Trail (UK) - - BASE CAMP -

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

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