The autumn 2017 OWPG Media Bulletin can now be viewed online (not suitable for Android or iOS devices) or downloaded as a PDF. If you are an editor or publisher and want to know something about somewhere or you want somebody to go somewhere, then the chances are that someone from the OWPG is there already, has just come back or is about to set off. Take a look and see if one of them can help with your editorial requirements…
In this issue of Outdoor Focus, you’ll find tributes to Walt Unsworth and Nick Channer, two prolific writers and steadfast champions of the outdoors who have sadly passed away. You can also read about the The Man from Alaska and his friendship with Kev Reynolds; Andrew White talks about Walks around Britain and the challenges and joys of making a TV series; and Ronald Turnbull celebrates the Lake District and its World Heritage status.
Destiny decreed that Nick would write about the history of the countryside and intriguing houses. He was born at Home Farm Cottage in the grounds of Elstree boys school at Woolhampton, Berkshire, where his father was a teacher and his mother the assistant matron.
The school, an old Georgian manor house surrounded by parkland, almost certainly kindled Nick’s love of walking and the countryside; it belonged to a former age and, surely, was the inspiration for his life’s work. Beautiful countryside and intriguing waterways lay beyond the school gates, as well as places like Mapledurham, featured in Nick’s book Writers’ Houses.
Nick was an only child, and as a youngster he spent hours at an old typewriter, creating his own stories from the programme synopses in Radio Times. Visits to his cousins in Wolverhampton gave him the opportunity to tour Pebble Mill studios, leading to a lifetime fascination with the place.
The family moved to Thatcham, near Newbury, when Nick started at secondary school. Then, after leaving school, he had a couple of office jobs before finding work with an estate agent and writing in his spare time. Later, inspired by Sunday walks with his old school friend Ian Knapp, Nick began writing local walking guides for Countryside Books in Newbury.
Nick steadily broadened his repertoire, and retraced fictional journeys such as Richard Hannay’s possible route across Scotland in The Thirty-Nine Steps. He branched out on several overseas forays, covering topics as varied as the D-Day landings and Sherlock Holmes’ fateful trip to Switzerland. He wrote regularly for the AA Pub Guide and the Reading Chronicle, and contributed to broadcasts on national and local radio.
Besides writing over 50 books, Nick wrote extensively for newspapers and magazines including The Daily Telegraph, Country Walking and Country Life. Meanwhile,The Guardian featured extracts from his magnum opus Writers’ Houses, with its foreword by Julian Fellowes. He travelled widely, talking about his books to clubs and societies like the WI.
Yet Nick rarely talked about himself, and remained to the end a very private man. But, says OWPG’s vice-president Roly Smith, “Nick was a loyal member of the Guild committee for many years, and also acted as the Guild’s archivist. He was a gentle, quiet and very kind man, who was always good company on our many excursions together. Well read, he was an accomplished writer and meticulous in his research.”
True to his character, Nick coped with terminal illness by not talking about it. Eventually, in May, he had confided in his cousin Anne that he was being treated for cancer, but his death in July came as a massive shock to us all.
Nick will be greatly missed by all who knew him, but his legacy lives on in his writing.
Based on an original tribute by Anne Hastings
The summer 2017 OWPG Media Bulletin can now be viewed online (not suitable for Android or iOS devices) or downloaded as a PDF. If you are an editor or publisher and want to know something about somewhere or you want somebody to go somewhere, then the chances are that someone from the OWPG is there already, has just come back or is about to set off. Take a look and see if one of them can help with your editorial requirements…
Walt Unsworth, who has died after a short illness at the age of 88, could justly be regarded as the father figure of British outdoor writing. He founded the respected Cicerone Press with his climbing friend Brian Evans exactly 50 years ago this year. Frustrated at the lack of practical climbing guides to the Lake District, they got together to produce their first independent guide in 1967. Together they made an ideal team, with Walt as the writer and Brian as the artist, designer and printer. The guide sold well, and the proceeds of each new book went into the production of the subsequent one.
Walt was born at Ardwick, Manchester and educated at Abram, near Wigan, where he first met his wife, Dorothy. He began fellwalking in the Lake District as a youth during the Second World War. Rock climbing was a natural progression, and during the 1950s, he was one of many other young tigers, such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans, for whom the “bob-a-night” (5p) Wall End Barn in Langdale became almost their second home. After conscription and service in the Army, Walt was offered an assisted place at Chester Teacher Training College and his first teaching job took him to as a science teacher to Wolverhampton. Later he became Head of Physics at Birch Road Secondary Modern School at Walkden, Manchester.
