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Early morning light over Elterwater

Office to author via a tour of the Lake District

Lesley Williams
By Lesley Williams
10 minute read

In a reversal of her role, Cicerone marketing director Lesley Williams stepped out from behind her office desk and into the world of being an author for her guidebook, Tour of the Lake District

Cicerone authors have given various accounts of the effort involved in meeting the requirements of their publisher. There are many components that have to come together at different, and often precise, times for everything to work smoothly.

As marketing director, I have always been on the inside of Cicerone, looking at ways in which we can work with authors to help promote their books. As marketers we tend to see a book as a project, beginning with some carefully chosen text to help people discover the book, designing the book cover, and then looking at ways we can best make people aware of the book once it has been published.

What we don’t do is get involved with the actual making of the book, as that is the work of the editors and designers. So, although I am "inside" the business, as a new author there was much to learn about the other side of publishing!

The publisher’s job is to bring together a manuscript, maps, profiles, GPX files, photographs and all manner of tables and diagrams that an author has researched and written and drawn, in order to make all this material clearly presented, informative, logical and above all practical for the reader. But it all starts with the author…or does it?

research trips in Dunnerdale
One of many research trips in Dunnerdale

I stepped into the world of being an author when Jonathan and I spent much of the summer of 2019 researching new walking routes for a guidebook to the Zermatt and Saas-Fee valleys of the Valais canton in Switzerland. But I had another project for which I had put my hand up.

When reviewing a number of guidebooks that were in need of a major update, the Tour of the Lake District had caught my eye and imagination. The previous author did not want to continue to work on the book, but the idea of a long-distance walk around the best of the Lake District was irresistible, and I was determined to create the best route possible, based loosely on the original guidebook.

Detailed guidelines

Once an author receives a contract, they also receive some detailed guidelines – more like a bible of what to do, what not to do, and how to do it! These instructions are pretty vital, as it would otherwise be easy to go off for days on end researching routes only to discover that you had not recorded the right information.

Some things are obvious such as distances, times, heights etc, but I was blissfully unaware that everything else has to be set out in a particular order otherwise it breaks the system. Cicerone guides are organised within a digital structure that can then be transformed into both a fully designed printed book, as well as an ebook.

All the various elements of a book: introduction, details on how to use the guide, when to go, what the area is like and other aspects of general information are then followed by the detail for every walk, or in the case of a long-distance route, every stage of the route. Every element within that structure needs to follow in the right order too!

Mapping

Then there are the guidelines for producing maps to show the route. Some mapping needs to be prepared well in advance of the submission of the manuscript and other materials. This is certainly the case when bespoke mapping for an international guidebook is required.

Little Langdale
The first of four separate crossings to Little Langdale

I was lucky in that my book will use OS mapping, which is quicker to prepare and can be dealt with at the same time as all the other materials. Allied to mapping, it is highly desirable to record GPX tracks for everything that you walk, so that you can not only record distances, time and elevation at any particular point, but you can also refer back to all the statistics of the walk when you return to your desk, especially if something doesn’t quite add up, or make sense!

GPX files are also used to plot the route or routes for the mapping that will go into the book, so getting it right when recording the route is important. There were a few occasions when I had either momentarily forgotten to press start, or when I changed the preferred route at a later date and needed to revisit some areas several times before I was happy with both the route I had chosen, and the route that was recorded.

Photographs

descent to Patterdale from Grisedale Tarn
A hastily taken photo on the descent to Patterdale from Grisedale Tarn

Then there are photographs. As everyone knows, the Lake District is one of the wetter areas of the country, lying as it does next to the Irish Sea, receiving the full force of any weather systems from the Atlantic. This means that photography needs many attempts and many visits, although I was keen that a range of weather conditions featured in the book, within reason.

You want to be able to convey the views and beauty of the area, but also be realistic in that it’s not always glorious sunshine. Many photographs were taken during my research, out of which just over 100 needed to be selected and correctly captioned.

The real challenge is trying to write in an engaging way. The guidebook will be read and re-read many times, so it’s really important to get the tone right, to be neither too prescriptive nor too authoritative, but to be crystal clear in every detail, yet remain readable and enjoyable. Some of our more respected and prolific authors seem to have effortlessly mastered this over the years. I hope I will have achieved something at least acceptable in my first book.

