Outdoor Diary


Mark Richards Walking Blog

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august 26, 2017 11:01am

More than four years after my eight volume LAKELAND FELLRANGER series was completed - following many years devotional walking research and detailed graphic and writing record - change is about to come to my great CICERONE work. Plans are now in place to re-structure the series to make it far more user-friendly and meet the needs of the modern fell adventurer. Far more than a cosmetic name-change, the eight volumes will cover subtly different tracts of fell and be re-designed to fit the smaller standard Cicerone size. Orientated to the valley approaches, importantly the new guides will be more practical to use on the fell. Walkers come in all shapes and sizes of ability and ambition and the series needs to offer a bedrock of sound advice. The new volumes subtitles will be: WASDALE, BUTTERMERE, BORROWDALE, LANGDALE, BASSENTHWAITE, CONISTON, PATTERDALE and KENTMERE.


Emperor Hadrian

august 26, 2017 10:36am

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On the 11th August I had the great pleasure of sharing a platform at the Hedley Centre in Vindolanda with David Breeze and Dr Mike Bishop to talk about Hadrian on the very anniversary day 1900 years ago when he became emperor. David specifically outlined the life of the emperor whose name is indelibly and enduring linked to the great frontier Wall. He also spoke about the incremental designation by UNESCO of the frontier through Europe the Middle East and North Africa as a World Heritage Site. I, in turn, spoke about my new walking route from the Cumbrian coastal village of Ravenglass following Roman roads across Cumbria and into Northumberland linking ten Roman forts to reach Vindolanda - namely Hadrian's High Way. I also touched on my proposition that both Hadrian's Wall Path and Hadrian's High Way could legitimately be termed Peace Trails in keeping with the founding principles of World Heritage Site designation. If we are to sustain physical history for the future it needs to have relevence to the man in the street, by making such landscape journeys a down to earth metaphor we may achieve it.


Walt Unsworth

june 20, 2017 09:58pm

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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.

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Mark Richards

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