EXPLORING Lake Pickering is the intriguing title of the latest book by John Eckersley.

Lake Pickering doesn't exist, of course, but it did, during the Ice Age: a great expanse of fresh water trapped between the North York Moors, the Howardian Hills, the Yorkshire Wolds and sheets of ice from the Vale of York and the North Sea.

It was 100 years ago that Leeds Professor Percy Kendall published a classic paper suggesting the lake had once existed. And so, when John was looking for a theme around which to write his third book of walks, it seemed the obvious one.

John is a retired geography teacher from Heslington, near York, with a love of the outdoors.

He has produced a beautifully-detailed, 100-page guidebook to 36 circular walks, starting from what would once have been the shores of the lake, and taking in some of the most beautiful landscapes of the Howardian Hills, the Yorkshire Wolds, the Tabular Hills, the moors and the Yorkshire coast.

Sections of the individual circular walks also link up to form a continuous, 155-mile long-distance walk - making this a book for the serious walker as well as the day tripper.

John, whose wife is Nancy Eckersley, the vicar of Heslington, admits that when he began planning the book, it was never intended to be quite so ambitious.

"It started off as a small-scale idea, walking through the Howardian Hills," he said. "But one of our ongoing jokes is: 'my wife had a good idea'. She said 'why don't you make it a bit bigger, a big circuit around the Vale of Pickering?'. And it was a good idea, because it corresponded with the centenary of Percy Kendall's paper."

Anyone familiar with the Vale of Pickering won't find it hard to imagine that there was once a great lake there. John's book allows the serious and weekend walker alike to explore the countryside around what would have been the fringes of the ancient lake. But it also does more. As a committed Christian, he has designed each walk so it includes at least one place of Christian worship, allowing walkers to explore the Vale of Pickering's rich Christian history as well. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards Christian Aid.

He wrote his first book in 1999. He'd been asked by a friend, Tony Rablen, to help reconnoitre a coast to coast walk, the Tidewater Way - which stretches from Tidewater on the west coast near Lancaster to Tidewater on the east coast near Ulleskelf - for a guidebook that Tony was writing.

"It was great!" John said. "And I thought, well, let's have a go!"

The result was his first book, Abbey's Amble, a guide to circular walks around the great abbeys and castles of North Yorkshire, including Fountains, Bolton and Jervaux Abbies and Ripley, Bolton and Middleham castles.

It set the style for his subsequent books: detailed maps, accompanied by photographs, a descriptive text that points out anything of interest along the route, cartoons drawn by his wife Nancy that poke fun at things to be seen en route, and a 'treasure hunt' - objects for children to look out for along the way.

To mark the millennium year, he set out to write his second book - a guide to circular walks taking in the highest point in each of 36 English counties. That gave the book the catchy title ECHOES Walks - ECHOES standing for "English Counties Highest Original Or Engineered Summits."

An 'engineered' summit, he explains, is man-made - like the highest point in East Yorkshire, a man-made reservoir at the top of Garrowby Hill.

Exploring Lake Pickering, printed by Maxiprint (York) and published by John E Eckersley priced £9, is available from the Helmsley, Pickering and Malton tourist information centres or, with £1 for postage and packing, from John at The Vicarage, School Lane, Heslington, York YO10 5EE. All profits go to Christian Aid.

Updated: 14:26 Wednesday, June 04, 2003