The saddest news for the Dales Way Association was to hear of the passing, at the end of February, of our President, Frank Sanderson, at the age of 94.
Frank was a remarkable personality. Born in Rochdale, Lancashire, he kept his lovely soft Lancashire accent throughout his long and active life but was equally passionate about Yorkshire and Cumbria. He was of an age to have briefly served in the RAF in the Second World War in that most dangerous of occupations, a bomb disposal unit. After demobilisation he trained as a motor mechanic soon opening his own business in Accrington, but found free time to pursue his passions for both flying, gaining a pilot’s licence and even flying his own plane – and sailing, becoming a skilled mariner. In the 1970s he switched careers to open a hotel in Scotland, which soon included caravan and chalet parks, and a coffee shop nearby. He was also a keen artist eventually opening his own small gallery in the Lake District to where he had moved to in the mid 1980s, having bought Blenheim Lodge, a boutique hotel in Bowness – directly on the Dales Way.
When Frank began to notice increased numbers of walkers walking past his hotel entrance with loaded rucksacks, or even staying at the Lodge, he soon learned about the Dales Way. In response to repeated requests, he produced a simple printed “Certificates of Achievement” for anyone who had walked the route. Members of the Ramblers who had first conceived and developed the Dales Way heard about this and as a result, in April 1990 several of us were invited to Blenheim Lodge to join Frank for a meal and discussion about the future of the Dales Way. From this meeting came the idea of a Dales Way Association which was established on 3rd February 1991 also at Blenheim Lodge, with Frank Sanderson as its first Secretary. Uniquely among UK long distance walk support groups, there was at least initially equally balance in membership between walkers and accommodation providers, for mutual support and benefit. Frank used his influence both as a member of Windermere Town Council and within SLOT (South Lakeland Organisation for Tourism) to build support for the Dales Way within Cumbria, including contacts with the Lake District National Park. He had the brilliant idea of persuading the Park to allow the conversion of a section of derelict wall and old gate post (thereby not requiring planning permission) into the first Dales Way Seat, designed by Frank and dedicated “for those who walk the Dales Way”. The site, overlooking the lake at Windermere, has become an iconic place where many thousands of people rest to celebrate their (almost) completion of the Dales Way. He even organised painting and colouring competitions for local children to promote the route in Cumbria.
Throughout his long involvement with the Dales Way Association, as first our Secretary and later our President, Frank’s energy and bubbling enthusiasm have done much to establish the popularity of the route. He even had a theory that the Dales Way long predated modern walkers but was an Iron Age trade route linking the Celtic Kingdom of Elmet (including what is now the site of Leeds) with Cumbria, which is why he designed Celtic stone heads, carved not only on the Bowness seat, but also at Ilkley Bridge.
Even though, in his tenth decade and with reduced mobility, he found it hard to drive to committee meetings and even AGMs, he kept in close touch with the Committee, always ready with advice and common sense, a true father-figure for the Association. He played a key role in our 40th celebrations in 2009 and we shall all remember his witty and impromptu speech at our 50th anniversary luncheon a decade later in Appletreewick (at the fine age of 91), and his book of memories. We shall miss his experience, his humour and enthusiasm for everything to do with the Dales Way. But it will be perhaps those two iconic stone seats at each end of the Dales Way that are truly Frank Sanderson’s lasting and living memorial for our own and for generations to come.
- Colin Speakman