TO MANY people the legendary fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright came across a dour character – but a new book out today reveals his surprisingly romantic nature.

Blackburn-born Wainwright, who produced a series of best-selling pictorial guides to the Lake District, revealed an almost Austen-esque passion for his future wife in a series of letters published for the first time.

The correspondence to Betty McNally features in The Wainwright Letters, edited by the veteran Lakes writer Hunter Davies.

They show a tender side to the former Blackburn Council accountant and Kendal Borough treasurer, who often came across as a curmudgeonly.

More than 340 letters to various people are reproduced in the book, including 44 written to Betty between 1965 and 1967, when their relationship first blossomed.

In an early letter, Wainwright, who was still married to his first wife Ruth at the time, wrote: “Yesterday was the most wonderful day ever, and although 24 hours have gone by since we kissed goodnight I am still utterly under the spell . . .”

And in another he declares: “The days I spend with you are the happiest I have ever known.

"They are, to me, like days on parole from prison; days in the sunshine after long confinement in the darkness . . .”

Wainwright, who died in 1991, also described in a letter to Betty how he cried while watching The Sound of Music at the cinema.

In October 1965, he wrote how he had felt ‘wretched’ and ‘desperately lonely’ bcause they were apart, adding: “I thought of you all day with such tenderness that I felt I was melting away . . .”

The Wainwright Letters includes correspondence from Wainwright’s early years in 1930s Blackburn to the days of his fame as the celebrated guide author in Kendal.

The book also includes letters sent in reply to fan mail, which he always replied to, as well as official correspondence concerning his divorce from his first wife, publishing arrangements for his books and tax affairs.

Mr Davies said: “While (Wainwright) did not care to meet strangers in the flesh, and always dreaded anyone coming to his front door, he was friendly and affable, personal and sometimes quite revealing in his letters.

"He clearly preferred having chums on paper rather than in person.”

Betty Wainwright died in 2008.

* The Wainwright Letters by Hunter Davies is published by Frances Lincoln and priced at £20.