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Big Interview - A H Griffin

A H Griffin brought the beauty of the Lakes alive in newspaper columns for more than 50 years. Now his Evening Post features are to be remembered in a book illustrated by famed fells guide and fellow MBE Alfred Wainwright. Peter richardson reports.

It is November 1956 and AH Griffin settles into his Tuesday routine at home in the shadow of the Lakeland Fells.

The pipe is lit and the tapestry of golden prose in his mind begins to see the light of day as his trusty typewriter rattles into life.

"How many of you, I wonder, noticed the view across Windermere from near Low Wood on Sunday morning?" he begins.

"The distant rock turrets above Langdale glinted and sparkled as if on fire and the long summit of Wetherlam, below a blue sky chased with orange clouds, looked hardly a fraction of its six miles away."

Now it's 1959 and Griffin's weekly deadline is looming as it would during two more decades: "On a wet October afternoon, with the clouds almost down to the fields and the leaves swirling about in the puddles, it is pleasant to bring back memories of this most glorious Lakeland summer, the finest most of us can remember and one that may not be repeated for many, many years.

"The dying bracken was a glowing russet carpet and the fells were brown and grey when I was in the hills the other day, but my principal memory of this summer's wonderful views is how blue everything has been - the lakes, the hills, the skies and the shadows."

Forty miles due south in Preston, the team who assembled the Lancashire Evening Post could rest easy. Another Griffin gem was in the bag.

AH 'Harry' Griffin, was the LEP's man in Kendal where his job was to report the news from Lakeland, the Cumbrian jewel which doubles as Lancashire's favourite playground.

But older readers will remember him mostly for Leaves from a Lakeland Notebook, the beautifully crafted labour of love which appeared each Friday for almost 30 years, as well as for Mountain High and The View from Harry Griffin, the regular features he continued to contribute after his official retirement in 1976.

Nationally he created a record for the Guardian newspaper by writing an unbroken series of Country Diary pieces for 53 years, almost right up to his death in 2004, aged 93.

Now a book containing a selection of his Evening Post columns is about to be published. That, of course, is reason in itself to buy a copy, but if you sense a little bias creeping into the picture from the people who employed Harry Griffin, be further persuaded by this:

Not only is The High Places a compendium of fine work from one of the region's most respected journalists, it is illustrated throughout by the sketches of Alfred Wainwright, the acclaimed Lake District and Coast-to-Coast chronicler.

That's some double act.

The pair were contemporaries who first met in 1948. Both were awarded the MBE.

High Places editor Peter Hardy reveals: "For a number of years Wainwright would be seen each weekend, standing at the bus stop outside the Griffin family home on Windermere Road in Kendal, waiting to catch a bus to take him off to whichever fell he was currently researching..."

Harry's first experience of climbing came as a teenager when he cycled from his home in Barrow to scale Coniston Old Man. In the years to come he would climb in Scotland, the Alps, the Himalayas and the Canadian Rockies. He was also one of the founding members of the Coniston Tigers, a climbing club.

His career took him from the Barrow Guardian to the Evening Post and the Daily Mail before he fought the War under Lord Mountbatten, seeing service in Burma and attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Later, after being demobbed and hearing that his old paper was offering a new position in Kendal, he turned up for the interview in full military uniform and duly got the job, moving his wife and young family back to the area he loved.

The uniform served to accentuate the Griffin way.

His daughter Sandra Parr, a resident of Vancouver who has returned to her old haunts every year since 1969, recalls the disciplinarian: "I remember being dragged up mountains from a very early age and God help my brother and I if we weren't ready and on parade for our days out," she says.

"I remember being cold, wet and miserable but our father didn't care about that. He was more interested in us remembering the name of the mountain or the crag and we were tested when we got home!"

Sandra remembers seeing Wainwright at the bus stop on what was the main road into the Lakes at that time: "I often saw him from my father's study which had a large bay window," she recalls, ''but we would have to get out of the way when he started writing.He emerged for food or to tell us off about something but other than on our outings, I don't recall seeing too much of him, as he was always out covering a story or bashing away on his typewriter.

"I think he found children a bit difficult...a 'seen but not heard' sort of thing."

Not surprisingly, then, Harry, who wrote Leaves from Lakeland Notebook until 1976, was sometimes prickly in print. As early as 1948, he was questioning the impact of tourism...

"I've never been fond of Bowder Stone, or rather its associations. The actual stone itself does not offend, but the ladder up its side, the visitors' book and the pen at its foot; the picture postcards at the cottage nearby and the tourists who are more interested in its mere bulk than in the magnficent view from the top, remind me rather of a Blackpool peepshow.

"In my view, the less of this sort of thing in Lakeland, the better."

Overwhelmingly, though, he was a champion of its unsurpassed beauty.

In the words of book editor Hardy: "What is apparent from Harry Griffin's writing is that he loved the Lake District with an absolute passion. This comes across when he writes about his days spent in the mountains, whether clambering on Pillar Rock or walking over Fairfield with his border collie, skating on Tarn Hows at Christmas or swimming in cool, hidden tarns after a day of rock climbing in the oppressive heat of summer."

 
 
 

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