I can count the outdoor writers that I’ve enjoyed reading on my fingers. I’m not counting guide books in that, which are always worth a flick through when my mind draws a blank. I have stuff going back to the 50’s and they’re all an absolute joy.
I’ve enjoyed Ralph Storer, Ernest Shackleton, Ian Mitchell’s Scotland’s Mountains Before Mountaineers, Hamish Brown (re-prints also coming soon) and Tom Weir. Hmm, maybe that’s the fingers of one hand then?
Tom Weir’s books are being reprinted by Steve Savage Publishers and I’ve just read the new Weir’s Way (below). It’s hard to know where to start talking about this book as it chimes so many notes for me.
What has a huge personal resonanace is his love of Scotland, and his love of his local area, just a few miles from me. He had an appreciation for what is around him, which I often think is missing from modern works which concentrate on drama and glory chasing. Even when Tom was hanging off of an ice route in poor weather and a woolly bunnet, he remains matter-of-fact and would rather tell tales about his climbing partner and the wildlife he saw on the day.
I think this is a common trait from the old school, they did it all first and had different motives for being in the hills than most of us these days, and it was other people who awarded them the status of explorers and heroes.
These days folk have to break their legs or roll down Everest on a log or whatever to find something new to write about and attract attention or sponsorship.
Tom’s words are those of a man at one with his lot, but there is still passion in there, when he sees that sunset, the golden eagle, Ben Lomond on a beautiful morning he slips into a different style as he tries to convey the moment as his senses perceive it, I can feel the warmth of such memories in myself. But when he speaks of sights as yet unseen to me, it lights a little flame in the back of my mind which creates a desire to go out and make that memory for myself.
There’s a vision of a Scotland throughout that’s vivid in my mind, but somehow now just out of reach. The “chapters” follow some of the TV series, but rather than just double-up on content, the book is full of connections to people or places featured in the programme or side-stories, so the links are sometimes tenuous, but always fascinating. It’s made the content in many ways historical, talking of the possibility of national parks, the new West Highland Way, the lives of people and places in the Highlands, and of course many of the names featured in the book are now gone.
In some ways this book, with it’s short chapters, disjointed narrative and Tom’s personal unnassuming tone, is like the best blog you’ve ever read. It’s like your pal down the road, there’s no distance between the reader and the writer, there’s wisdom, experience and confidence but not a hint of superiority. There’s a lot of humanity in there in his attitudes to other people and their points of view, an understanding and accepting of differences. We could do with more of that these days.
I realise that much of the content appeals to me because of where I am and all the references that link into my own timeline. But it goes far beyond that, it’s page after page of pure joy brought from a love of the outdoors and all that it means, not just the tops of mountains.
There’s so much to take from this book, and I can’t recommed reading it enough.