Albert Winstanley 1926 – 2012

Picture, supplied by his family, is of Winstanley on his 80th birthday

From The Guardian, 28 April 2012, by Tim Dawson

Albert Winstanley, who has died aged 95, evoked his lifelong love of touring on his bicycle in a series of articles that stand comparison with the very best writing about the outdoors. Collections of his works appeared in 1985 (The Golden Wheels of Albert Winstanley) and 1991 (Golden Days Awheel). In these he captured a sense of wonder and delight at discovering the world on two wheels that won him many fans, of whom I was one.

He rode his bicycle from his mid-teens until he was 92. When, reluctantly, he was forced to give up riding, he described himself as feeling like a fish out of water. Typically his rides took him into the Yorkshire Dales, the Trough of Bowland or the Lake District. He would often plan his routes as a quest – to find an intriguing feature that he had spotted on a map, or to sit where a famous line of verse had been composed. Retold as stories in cycling magazines, his adventures took on a magical quality that made them a delight to read.

Alas, he had few competitors when it came to relating his cycle tours – although he followed in the tradition of the great cycling writers of the inter-war years such as Kuklos, Wayfarer and Ragged Staff.

He once wrote: “To me a bicycle is a machine of magic . . . taking me on to the ways of satisfied happiness; giving to me the good friendship I enjoy with others, and to share with me the delights and ecstasies of the outdoors. It gives to me the pleasures of mingling the past with the present . . . always discovering . . . always learning. Above all it gives to me also memories to cherish and store inwardly, as I wheel my ways on joyous days . . . such a day has been today.”

Born in Bolton, Albert would remain in Lancashire for his entire life – save for service during the second world war when, as Sergeant Winstanley, he took part in the landings in North Africa. It was there that he met his future wife, Kathleen, a nurse. They married and, once back in Bolton, had a daughter, Ann.

Albert spent his working life as an aircraft technical clerk, but he lived to cycle and would often take off straight from work on a Friday night for a weekend on the road. As well as writing up his experiences of touring all over the UK, Ireland and the European continent, Albert gave famed slideshows about his tours, accompanied by classical music, and appeared on Radio Manchester. He was also a keen gardener.

Kathleen died in 1993. Albert remained in his own home until his final year and was cheering on his beloved Bolton Wanderers (outside whose stadium he is commemorated on the Spirit of Sport monument) until the very last weeks of his life. He is survived by Ann, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Albert Winstanley: a death should spark a renaissance

First published at thesundaytimes.co.uk on 8 April 2012

I received the sad, if unsurprising news last week, that cycling author Albert Winstanley had died at the age of 95. Given that he reached such an age, and managed to continue riding a bike until very nearly the end, it probably makes most sense to give thanks for such a long and well-lived innings.

His contribution to cycling was considerable and his writing deserves to be discovered anew.

I didn’t know him, although we corresponded towards the end of his life and I can’t pretend that I am in a position to compile a complete obituary. What I do know is that he was a native of, and lived most (possibly all) of his life in around Bolton, Lancashire. He married, raised a family and spent his working days in a technical role in the aircraft industry.

He also cycled, from boyhood till very nearly the end, and he wrote about his experiences. Most of his work appeared in slightly obscure magazines, such as Cycling World, but his articles were republished in two books The Golden Wheels Of Albert Winstanley and Golden Days Awheel.

Both contain articles of between 1,500 and 3,500 words long, pretty much all of which recount rides that he has enjoyed in the UK. It would be easy for such books to be deeply dull indeed – but not in Winstanley’s hands. Sometimes he would set out on a quest – to sit where a line of poetry was composed, or to find a intriguing spot that he had noticed on an OS map. On other trips, flights of fancy would overcome him.

On a ride up Trollers Ghyll, in Upper Wharfdale, for example, he started to imagine that various mishappenings were the doings of the mythic beasties from which the valley takes its name. Their final act was to tip him from his steed and pitch him into a beck. His clothes were soaked, but there was no dampening his spirits: “I chose a convenient rock to sit my wet seat on and peeled off my socks, then my shorts and underpants. Over my sandwiches and a flask of tea I sat in the October sunshine, musing and laughing at my adventures. Draped around me were my wet clothes, and I had my cape handy to throw over my state of undress should anyone choose to come this way.”

Such is his capacity for fun and fancy, married with a love for history and literature that his favourite routes – through the Trough of Bowland, up into the Lakes and though out the Yorkshire Dales – take on a unique magic. It is a type of writing that used to form the mainstay of British writing about cycling, in the days of Kukos, Wayfarer and Ragged Staff (all famed pen names during the 1930s). It was a style that was almost without talented practitioners during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Today, it is hard to think of anyone writing in that way.

There does, however, seem to be a new mood for applying the tools of an intelligent observer to the world close to hand. In his recently published book, The Natural Explorer (Sceptre £16.99) Tristan Gooley, for example, makes a case for immersing oneself in the landscapes that are close at hand. He argues that the way to undertake serious exploration it to intelligently engaging with our surroundings, the better to understand them and to communicate what we find to our peers. Gooley’s is an idea that Winstanley was practising for decades. There could be no better way to honour the Lancastrian than to try and take up where he left off. I, for one, intend to apply myself to just that.

TD

 

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