Mr J. Wyatt

First published in Search by

A WELL-KNOWN writer and broadcaster and the first face of the Lake District National Park has died at the age of 81.

John Wyatt spent more than a quarter of a century representing the national park as the first-ever ranger and dedicated the years after his retirement to writing best-selling books on the area he loved so much.

The second son of Charlie and Grace, Mr Wyatt was born in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1925. He was schooled in the area and began his working life as a copy boy for a Manchester-based newspaper.

His first foray into rural life came when he took up a job as a forest worker and campsite warden at Great Tower, Windermere, where he had first developed a love of the area during a childhood outing with the scouts.

Mr Wyatt served in the Royal Navy during World War Two and then became a sub-postmaster back home in Ashton. But urban climes soon lost out to the draw of the countryside and he returned to the Lakes to work as an area organiser for Oxfam.

As his love of the Lakes grew, Mr Wyatt applied, rather tentatively, for the welly-wearing post of the Lake District National Park Authority's first warden in 1961 - a role which saw him stamp his mark on the park over the next 25 years and make many a lifelong friend.

"He read up about the position so he was very well primed on what to do. He didn't think he stood any hope whatsoever but he got the job," explained his second wife, Ann, whom he married in 1976. Mr Wyatt worked for two years as the park's sole warden, enjoying the crisp Cumbrian air as he kept a keen eye on hundreds of square miles of parkland, before Keswick man Des Oliver was taken on in 1963. The pair, who shared the workload for the next few years, were to become firm friends.

"In the early days there was no real structure to the national park, apart from a small planning board," explained Mr Oliver, who chose Mr Wyatt as best man at his wedding.

"It started off with John as the head warden and when I joined we were the only full-time members of staff. There were no information centres, just a display board at Windermere Library.

"We were given a Land Rover and while I looked after the north of the park, John looked after the south. We would go out and talk to the farmers, keep an eye on the footpaths and so on and then meet up once or twice a week to fill each other in."

Over time, more wardens were taken on and in 1974, they became known as park rangers, with Mr Wyatt's role becoming that of chief ranger.

"The park just grew from a little acorn really. But as the LDNPA developed, John's job became more administrative and he couldn't get out and about as much as he would have liked.

"He was a really humorous man who always had a smile on his face. He kept everybody relaxed and keen on the job and was just the ideal person to be in charge. He was a great friend," added Mr Oliver.

Mr Wyatt retired as chief ranger in 1986 when he was awarded an MBE for his services to the Lake District.

With more time on his hands, he concentrated on his writing and soon created a number of publications from TV and radio scripts, to autobiographical works reflecting on his early days in the Lake District.

His books included The Shining Levels and Reflections on the Lakes and his most recent achievement was a monumental 560-page work, complete with photographs taken by Mr Wyatt, called Cumbria: The Lake District and its County which hit the bookshelves at the end of 2004.

Mr Wyatt, who has two children (Martin and June) from his first marriage, and two grandchildren, died after a long battle with cancer at St Mary's Hospice in Ulverston.

"He initially developed cancer of the mouth and it was difficult for him to speak. But after speech therapy, he was soon back giving talks and lectures on the Lake District and his work here. That is what kind of man he was, a real hero," said Mrs Wyatt, who praised the dedicated work of the hospice staff.

"He was a truly wonderful person with a wonderful philosophy on life. He had a great sense of humour and he will be sorely missed."

A private woodland burial was held this week.

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