A HISTORY OF SCOTTISH MOUNTAINEERING
VOLUME 1: THE EARLY YEARS Ken Crocket, pb SMC
Sometimes it’s good to know where we came from – or at least understand the origin of a particular thing. It helps you enjoy it more when you know the backstory. And when that backstory was being scripted on (more or less) the same stage on which we play today – the crags and summits of Britain – it does lend a certain closeness in time to us and those pioneers who first ventured into them.
Climbing mountains for fun is a relatively new pastime. Life was harder in the old days, leisure time was harder to come by, and when it did roll around the idea of going out into the wild mountains and putting yourself through even more hardship wasn’t, unsurprisingly, the first idea that occurred. The origins of the first flirtations of the English towards the mountains is well documented, from Coleridge and the Romantics to the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout. But Scotland was and is, in every sense, a different country. And the stories contained in this – and a remarkable two further volumes, both now also available – have a very different vibe.
This book is the closest thing to a definitive history of what you might call the ‘mountain enlightenment’ north of the border. Mountains in Scotland have been a way of life in many senses for hundreds of years, so what we are dealing with is essentially a change in attitude towards them – but I found the most illuminating chapters of this excellent book covered the darkest corners of history when mountaineering was a means to an end, rather than the end in itself. We’re talking the days of great walls being scaled during clan wars, tyrannical landowners demanding a snowball from mountain summits as ‘rent’, the St Kilda cliff climbers and the very first tourists. Then, of course, you have the dawn of the sport, when the well-heeled mountaineer and the wily local joined forces on the slopes of the peaks to make history.
Later volumes become more technical, but Ken Crocket has delivered in Volume 1 a superb history for all who love the Scottish hills in any capacity. Review by Simon Ingram