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Obituary: Mary Welsh, prolific author and columnist

Mary Welsh, whose 50 books, and countless published walks led thousands of walkers over mountains and through the countryside for 35 years, has died at the age of 88.
 
Mary wrote her first book in 1982, at the age of 53. She had moved from Islington in central London to the Lake District. ‘A Country Journal – The diary of a Cumbrian Naturalist’ charted her delight in the nature she saw as she explored the village of Broughton-in-Furness, where she had moved to, and wider Cumbria.
 
Her latest walk appeared in the December 2016 edition of Country Walking.
 
Starting with the publication of ‘A Country Journal,’ and finishing with her last book ‘Walking Fife, The Ochils, Tayside and Forth Valley’ in 2012, Mary authored 38 books and 12 substantial booklets.  Many went into third, fourth and some even fifth reprints, selling more than 200,000 copies.
  
From 1985 to 1989 the Westmorland Gazette published her four-book series ‘A Naturalist’s Guide to Lakeland Waterfalls throughout the year.’
 
In 1990 Cicerone started publication of a two-part series of ‘Walks to Yorkshire Waterfalls,’ followed by ‘Lancashire Canal Walks’ and ‘Waterfall Walks – Teesdale and the High Pennines.’
 
By now she was an established columnist for the Kendal-based Westmorland Gazette and in 1995 the newspaper published ‘Welsh Walks in Cumbria’ – a compilation of her walking columns that had appeared in the newspaper.
 
In 1995 ‘Walks with children in Swaledale and Wensleydale’ was published, the first in a series of substantial booklets of Mary’s walks published by Questa over the next fifteen years. In 1997 Dalesman started publications of ten of Mary’s walks, each under 6 miles, with ‘Walks around Coniston and Hawkshead’ going into several reprints.
 
In 1996 Cicerone published ‘Walking in Lancashire’, and ‘Walks from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal’ while Sigma published ‘Country Walks around Kendal.’
 
In 1998 came ‘North Lakeland Walks with Children’, and ‘Walking the Howgills’, both Sigma, while Dalesman published her ‘Tea Shop Walks in The Lake District’. ‘Walking the Lakeland Fringes’ was published by Sigma in 2000.
 
Mary shared walks in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire beyond her books, with the readers of The Times, The Express, Country Walking, Lakeland Walker, Cumbria, The Big Issue in the North, and the Westmorland Gazette for whom she wrote 692 columns, for many years taking and providing the accompanying photos as well.
 
And all this time – between 1989 and 2012 – she was working on her magnum opus: 21 books covering the whole of Scotland in a series called Walking Scotland. Published by Clan Books each volume contains 40 walks, exploring every part of mainland Scotland and all the main Scottish Islands. Eight books into the series, Mary was joined by walking companion and illustrator Christine Isherwood with whom she worked on several of her books about walks in England, and they completed the series together. Mary described it as their ‘wonderful, magical task’. They covered nearly 6,000 miles to complete the series.
 
Mary was meticulous about checking and noting every stile and waymark, determined to ensure that her readers didn’t get lost. Her joy was in sharing the sights and sounds of the countryside she discovered. She had extensive knowledge of flora and fauna, and a passion for ornithology, identifying and delighting in birdsongs wherever she went.  
 
Mary grew up in Hemel Hempstead, the third child of Walter and Ethel Croker who had moved from the West Country before WW1. She spent her childhood exploring the local countryside and once into her teens started youth hostelling, eventually exploring and falling in love with Scotland.
 
It was on a youth hostelling trip to Devon in 1947 that she met her future husband, Tom Welsh, who became a journalist and editor of Essential Law for Journalists. Mary trained as a teacher at Furzedown Training College in Streatham and over the next three decades went on to teach at Chandos Secondary Modern Girls School in Stanmore, and Highfield School and Mount Carmel Girls School in Central London.  Her passion and her subject was biology, and in the early 70s she returned to study, part-time, to secure a 2:1 from the Institute of Biology in Ecology and Animal Behaviour.  
 
In 1979, Tom was appointed editor of the North West Evening Mail in Barrow-in-Furness and Mary took up a teaching post at Whitehaven Grammar School, moving later to John Ruskin School in Coniston. They uprooted from their home in Islington to move to Broughton-in-Furness. Mary absolutely loved it – her joy in village life in the middle of breathtaking countryside sings out from every page of her first book, ‘A Country Journal’.  They never wanted to leave, but after Tom’s death in 2014, Mary moved south in March 2016, to be closer to her four children in London.
 
She continued to walk after the move, delighting in the forests of Essex, the hills of the Chilterns and the hidden gems of London, and had already started preparing a portfolio of walks in the south. Mary died of a heart attack on January 11 2017. She is sadly missed by her two daughters, her two sons, their partners, and six grandsons, all of whom had often accompanied her on her walks.
 
 
January 23 2017
 

Copyright © 2017 Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, All rights reserved.

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