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by Hunter Davies
Frances Lincoln ISBN 0 7112 2463 3
Hunter Davies must be a very brave man. To pick out seventeen fells from the 214 listed in AW's seven Pictorial Guides and call them 'The Best of' could either be classed as brave or as foolhardy; whichever, the choice is open to fierce argument. But Hunter is clever enough to accept this and early on in the book (on page 3) he says: 'Many Wainwright disciples who have read every book, climbed every mountain, memorised every word, will doubtless have their own totally different favourites.'
So what does this new book contain? As mentioned, there seventeen fells from the Pictorial Guides plus one from The Outlying Fells which is, inevitably Orrest Head. This is the smallest fell in the book, but it is of course 'where we came in' – i.e. AW's introduction to the Lake District in 1930. The ascent of this fell by AW was the catalyst of everything that followed.
Hunter is very organised in his layout of the book. Starting with Orrest Head, he then includes three fells from Eastern Fells, two from Far Eastern, two from Central, three from Southern, two from Northern, two from North Western and three from Western, the last of which is Haystacks, AW's final resting place and which he described as 'the best fell top of all'. All six of AW's best fells which he listed at the end of Book 7 are there; Scafell Pike, Bowfell, Pillar, Great Gable, Blencathra and Crinkle Crags.
Before each of the 18 chapters – which contains the whole of each fell taken from the respective Pictorial Guide – Hunter includes a 2- or 3-page introduction, not just about the fell itself, but also including details of AW's life, his attention to detail and layout of the books, his loathing of the Forestry Commission in respect of Ennerdale and, finally, the scattering of his ashes on Haystacks.
Some of Hunter's choices cannot be faulted, particularly AW's six favourites, but others may be questioned and no doubt will be well debated in the local pubs by his devoted followers. Personally I would argue against his choice of Hallin Fell in the Far Eastern Fells section. I would have picked Place Fell myself, mainly because of the return walk from Sandwick to Side Farm at Patterdale, which AW described as 'the most beautiful and rewarding walk in Lakeland'. But this is conjecture. What are 'the best'? Everyone will have their favourites and Place Fell is one of mine as it has happy memories of camping at Patterdale.
At 376 pages long, The Best of Wainwright
is the same size as and similar in length to the Pictorial Guides fitting snugly alongside them and will no doubt help to introduce a new generation to these masterpieces of literature and art which Hunter describes as 'the best work AW ever did'. That certainly is one comment that nobody will contradict.
reviewed by John Burland - Member No. 2