My first task was to look at the route taken in the existing guidebook and look for any alternatives that might work out to be better. There were certainly some details that definitely needed changing, due to bridges being washed away and still not replaced, overgrown ‘permissive’ paths that were less than ideal, and then I wanted to see if I could improve some stages in other ways, to enjoy better views, or add an alternative high level option. Having drawn the original route outline I pencilled in a number of options, before heading out into the fells.

Now for a few anecdotes related to my field research…mostly weather-related!

Oddly enough, I, or rather in this case Jonathan and I started with the final stage! The original guide started and finished from Windermere, and the final stage was a monster day from Patterdale, partly retracing the first stage from Windermere to Ambleside. Splitting up to take alternative routes from Hartsop village, we came up with an option over High Street then down into the Troutbeck valley and on to Windermere. It was a good route, but still a very long final day and out of character with most of the other lower level stages. Jonathan then had the idea to start and finish the entire Tour in Ambleside, making the last day from Patterdale a straightforward route over the Scandale Pass, with a higher option over Red Screes. I chose a beautiful day in May to test the route, and was rewarded with clouds of bluebells on the fells, and wonderful views of Windermere as I descended from Red Screes. The lower option directly from Scandale pass was researched almost a year later!

Video is a wonderful medium for getting a real flavour of a walk, and I took time on each stage to record at least something, even if the weather was unfavourable. Some of the clips are dramatic, such as the stepping stones in Eskdale completely submerged below a boiling torrent of water, but some are less successful, such as the time when I turned the camera towards me during an incredibly windy day, only to find that my well-chosen words were obliterated by the roar of the wind!

There was the day just before lockdown when I wanted to take atmospheric spring photos, then planned to walk the stage from Grasmere to Patterdale in the afternoon, a linear route, so I needed to start and finish by public transport. Photography at dawn on a cold still day can produce wonderful light, and I happily snapped away through to late morning, then took a train from Oxenholme to Windermere, then a bus to Grasmere. The bus was 15 minutes late, so my departure was delayed. The last bus from Patterdale to Penrith (and return train to Oxenholme) was at 17.15. I realised I had just over four hours to do a walk that should take four and a half hours. I was going well, and even spent a bit of time setting up a few action photos of myself (there was nobody else on the fells). Arriving at Grisedale Tarn the path was slippery with snow and ice, so progress slowed. I hastily consumed some food then began the descent to Patterdale. At intervals on the descent I checked progress, calculating how many more kilometres I had to go, and the time available, which was looking increasingly impossible. By the time I got to the flatter track sections I was running, and literally caught the last bus with about a minute to spare. Critical, as the last thing I wanted to do was to make a ‘can you come and get me?’ phone call!

To research the sections in the western fells, the most practical option was to book accommodation over two or three days, which happened to be at the end of January 2020. The weather was vile – not especially cold, but very stormy. As I looked out of the train window on my way to Eskdale, a cold grey sea was just visible through the splattered carriage windows. Not promising. I spent a happy afternoon in Eskdale with intermittent rain, but finished my research by headtorch in the dark as I walked to the pub where I was staying. Similarly the following day to Wasdale Head was dreary and windy with occasional heavy showers, so a bowl of soup at Nether Wasdale helped me get to Wasdale Head, where I arrived cold and dripping. Fortunately their splendid drying room was immediately opposite my room. My final day to Buttermere was the worst – I saw only three people on the fells for the entire day. Crossing the Gatherstone Beck en-route to Black Sail pass I met a lone walker like me, and we each checked the other had safely negotiated the crossing before continuing. Where were all the Sunday walkers? Walking round Buttermere. I felt quite intrepid when I arrived in the village, proud to have done something challenging.

Then there was the hot day! I needed a recording of a GPX track between Coniston and Dunnerdale, and this particular day was forecast to be beautiful. Walking over from Coniston to the end of the Walna Scar Road was a delight, but a bit hot. I had lunch by the bridge then turned to walk back over to Coniston. It was 28 degrees in the shade, and my body rebelled. Rather than getting too cross I sat under a tree for a while, then told myself to just put one foot in front of the other. I soon found myself in the company of a small group also finding the heat a challenge, and together we plodded up, then a welcome descent to the car where I had a flask full of cold water.

Jonathan and I walked the entire route together in October, experiencing all kinds of weather, including the notable Saturday that became known for being the wettest day across the UK since records began. We also had wonderful sunshine, rainbows, wind, hail and a brilliant time. It was good to walk the entire Tour in one trip, and there will be an account of it here on the Cicerone website soon, and a video!

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