They are mountains, they are hills, they are fells. They are the backdrop to the Lakes that make the Lake District such a special place. They have been captured by artists for centuries, and walked over, hiked over, for just as long. And a very precise bundle of them are Wainwrights.
It’s an expression that’s come into common parlance, when there’s so much talk of “doing the Wainwrights”, whether sedately over many years, or in a blistering record-breaking pace of less than six days. But it can also be a mystery to our new friends, to the visitors to the Lake District who are here for the first time and who are, right now, while you’re reading this, gasping in wonder at the loveliness of it all.
Alfred Wainwright was an accountant by profession and a fell-wanderer by choice who catalogued his walks and created a list of 214 fell tops, describing in detail the various routes to the summits of them all in seven meticulously hand-written and hand-drawn guidebooks.
The big boys are there of course, Scafell Pike and Scafell and Helvellyn and Skiddaw, along with our local treasures like Loughrigg and Helm Crag, and the far-flung and much-maligned Binsey. It’s an arbitrary list; Bill Birkett subsequently catalogued 541 summits over 1000 ft, all within the boundary of the Lake District National Park. There are 541 Birketts, which include 209 of the 214 Wainwrights, and they, too, are ticked-off by peak baggers.
Numbers are attractive to hill-walkers. As a mathematician friend of ours once said, as soon as you structure something so that people can make progress along various dimensions, that is exactly what they will want to do. So that’s why Graham Uney, mountain guide and one-time fell-top weather assessor is about to complete six rounds of all the Wainwrights (just as his book about them is published). And it’s why Langdale vet Sabrina Verjee wanted to run round them all as fast as possible to set a new record of five days, 23 hours and 49 minutes. She broke the previous record of six days and six hours, held by Paul Tierney for two years, largely by sleeping less.
But if that seems super-human, the Wainwrights are there to present a challenge to mere mortals as well, who tackle one or two at a time. And here’s our connection with them. The Wainwrights – fells, mountains, hills – have been the subjects of paintings by our family of artists for many generations.
For example, there’s Helm Crag, painted by William Heaton Cooper in Grasmere after sunset. Here’s the Langdale Pikes – Harrison Stickle, Pike o’ Stickle, Loft Crag, by William in Blea Tarn. Also by William, the mighty Blencathra as seen from Armboth fell. Alfred Heaton Cooper, his father, my great grandfather, painted the Old Man of Coniston from How Head across the lake. And here’s his view of the majestic Great Gable, from Wasdale.
Their view of the hills was just as personal and subjective as yours will be. But they, and other artists, were painting these hills long before Wainwright came along.
We have many of them here in the gallery, original paintings and framed prints and cards, for you to see, to buy, and to connect with your own memories of days out on the fells, and we will be very happy to see you here.
PS: Our wonderful Mathilde’s café is next door so you can have art and coffee and cake all under one roof.
Becky Heaton Cooper