The Great Cat Expedition


Molly Lefebure X Alfred Wainwright

Two distinguished Lake District connoisseurs collaborated to create a classic mountaineering novel. Their result? A rare title with a quirky storyline, complemented by delightful pen and ink illustrations.

Classic adventure fiction for readers of all ages.

Readers in search of those distant halcyon days of mountaineering literature will be interested to learn that Molly Lefebure's novel, Scratch & Co. The Great Cat Expedition, is still in print.

Written as a fantasy-adventure, Scratch & Co. The Great Cat Expedition is a parody inspired by true-life narratives of the famed mountaineering expeditions that were prevalent during the 1920's to 1950's (markedly H. W. Tilman's account of The Ascent of Nanda Devi, Maurice Herzog's Annapurna and Eric Shipton's Everest 1951: The Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition)—undisputedly defined as a conquering era when many of the world’s highest peaks were summited for the first time.

These epic adventures, along with their staunch nationalistic achievements, were lampooned not only by Scratch & Co. The Great Cat Expedition but also, sitting firmly in the same vein, by W. E. Bowman's earlier novel from 1956, The Ascent of Rum Doodle—and readers will find Molly Lefebure's satirical writing style equally enjoyable. Having been published in both the UK and USA, its content has been well received, thus earning a celebrated place in mountaineering literature. Nonetheless, it can still be considered one of the forgotten Wainwright’s, and something of a rarity with less than 3500 copies in circulation. It deserves a new generation of fans.

As well as being a most exciting adventure story, this is a witty send-up of a mountaineering book—complete with 'Alpine Club' type characters, hair-breadth rescues, dangerous gambles, treacherous weather conditions, and all the tensions and pompous tones of a Himalayan expedition.

This unique and intriguing account of the first ascent of the H.K.P., the Highest Known Peak in Catdom (an undisguised Scafell Pike), originally published by Victor Gollancz in 1968 with illustrations by the well-known Lakeland guide book author and topographer, A. Wainwright, is seriously in the tradition of classic mountaineering stories. Over the years, since its first appearance, it has built-up an enthusiastic readership amongst the outdoor fraternity, including climbers, dedicated fell walkers, Wainwright fans and Lakeland devotees of all ages and persuasions.

 The sun shone from a cloudless blue sky, the snow glittered. Scratch and Oliver were in first-class condition; poor Tibs, however, had frost-bitten paws. This, alas, meant that he could not be one of the final assault party, which would now consist of Oliver, Red Rowan and Wee Hamish, led by Scratch.

Chapter Twelve - My Mountain

There's something of a nod to Beatrix Potter as the protagonists are humanised animals, all of which have been effectively created by Molly Lefebure's uncanny ability to retain their essential animal characteristics. It's a form of literary device and compounds the satirical nature of the storyline that follows the National Feline Geographical Society expedition and the high adventures of Scratch Sharp and his fellow climbing-cats, high-altitude terrier sherpas, twitchy low-level rabbit porters and his free spirited adversaries, the foxes. The colourful and keenly observed characters make this book witty and gripping reading—with Scratch’s Company consisting of, amongst others, the fusty Expedition leader, famous old mountaineer and soldier, Brigadier Sir Hylwel Catterwaul; geologist, Tybault Brightstone; super-organised medical officer, Dr Thomas Black; university student and the expedition’s youngest member, Oliver Simpkin; food-obsessive, Tibs Brightstone; and Wee Hamish McCall, “the most famous mountaineering terrier of them all”…not to mention Manx Scoop and Whiskey Bylines, ace reporters for the Cat Times and Cat's Courier, and Manx Scoop's fighting mad mongoose servant ever keen to sink his teeth into anything that vaguely resembled a snake. Red Rowan Lightfoot and his band of crafty foxes compliment the ensemble.

It’s an amusing story interlaced with moments of excitement as attendant heroic ballyhoo soon slides away into hilarity with the eccentric British personalities. There’s taunting and friction among the felines and between the different species, but when push comes to shove, they all put their differences aside to work as a team. There’s danger, too, especially when Red Rowan Lightfoot and his foxy cohorts emerge from their borrans amongst the crags to waylay these expeditionary-offcomers; when the weather deteriorates and they are caught in a blizzard, it’s questionable whether they’ll survive. Nonetheless, despite the obstacles and the main characters weakness for a tipple of catnip, bleaberry wine and foxglove brandy at any given opportunity, the assault on the H.K.P. continues.

