An obsession with the Lake District’s fells and peaks, a self-confessed tendency towards grumpiness, a TV career which came later in life and the ability to inspire others to get out on the fells.

Sound familiar? Fans of Alfred Wainwright would recognise the great guidebook author in that description but it can also be applied to David Powell-Thompson, the retired head teacher who became a TV researcher and broadcaster and, later, a mountain guide.

David, 72, who lives at Drigg near Seascale, might not like the comparison but Wainwright and his famous Pictorial Guides have had a big impact on his life.

He’s probably best known for his appearances on two series of Wainwright Walks with Julia Bradbury, the hugely popular TV programmes devoted to AW’s routes. His lifelong passion for the Lakes, his career on television and his work as a mountain guide can all, in fact, be traced back to his early exposure to AW’s books.

Growing up in Galgate, near Lancaster, David knew about Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides as soon as they made it into print.

He says: “My father bought the Wainwright guides as they were being published. I have five first editions they were bought as soon as they were available.

“I loved them. I loved the personal notes at the back, I thought they were written to me, I thought they were words to me. I can remember, as soon as my dad would let me, that was the first thing I would read.”

Many years later, when he was head teacher of St Bega’s School in Eskdale, one of the governors, the broadcaster Eric Robson, asked David to help out on programmes he making for VHS – later DVD - called Great Walks.

Much to David’s surprise, his role carrying the camera tripod developed into him providing in-depth research and, ultimately, his screen appearances.

More recently he’s appeared in Terry Abraham’s Life of a Mountain series focusing on Scafell Pike and Blencathra.

His TV appearances have led to him being recognised on the fells, with his flowing hair – which he grew only after he lost his mum because she didn’t like him to have long hair – and beard making him particularly memorable.

When people first stopped to talk to him he wasn’t sure how to make conversation – a characteristic that Wainwright reportedly shared.

David was the head teacher of St Bega’s primary school in Eskdale about 20 years ago when Eric asked him to help with filming for the Great Walks video series, featuring Eric himself and later other broadcasters including Stuart Maconie and Cameron McNeish. Eric says David’s mountain expertise was invaluable.

As his job developed, David worked on a series of 10-minute walking features for a Friday night TV programme called Out and About. Other programmes included Out of Town – later Raq and Boot – featuring Eric and his Border Terrier.

At about this time David took early retirement from teaching and although Eric had warned him that the broadcasting jobs would be limited, at one point he was working full-time in TV, making 30 half-hour programmes in one year.

People often ask him about Julia Bradbury – and she is, he says, as genuinely lovely as she appears

on screen. He’s been gratified when she’s acknowledged his help with Wainwright Walks in interviews and in a book that accompanied the TV series.

In the first series, he guided her to the top of Blencathra, crossing Sharp Edge numerous times for filming - and one additional time to retrieve a silver charm that she’d dropped.

In another episode, memorable footage showed David leading an understandably hesitant Julia across Striding Edge on the way up Helvellyn in poor weather. David recalls her turning to camera and saying: “I’m going across Striding Edge, I’ve got David, everybody needs a David.”

He became a go-to outdoor expert and has appeared on Countryfile more than once and with the Hairy Bikers for a programme they were making about pubs. “The Hairy Bikers met the Hairy Hiker,” he quips.

For radio he accompanied Clare Balding on a couple of walks in France that he’d suggested for her Radio 4 Ramblings programme.

His more recent TV appearances have been on Terry Abraham’s Life of a Mountain films and his role changed from a talking head to more substantial appearances.

“Terry and I work together quite nicely so I did Scafell and he said ‘now I’m doing Blencathra, I want you to open and close the programme’.”

He was back on Sharp Edge for the Blencathra film, guiding the comedian Ed Byrne and broadcaster and Cumbria Life columnist Stuart Maconie – who was clearly very afraid - safely over.

David’s parents were lovers of the outdoors and would cycle from their home in Southport into the Peak District and the Lake District.

