternity defied the laws of gravity.