Guide books from the past are worth exploring...

Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at books on walking from yesteryear.

Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 3:46 pm
Updated Saturday, 23rd October 2021, 3:48 pm
Many pre-1960 guidebooks can still be picked up for a few pounds, and prove enthralling reads
Many pre-1960 guidebooks can still be picked up for a few pounds, and prove enthralling reads

Half-term is approaching, and we’ve all got used to staying a bit more local for our holidays this year.

It’s nice to explore what Britain has to offer, and until the internet and smartphones, that meant the good old printed guidebook.

Guidebooks are a fascinating field of discovery, because each one is a little time machine, describing sights, society, methods of travel and indeed manners that often no longer exist.

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The first book in English generally agreed to fit the criteria of ‘guidebook’ is Sir John Mandeville’s Travels, published in 1356, even though his reports were critiqued by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as: “not to be trusted even when he is telling the truth”!

The holidaymaking boom really took off in the Victorian era, when the new railways made travel possible for a large section of the population.

Many vintage and some antique guidebooks can still be picked up for a few pounds, and prove enthralling reads.

The most well-known Victorian guide book writer is George Bradshaw, who published a series of railway timetables and travel guide books starting in 1839.

Original Bradshaws can fetch from a few pounds to several hundred, depending on edition, age, and condition.

Many people collect guidebooks about the area they live or regularly holiday in. These guides to Grange Over Sands are from a selection in the centre, and contain many charming descriptions and pictures. Sadly they do not retain their original cover price- one shilling- but start at a still-reasonable £5.

For those of us living close to the Lake District, surely our hero must be Alfred Wainwright, author of the classic seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells (1955–66).

Beautifully typeset in Wainwright’s own handwriting, and illustrated by the author, these detail walks to the 213 fells within the Lake District National Park over 1,000 feet in height (plus one extra, the diminutive Castle Crag).

Selling over two million copies of the Pictorial Guides since their publication, the guides have done more to publicise the Lake District as a walking destination than any other guide, and created the sport of ‘Wainwright-bagging’: summiting all the peaks listed.

Early editions are of course more valuable, running to several hundred pounds at least.

Notoriously shy, Wainwright avoided publicity and attention wherever possible. A signed Wainwright? That really would be a treasure worth bagging!