I’m still working my way through some old books, and just finished is the recent reprint of Hamish Brown’s Hamish’s Mountain Walk from Sandstone Press. It’s the story of the first continual round of the Munro’s, back in ’74.
First is good, it doesn’t matter how fast or fancy someone does it after that, they’re a day late and a dollar short. It took Hamish a couple of hundred pages to properly admit that real desire to be first, and I really warmed to him after that, it was both a revelation from the writer and a break from the Scottish tradition of belittling success and decrying ambition.
I’d put the book down for a couple of weeks after struggling with it a little after being sucked right in at the start. I think I felt the constant religious references loom larger than they actually were and that started to grate, a personal issue for me and exacerbated by my mood at the time no doubt. But I flew through the last half when I picked it back up, and was sorry when I turned the last page.
It’s written in a personal style, only the briefest descriptions of the terrain, but just enough to place you with him if you know where he is or tickle your interest if the slopes are unvisited. maybe the best kind of guide book then? “This place is wonderful, come and find your own way to it”.
Hamish’s love of the country is deep and well expressed, and there’s enough little bits of history and random facts in there to add an extra dimension without feeling incongruous. The passage of time from then to now is an enjoyable aspect, the food and equipment, to the changing attitudes to access, and the no-no’s of today, like burning bog-wood.
I know folk will say what he did was an enormous achievement because of the scale, the physical endurance, but I see it differently, lots of folk work hard very day. The possibilities of what people can do are endless, we are a wonderful species who squander our potential, what Hamish did was actually make the decison to do it and see it through: plan; arrange; go; succeed. That’s what has my respect, and even if he’d failed it would have been a win for me.
It’s a wonderful story, the style and the man himself are as you find them, but as proof that Scotland is awfy big for such a wee country, look no further.