His dad, who had been an electrical engineer during the war, became a gardener and the family moved around before settling in Galgate. David’s dad would take on extra work to pay for a family holiday in the Lakes: “My father used to do hay turning for everybody in the evenings in order to raise enough money to bring us somewhere in the Lake District.”

The family stayed in caravans and later a cottage in Hawkshead and would head out for walks. A young David and his brother and sister loved stomping about in their shoes which their dad adapted for the fells by hammering tricorn nails into the soles.

The first walk David remembers was just him, aged seven or eight, and his dad, tackling Helvellyn: “My father picked me up and stood me on top of the trig point. I was the highest person on the mountain that day.”

His father’s love of the Lake District and Wainwright’s books came to a sad end: “Father had a major stroke and he lost the use of his right arm and his right leg didn’t work properly, so he didn’t buy Wainwright’s books after that.

“I bought him the last two as presents and he wasn’t interested. The first time I ever saw my father cry was when he tried to walk up Loughrigg after he had his stroke and he couldn’t manage it.”

David left school at 16 and followed his parents’ advice to get a trade, training as an electrician.

He knew he didn’t want to stay in the job long-term and left to become a nuclear physics technician at Lancaster University.

By this time he’d become part of the local rock climbing scene and belonged to the university club.

There were no lectures on a Wednesday afternoon, which was set aside for sports, so his friends were able to go climbing without him.

That was enough motivation for David to take some extra ‘O’ Levels and apply to what was then St Martin’s College in Lancaster to study for a BEd with maths.

With his first wife, he moved to Northern Ireland where he got a head teacher’s job. After his marriage broke up, David came back to England and eventually got a permanent job at Blackford primary school near Carlisle.

He met his wife, Maggie, at school when she came to work with a pupil who had special needs and they’ve been together for 35 years.

The couple have a grown-up son called Ben, David has a daughter, Amber, from his first marriage and Maggie has two daughters, Georgina and Teresa, from her first marriage.

It was the time when computers were being introduced to schools and David became a specialist in the subject, taking an adviser’s job in West Glamorgan. He returned to Cumbria and teaching at St Bega’s before taking early retirement.

He’s worked behind the bar at The Strands Inn at Nether Wasdale for a few years and can still be found pulling pints there every Sunday afternoon.

When the recession started to bite and TV work dried up, he was encouraged by a friend to train as a mountain guide and is available to take people out on the fells.

A memorable mountain guiding job involved him leading seven young men, who were attempting the three peaks challenge, safely up Scafell Pike at night-time and in less than ideal conditions.

“As we were approaching the top there were other people there and they asked did I know where I was and did I know the way down? In the end I took seven up and I brought 16 down.”

His filming work was also the catalyst for him to take up fell running as a hobby.

He was involved in filming the renowned fell runner Joss Naylor’s 60th birthday run of 60 Lakeland fell tops. David found himself getting fitter to keep up with the schedule and ended up taking up the sport himself, completing the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge of 48 miles and 30 summits in a creditable 15 hours and 54 minutes for his own 60th birthday.

“I bought my first pair of fell running shoes at age 50 and I’ve been running 22 years now,”he states.

He’s continuing to work with Terry Abraham on the third Life of a Mountain programme, focusing this time on Helvellyn. The pair are also collaborating on a series of walking DVDs, starting with Upper Eskdale and moving on to Great Langdale.

After all these years, he’s lost none of his enthusiasm for being on the fells and is on his third round of Wainwright summits which he’s tackling with friends – although, true to form, he says that he prefers walking without much chatter.

Despite having not been on our screens regularly for a few years, David says he’s still recognised by people, some of whom tell him that he’s had an impact on them.

He says: “People come to me and say you’re the inspiration for me trying various things, I’ve seen you on telly, you’re David Powell-Thompson, you inspired me to do all of this.

“I really quite like it.”

n This feature was first published in the October issue of Cumbria Life magazine