Molly Lefebure carefully balances humour and excitement with flashes of surrealism, such as when Sir Hywel Catterwaul unintentionally brews a pair of grey woollen socks in a teapot; and in another nod, this time to Wordsworth, when Tibs and Oliver ask a sleeping butterfly “Is it going to rain,” who then, unexpectedly, replies in a cacophonous tone that is disharmonious with its dainty anatomy.

Whilst the story may be geographically based in the imaginary “Kingdom of Catdom,” the essence of Lake District is firmly entrenched at the heart of this book, and with place names and descriptions of mountain features much closer to home, these references will entertain anyone with knowledge of the region. Readers familiar with famed mountaineers and mountaineering’s variety of exponents can appreciate the dialect and mannerisms of the uncouth ‘locals’ and educated or affected off-comers, and they can identify personalities where some are inspired by real persons and easily identifiable. This is a sophisticated book written by someone who really knows about mountains and the people who climb them.

Red Rowan next performed a ceremony. He swept a circle in the snow with his brush, scattered rowan berries on the circle, buried a small hack-pudding, placed a piece of white quartz to mark where the pudding lay, cocked up a hind leg and carefully sprayed the stone. "Scaur Fell," he said.

Chapter Twelve - My Mountain

The choice of illustrator was an easy one. A.W. was, of course, very good friends with fellow mountaineering connoisseur Molly Lefebure for many years, a friendship originally started by post after she wrote to him regarding an error in one of his guides. They shared a lot in common, not only their love of the countryside and the Lake District—but also for cats. When asked to illustrate Scratch & Co. he was all enthusiasm until he met the mongoose, "The cats I can draw with my eyes shut. But a mongoose? I’ve never as much glimpsed one!" he said. Fortunately a stuffed mongoose was discovered in Kendal Museum, where he worked as Curator. When reporting the good news A.W. confirmed "I’ve spent a couple of days with the little chap and I think I’ve got him!"

With the manuscript and interior illustrations complete, Molly and AW progressed onto the book title and cover design; elements which were originally left undecided. Two options, Scratch and Co. and Red Rowan’s Paw of Friendship, were on the table. A brisk choice was made with Red Rowan’s Paw of Friendship ending up on the editing room floor. It was a wise decision that paved the way for The Great Cat Expedition. The upshot: a bright orange cover emblazoned with the names of two literary legends; this book is hard to miss.

It is worthy to note that Wainwright’s contribution was rooted firmly in his friendship with Molly, and his artwork was produced for free; a gesture that acts a great indicator of character and the value he placed on their relationship. Ever benevolent, he even elected to forfeit his right to royalties from book sales, and instead insisted his share should be donated to a local charity.

"Well, here we are standing on the highest known peak in Catdom but, blimey, if you ask me, it's that mountain there wot's the real cat's whiskers!"

Scratch Sharp

The letters accompanying the illustrations were written in typical Wainwright humour. Within these typed letters were several of his concerns, primarily for 'prostituting his talents.' He jested that he may have to walk the streets holding his head in shame for drawing a scruffy little dog having a piddle and confessed 'I have sunk very low indeed!' The original copy of the frontispiece showing 'The Route of the Expedition' also carried signs of Wainwright's character. A small patch near Stockley Bridge covered a burn mark which occurred when he experienced 'a moment of tense excitement' when the contents of his pipe spilled onto the paper.

In a pledge to uphold the pedigree of the First Edition, the New Edition was diligently typeset by David Smith of Indent Ltd and beautifully printed by the team at Titus Wilson, both of Kendal, consequently maintaining its integrity. This book is homegrown—one wholly written, illustrated, typeset, and printed in Cumbria—a truly Cumbrian publication!

The Great Cat Expedition was ready to start. Readers have been joining it ever since.