But his first and abiding interest was always climbing and the outdoors, and he introduced many of his pupils to the hills. While at Birch Road he also introduced one of the first Duke of Edinburgh Schemes, a fact recognised by a visit from the Duke himself. He eventually achieved his ambition of becoming a full-time writer, specialising in walking, climbing and travel. He wrote several climbing guides himself, notably to Anglezarke Quarry, near Horwich, where he made many first ascents. His English Outcrops (Gollancz, 1964) was described as “one of the seminal books of post-war climbing.” He eventually became editor of Climber (later Climber and Rambler) magazine on the recommendation of Chris Brasher in 1962. As editorial adviser to the publisher, Holmes McDougall, he also named and helped launch the revamped magazine as The Great Outdoors (now TGO).
He was also a founder member of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild – now the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild – in 1980, and later became its first president. Cicerone Press produced over 250 well-respected guides “for walkers and climbers, written and produced by walkers and climbers” under his leadership. Walt gave many Guild members their first opportunity to be published, and he was always fiercely supportive of them.
Tom Waghorn, outdoor journalist and a friend for over 40 years, said of Walt: “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, commented: “Walt was both my mentor and my friend. When I did my first book for him – Walks and Climbs in the Pyrenees 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.”
Among Walt’s many publications were Portrait of the River Derwent (Robert Hale, 1971); Encyclopaedia of Mountaineering (Robert Hale, 1975), and his definitive history of Everest, first published by Allen Lane in 1981. As a former teacher, he was justly proud of the fact that his trilogy of children’s books based in the Peak District during the Industrial Revolution – The Devil’s Mill, Whistling Clough and Grimsdyke (Gollancz, 1968-70) – became recommended reading as part of the National Curriculum. Walt’s Everest won the ITAS Prize for Mountain Literature at the Trento Festival in 1992, and he was awarded the OWPG’s Golden Eagle Award in 1996.
As a travel writer, Walt and his wife Dot visited many countries around the world, either privately or as a guest of tourist boards or travel companies, and he wrote up his trips for many national newspapers. The couple married in 1952 and had two children; Gail, a retired radiologist and now garden plant specialist, and Duncan, a former BBC cameraman and photographer. Walt had five grandchildren and one great granddaughter. In later years, he delighted in running the annual Milnthorpe Art Festival from Harmony Hall, his elegant Georgian home, raising thousands of pounds for local artists and charities.
Walt’s quietly-spoken Lancashire burr always communicated good, no-nonsense, northern common sense, and he was immensely supportive of me when I became chairman of the Guild in 1990. He was the mentor and guiding light to many prospective outdoor writers, and will be sadly missed by the entire outdoor community.
pen portrait by Mark Richards
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In this issue of Outdoor Focus, Kev Reynolds describes a teacher who inspired his love of nature; Laurence Main discusses the ‘Mother of the Isles’ and the role she plays in his life; and, in the Gallery, three people who inspired three OWPG photographers to pause and make a photo.
The Mountain Heritage Trust (MHT) officially opened its new premises at the stunning Blencathra Field Studies Centre on Friday 24 March 2017, saving many famous items – such as items of mountaineering kit used by OWPG’s very own president Sir Chris Bonington – from a dusty end. All thanks to a donation from the British Mountaineering Council (BMC).
The MHT, whose patron is OWPG President Sir Chris Bonington, aims to document Britain’s vibrant climbing and mountaineering history and encourages access to its own collections, provides curatorial support, sources artefacts for new exhibitions and sets up gallery exhibitions. The current collection includes many other items from famous mountaineers as well as those from Sir Chris Bonington.
The MHT already receives £30k per year from the BMC to help with its running costs; and the BMC were delighted to be able to contribute a further £25,000 (via a legacy donation) to help the MHT move from Penrith to Blencathra.
The Blencathra Centre will now be the main location for their collection of mountaineering history items in the UK. Sharing the site with the Field Studies Council, it will offer exciting new opportunities to bring mountain heritage alive to young people who visit the centre.
Sir Chris Bonington, OWPG President and patron of the Mountain Heritage Trust, says: “I am delighted with the Mountain Heritage Trust’s move to the Blencathra Field Studies Centre. It is the perfect home for the Mountain Heritage Trust, in a wonderful mountain environment.”
The spring 2017 OWPG Media Bulletin can now be viewed online (not suitable for Android or iOS devices) or downloaded as a PDF. If you are an editor or publisher and want to know something about somewhere or you want somebody to go somewhere, then the chances are that someone from the OWPG is there already, has just come back or is about to set off. Take a look and see if one of them can help with your editorial requirements…
Do you ever stop to think about what outdoor equipment you really wouldn’t leave home without? Three OWPG members recently did and you can find out what they chose in the latest edition of Outdoor Focus.
Cumbria Magazine has published a seventieth anniversary commemorative issue, which includes a facsimile of the very first issue of the magazine, published in March 1947. For further information and to obtain a copy please contact Dalesman Publishing t: 01756 701381 www.dalesman.co.uk