Guidebooks are for timid hikers: those who like to have their hands held as they walk. Phrases like ‘Turn left at the third daffodil’ or ‘Cross the field towards the lone tree in the middle before bearing right to the stile opposite’ lull the reader into a false sense of security. That’s not exploring the great open countryside; that’s being chauffeur-driven. In any case, Sod’s Law says that the day the book is published is the day that lone tree is struck by lightning and turned to cinders.
Rumour has it that farmers buy a lot of hiking guidebooks and then go out and swap all the wooden gates on their land for metal ones, just to confuse the reader. Either that, or they sell the field to a property developer who then builds a housing estate on it. Whatever the case, to be effective, it’s imperative that the bluffer uses only the guidebooks dedicated hikers keep in their rucksacks. These are the Wainwright Pictorial Guides.
White Mountain Hiking Map Photo Gallery
Alfred Wainwright is revered as the patron saint of hikers. His hand-drawn guides were produced in the 1950s and 1960s and subsequently updated (even they have not escaped the march of time and the subsequent erosion of sheep pens and stone walls).
What establishes Wainwright above every other guidebook writer is that he doesn’t tell you by which route to climb a hill; he tells you of several, then lets you decide which one to take. When you’ve made that decision, he takes the opportunity to describe what the experience is like, to marvel at the views, to wonder at the cragginess of the rocks and the sounds of the water gurgling between the rocks. These are the comments of a true hiker.
Bluffers cannot go wrong if overheard uttering a few choice Wainwright phrases. His most famous quote relates to Innominate Tarn on his favourite Lakeland ascent, Haystacks. It was there that he wanted his ashes to be scattered:
‘And if you, dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me.’
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