Outdoor Focus Autumn 2017 - Page 3

Walt Unsworth 1928-2017 W Roly Smith leads the tributes to an inspirational guiding light alt Unsworth, who has died after a short illness at the age of 88, could justly be regarded as the father fi gure of British outdoor writing. He founded the respected Cicerone Press with his climbing friends Brian and Aileen Evans exactly 50 years ago this year. Frustrated at the price of practical climbing guides to the Lake District, they got together to produce their fi rst independent guide, which sold for eight shillings (40p), 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. He was born at Ardwick, Manchester and educated at Abram, near Wigan, where he fi rst met his wife, Dorothy. Walt 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 young tigers, such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans, for whom the “bob-a-night” (5p) Wall End Barn in Langdale almost became their second home. After conscription and service in the Army, Walt was off ered an assisted place at Chester Teacher Training College and his fi rst 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 fi rst and abiding interest was always climbing and the outdoors, and he introduced many of his pupils to the hills, many of whom, like Eric Price of Worsley, still used to visit h im in later life. While at Birch Road he also introduced one of the fi rst 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 fi rst ascents. His English Outcrops (Gollancz, 1964), illustrated by John Cleare, was described as “one of the seminal books of post-war climbing.” Walt eventually became editor of Climber (later Climber and Rambler) magazine, where he was known by his staff as ‘Uncle Walt’, 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 one of the founder members of the Outdoor Writers’ Guild – now the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild – in 1980, and later became its fi rst 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 fi rst opportunity to be published, and he was always fi ercely supportive of them. Walt had published twenty elegantly-written books of his own, including Portrait of the River Derwent (Robert Hale, 1971); the groundbreaking Encyclopaedia of Mountaineering (Robert Hale, 1975), and his defi nitive histories of Everest and Mont Blanc. As a former teacher, he was justly proud of the fact that his trilogy of childrens’ 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 won the ITAS Prize for Mountain Literature at the Trento Festival in 1992 for his Everest book, 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. 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 fi ve grandchildren and two great granddaughters. In later years, he delighted in running the annual Milnthorpe Art Exhibition from Harmony Hall, his elegant Georgian home, for the Milnthorpe Men’s Forum, raising thousands of pounds for local artists and charities. Walt’s quietly-spoken, sometimes gruff , Lancashire burr always communicated good, no-nonsense, northern common sense, and he was enormously supportive of me when I became chairman of the Guild in 1990. He was the mentor and guiding light to so many prospective outdoor writers, and will be sadly missed by the entire outdoor community. His advice to would-be outdoor writers, expressed in an interview with Stephen Neale last year, was: “Don’t miss anything. Keep your ears open and pick up something that no one else is thinking about and see what you can do with it, and you may succeed.” autumn 2017 | Outdoor focus 3