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Molly Lefebure, who lived in the Lake District's Newlands Valley, is author of books in various fields. Starting with her experiences as Medical Secretary to Professor Keith Simpson, the famous Home Office Pathologist, she followed this with a biography of John George Haigh the acid bath murderer, after which came books on the Lake District, two more novels and writing for radio and television. She is also author of acclaimed biographical studies of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas Hardy. Her last book was a third Coleridge study Private Lives of the Ancient Mariner.

* * * * *

If you would like to purchase a copy, just follow the Amazon link below, then look for the Mountainmere store, and you can purchase a copy directly from me.


The Great Cat Expedition

Molly Lefebure & A. Wainwright

  • £11.99 + P&P
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-9547213-1-2
  • New edition - Published 2 September 2006
  • Case bound laminated hardcover
  • 13.7 x 1.8 x 20.4 cm - 341 grams
  • 160 pages
  • 45850 words
  • 14 black & white Alfred Wainwright line drawings
  • English language

What they're saying...

Reviews published in the mainstream media offer a valuable independent insight into a books value. Here is a selection for your perusal:
There is good news for Molly Lefebure. AW fans and collectors will know that in 1968 AW kindly agreed to do the cover and illustrations for a children's book she had written,  Scratch and Co. It's about an expedition in the Lakeland mountains by a team of cats. AW was amused by the idea and did some excellent drawings. When I was doing my biography of AW in 1995, I tried to get Puffin, part of the same firm that published the biography, to do a new issue of the book, but they turned it down, the rotters! Now, a publishing company from Blackburn, Mountainmere Research, who specialise in mountain topics, have just reprinted Scratch and Co. Look out for it. All AW fans should have a copy in their collections. "Its been out of print for years," says Molly, who still lives in Lakeland, in the Newlands valley. "I've been told that copies of the original book have been changing hands for up to £300. Not that I get a penny. Maddening isn't it..." 

A super-ingenious and most diverting book

The cat's whiskers

A very quirky read

An engaging mixture of parody and Ripping deserves a new generation of fans

Imaginatively this extravaganza is a triumph. Molly Lefebure manipulates plot and characters with controlled skill. Humorous it is; tense it is; exciting it is; but this saga of the great cat expedition is also a glorious satirical stab at the whole complex of a sport. Children will thoroughly enjoy the book on its merits as a children's story—but mountaineers will recognise the 'types', the slang they use and the lines they shoot.

DAVID MAZZELMountaineering Women: Stories by Early Climbers

A 'young adult' book, but a great read for adults as well, a delightful story as well as a keen satire on the nationalism of the early Himalayan expeditions. A team of cats-all Toms, I’m afraid-attempts to climb HKP, "Highest Known Peak," using rabbits as porters and sturdy little terriers as "Sherpas." The redoubtable team advances steadily upwards, until the foxes show up…

F. J. CARRUTHERS - Around the Lakeland Hills
Molly Lefebure invented Scratch & Co. stories which, like Southey's Golidlocks and the Three Bears, are read with interest by both children and adults.


Cats to match the men who scale mountains, namely young Scratch Sharp and the company he comes to lead up the Highest Known Peak—this after Sir Hylwel Catterwaul, "one of the last survivors of the Golden Age of pioneer mountaineering," has said up, up, up once too often and gone down, down, down. What starts off as a cricket-y English spoof with a Scottish strain—Wee Hamish McCall, "the most famous mountaineering terrier of them all," pipes the porters—musters more energy when Red Rowan Lightfoot and his foxy friends intercept the expedition. Will they guide the party to the summit, as promised, or succumb to their taste for cat cutlets? Red Rowan at least is as good as his word, and he and Scratch and schoolmate Oliver Simpkin and Wee Hamish ultimately leave their mark (Hamish washing his away with whisky) on the H.K.P. Good-sportsmanship triumphs, good-fellowship endures but Britannia rules—which makes this romp something of a sport on the American scene.


Exciting, wonderfully written, and frequently hilarious, Scratch and Co. is a neat little parody of that peculiarly English sub-genre of adventure fiction where manly men pit themselves against mighty mountains, determined to scale the peaks “because they're there” even if it costs them life and limb.  There's a noble hero, a couple of competing journalists, porters and Sherpas and devious allies, all playing their parts…This is child-safe adventure at its very best. A bonus are Alfred Wainwright's witty illustrations, which bring Scratch and his friends to vibrant life.