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Walt Unsworth

june 20, 2017 09:58pm

0617Rogues gallery Walt Unsworth.jpg

Yesterday I joined a small band of admirers of Walt Unsworth founder of Cicerone Press who sadly died last week at the age of 88. I am spurred to include the following eulogy written by my great chum Roly Smith which summed up what I and many others who write about our precious wild and and mountainous places felt about dear Walt. 

Walt Unsworth Memorial Service

St Thomas’s Church, Milnthorpe. Monday, June 19, 2017

I first met Walt in the early 1980s when he was with Dot on the Cicerone stand at the fondly-remembered Camping and Outdoor Leisure (or COLA) Show in the hallowed halls of Harrogate. So he had been a close friend and valued colleague for nearly 40 years.

When I was first elected chairman of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild in 1990, Walt, as one of the “Magnificent Seven” founding fathers, was tremendously supportive, and always there with a wise word of advice or warning before I embarked on yet another hare-brained scheme.

I valued his good, no-nonsense, northern common sense, imparted in that warm, quietly-spoken Lancashire burr. “You don’t want to do that, lad,” he’d say. “We tried it before and it didn’t work.”

Such was his authority and influence I think it’s no exaggeration to describe him – as I have elsewhere – as the father of British outdoor writing. When he and his good friends Brian and Aileen Evans produced their first Cicerone climbing guide to the Lake District exactly 50 years ago this year, they created an imprint which quickly became the gold standard and benchmark for others. There will be few people here today who don’t own a Cicerone guide.

Their unique selling point, as they claimed, was that their guides were “for walkers and climbers, written and produced by walkers and climbers.”

Under his benign leadership, Cicerone Press produced over 250 highly-regarded guides, and through this and his editorship of Climber then Climber & Rambler where he was known as ‘Uncle Walt’ – he was responsible for giving many Guild members their first chance to be published.

I asked a few members, many of whom I’m pleased to see here today, for their memories of Walt. These are just of few of their responses:-

Sir Chris Bonington, current OWPG president, commented: “I’ve known Walt for over 50 years. Always kind and thoughtful, he has achieved and contributed so much to our knowledge and understanding of the climbing scene and life, as a magazine editor, as a writer, particularly with his definitive history of Everest, and as a publisher. We owe him a huge amount for what he has done for our sport and will miss him as a wise and very good friend.”

Tom Waghorn, outdoor journalist and a friend for over 40 years, said: “He had a tremendous ability to discover talent, and as a canny businessman, he knew how to spot a gap in the market.”

Kev Reynolds, who wrote more than 20 guides for Cicerone, said: “Walt was both my mentor and my friend. When I did my first book for him in 1978, I had no idea that I would be able to make a living at it, but Walt encouraged me at every step.”

Mark Richards, another of Walt’s protégées, said: “He was my guiding light – the man who gave me a start and encouraged my creativity. I’ll always be grateful to him.”

Paddy Dillon, who has written 70 books for Cicerone, recalled: “He always gave me his time and encouragement, while I was content to absorb whatever morsels of wisdom I could.”

Terry Marsh, secretary of the Guild for many years, said: “Walt was a man of considerable intellect, blended with kind humanity and a passion for the outdoors. He was a great inspiration, and the first publisher ever to ask me to write a guidebook.”

Among Walt’s 20-odd own elegantly-written books were Portrait of the River Derwent (still one of my favourite Peak District books); Encyclopaedia of Mountaineering, and his definitive histories of both Everest and Mont Blanc. As a former teacher, he was justly proud when his trilogy of childrens’ books set in the Peak District during the Industrial Revolution – The Devil’s Mill, Whistling Clough and Grimsdyke – became recommended reading as part of the National Curriculum.

Walt won the ITAS Prize for Mountain Literature for his Everest book at the Trento Festival in 1992, and I was honoured to present him with the OWPG’s prestigious Golden Eagle Award for distinguished service to the outdoors in 1996. Never has the award been so richly deserved.

He and Dot travelled the world in his distinguished career as a travel writer, and he claimed to be the first Brit to walk the 28-mile trail into and out of the Grand Canyon in Arizona in a single day.

The word cicerone comes from the Latin for “a person who explains the curiosities of a place to visitors.” It originates from the Roman statesman and writer, Cicero, who was renowned for his eloquence and learning, and later it came to refer to people who serve as mentors or tutors to others.

Walt Unsworth certainly fulfilled that role in the world of British outdoor writing, and his books have faithfully guided walkers and climbers all round the world. This Cumbrian Cicero will be sadly missed by the entire outdoor community, to which he contributed so much for half a century.

Rest in peace, old chum, and thanks for everything.

 

Hadrian's Wall needs protection from feet

june 04, 2017 11:14pm

0617David Breeze.jpg

I created Hadrian's High Way (www.hadrianshighway.co.uk) in an attempt to deflect some of the constant pressure of feet on the primary linear monument identified as the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site: Hadrian's Wall. Pressure caused, not only by the creation of Hadrian's Wall National Trail, but the incessant unmodulated and high-profile marketing of Hadrian's Wall Country. At the launch of my guide this last Wednesday David Breeze kindly offerred his support and reflected on his own exploration of the monument when he revised the latest edition of the Handbook to the Roman Wall (first published in 1863). You can see him holding my first guide The Wall Walk published in 1993 which he used as a reference at that time.

 

Hadrian's High Way

june 03, 2017 03:57pm

0617Launch with Pete.jpg

On 31st May we launched Hadrian's High Way at Brougham Hall, along with Great Lakes Connection and Castles of Eden PathMaster Guides. I was delighted to share the occasion with Peter Savin who accompanied me on the research walk last autumn. This coming Friday 9th June I will be speaking about the new trail in the Adventure Tipi at 11am during the Keswick Mountain Festival. Roll up, roll up... step right this way, a spendid time is gauranteed for all.

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Mark Richards
 
 

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