Christopher Goddard has walked countless miles around his native Yorkshire and has published guides that go into meticulous detail.
Now his books are being bought by their thousands and he plans to do more that will keep him busy for the next 10 years.
He says: “Walking is becoming more and more popular but Yorkshire is ahead of the game. I go to other parts of the country and it’s just not the same. We have a good attitude towards our landscape; an urban population that values the countryside.
“I call it Dog’s Own Country. In Calderdale dog walkers keep paths open. Everyone seems to have a dog and every country pub allows dogs in.”
Chris is well placed to comment on the matter as he’s made a career out of mapping walking routes – with his own dog Alfie – and is the author of three walking guides, two of which cover West Yorkshire.
His books, which follow in the footsteps of the famed Alfred Wainwright’s guides to the Lakeland Fells, are packed with detail – and not just about walking. Chris, who has a degree in geography from Cambridge University, researches flora, fauna, local history and just about anything that enriches the guides. Alongside the information and hand-drawn maps, the books are illustrated with his own painstakingly-produced drawings.
Originally from Oughtibridge near Sheffield and now happily settled in Hebden Bridge, Chris has an eye for detail, a curiosity about the world and a love of map-making. It’s clear from viewing his folders of drawings and minutely detailed maps that he’s also a perfectionist. His most recent work, The West Yorkshire Woods: Part 1 – The Calder Valley, takes readers from Brighouse and Elland, through the Holywell and Ryburn Valleys to Hebden Bridge and the far reaches of Todmorden. There are 30 pages of woodland history and information as well as a list of Calderdale’s many ancient woodlands. His previous book, The West Yorkshire Moors, which takes in parts of the Peak District, Marsden and Dunford Bridge, near Holmfirth, is similarly detailed.
Each book represents countless hours of walking, note-taking, writing and drawing. It’s work that he’s accomplished alongside a career as a freelance trails surveyor. After leaving university Chris was a Rights of Way and National Trails surveyor for the Lake District National Park and then worked in Cornwall, mid-Wales, the Cambrian Mountains and other areas on a freelance basis. In 2006 he moved to Hebden Bridge with his partner Caroline and seven years ago walked all 2,500 kms of Kirklees’ and Calderdale’s public footpaths, checking on the condition of signs, gates and stiles and gathering data for the local authorities.
“It is the densest network of footpaths in the country,” he says.
Calderdale is also particularly well endowed with ancient woodland and land where there is a right to roam.
It was the move to Calderdale that prompted him to turn author. A keen fell runner as well as walker he began to explore his new surroundings using Ordnance Survey maps but discovered they showed footpaths where there were only bogs and the fine paths he found on the ground didn’t appear on the maps. There was, he felt, an opportunity to map the moors more accurately.
Sales of his books have now reached the thousands and Chris says he can see a time when he’ll be able to make a full-time living from mapping and writing. He has plans for two further woodland books, covering the Aire Valley and Holme and Colne Valleys, as well as two more moorland volumes, covering South Yorkshire and North Yorkshire. As each book takes more than two years to complete it’s a project that he estimates will occupy him for the next decade. Understandably, comparisons have been made between Wainwright’s volumes and those by Chris. But, as he explains, he avoided looking at any of Wainwright’s guides while producing his own.
He said: I have got the Wainwright books and I love them and they have influenced me. But once I decided to produce something like this I made a point of not looking at his books. I wanted to come up with my own style.”
Like Wainwright, Chris peppers his books with little sketches. He had approached a professional artist with a view to commissioning illustrations but soon realised he’d be handing over any potential profits. It surprises him that so many readers of the books enjoy his little drawings.
“I still don’t think I’m any good at art, but I’ve always been keen to draw maps and that part comes naturally to me,” he explained.
He uses local history archives and his local library, antiquarian journals and old maps in his quest to find authentic information.
His historic anecdotes cover everything from the story of the Holmfirth Floods in 1852, when 81 people were killed as Bilberry Reservoir dam burst, to details of the 14th century Elland feud between the de Eland and Exley families.
Chris feels fortunate to live in an area so well provided with countryside that is open to ramblers.
Most of us, he says, can find good walking on our doorsteps, although it is dog walkers who tend to explore their local surroundings more than most.
And while his many miles of footwork have given him a real appreciation for West Yorkshire, it has also revealed a matter of concern for the future of our countryside.
He says: “The woods are not being managed and are not that healthy at the moment. Many of the trees are old and there’s a solid canopy that doesn’t allow new growth. There just isn’t any money to look after them.”
Of course, the problem for any cartographer is that pathways are often fluid things – moving and changing as the decades pass. Chris acknowledges this and says he’ll have to update his books from time to time.
Coupled with his ambitious plans to turn his books into series, he’s certainly got his future well mapped out.
For more details visit christophergoddard.net