Alfred Wainwright, doyen of hill-walkers, was usually a solitary figure. His wife, Betty, undertook any car-driving duties, a job which, to her, involved much twiddling of the driving wheel, especially when she had driven, bonnet-first, into a field and, subsequently, had to turn the car to get out. Dr Bill Mitchell, of Giggleswick, recalls the occasions on which he and Wainwright met face to face

The photograph of Wainwright and his wife, Betty, which accompanies this article was taken in the yard at The Dalesman in the village of Clapham.

They had popped in to see me. Betty wandered off to explore the village. AW and I had a minute or two of silence. He never had much to say. In the life of AW the word taciturn had a capital T. For a while, we looked at each other with fixed expressions. He was round-faced, greyish-haired and bespectacled.

I suggested lunch at the Gamecock, Austwick. Betty drove us there, with the ample form of pipe-smoking AW spread across the back seat. He didn’t want anything to eat. Betty and I sat at one table and chatted. AW was at another table, in a reflective mood, being more interested in smoking a pipe than having a meal.

I had known Wainwright for some years and was among the first people to be aware of his new-style, well-illustrated Lakeland guide books. One otherwise dull afternoon, Harry Firth, head printer at Kendal, brought a packet into the Dalesman office – a single room in a double-fronted house – and invited me to open it. It was a hand-written, hand-drawn guide book to the Lake District which was to be printed as it was.

It turned out to be the prototype of a series that would be advertised in the magazine Cumbria and in due course would achieve widespread fame, especially when Wainwright walks were featured on the BBC. With Bob, Stan and Colin I would attain the summits of all the Lakeland peaks.

My first meeting with AW was in the early days of Wainwrightitis. I arranged to see him in his office at Kendal Town Hall – a vast office, shared with other workers dealing with financial matters. AW and I had a minute or two of silence. He had a Quaker touch, having much to think about and little to say. AW then opened one of the side drawers of his desk – and produced a Wainwright line-drawing of a northern fell. More silence. It was decided that he would jot down some thoughts and let me have them. They came into my hands a good many years later.

I have especially happy memories of visiting AW at his high-lying home on the northern side of Kendal. It was not a long meeting – they never were – but memorable. I was especially favoured by being allowed to stay in the house when the head printer arrived; he remained in the garden.

This was all a far cry from those early, solitary years of fell-wandering when the shy, somewhat awkward man who had become Borough Treasurer at Kendal, fell in love with the fells and travelled to them by bus. He did his best to avoid others, especially school parties – and in the evenings he would sit in an attic, a cat for company, and prepared drawings of the fells he had visited. A Lancashire man, he took time off to watch Coronation Street on the telly.

Wainwright became best known for his explorations in Lakeland and Scotland. In fact, some of his best work was done in Yorkshire. You have a hint of it if you visit Settle Railway Station to see a framed record of his walk, in the autumn of 1938, from Settle – to the Roman Wall. His overnight accommodation was in farmhouses or inns. He travelled light, remarking: “My small rucksack was in fact virtually empty and I could have managed quite well without it.”

One of my favourite discs is of a video record of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk which was made by four of us – Bob, Stan, Colin and myself. For me, there was an interlude at half time. I had to go into Airedale Hospital for a heart operation. The walk was resumed and at Robin Hoods Bay the high point of the tide licked our boots.

My photograph shows Betty and Alfred Wainwright at Clapham. Hunter Davies reveals in his biography that it was in Ribblesdale that Wainwright finally proposed to Betty. Not in so many words.

As Betty said: “We’d known each other, of course, without speaking about it.”

Betty returned to Limestone Craven, with Bob Swallow and myself, after I had written up, in 1991, my research into Elgar’s association with the Dales. We three were the first to walk what I had called the Elgar Way. During the walk there were, of course, frequent references to Alfred Wainwright, the master fell-walker. Hunter Davies noted: “Perhaps with more encouragement in his earlier days, AW might have written more general non-fiction, maybe even a novel, and emerged as another JB Priestley.