The Angry Corrie 24: Sep-Oct 1995
Across Scotland on Foot - A guide for walkers and hill runners, by Ronald Turnbull
Grey Stone Books, 160pp, ISBN 0 9515996 4 X, £5.95. Reviewed by the Editor
Available in bookshops or from Cordee, 3a De Montfort St, Leicester LE1 7HD
Over the years, Scottish hillwalking books, like English egg kings, seem to have come in waves. Perhaps in response to the recent wave of largely height-based guides, we're getting much healthier, less classifiable books - part overview, part autobiography, part crypto-guidebook. This diverse grouping often more successfully reveals an author's experience and deep love of hills than would have a straight-down-the-line bagbook. It's no coincidence that many folk seem to see The Last Hundred, for instance, as Hamish Brown's best work since his Mountain Walk opener. Reason? It's written with feeling.
Turnbull's Across Scotland on Foot falls into this vague classification. His idea is simple: detail a whole load of west/east crossings of Scotland, then crank up the normal speed by asserting that "if a thing's worth doing it's worth doing fast". Hence this isn't by any means an orthodox walker's guide. Turnbull's crossings include the "convenient" 77 miles and 23000ft from Evanton to Poolewe - done in three days - and a diagonal slice across Galloway from Gatehouse of Fleet to Girvan involving 49 miles and 15000ft of ascent. This occupies the author and his fellrunning sidekick Glyn a mere 17 hours 20 minutes. Such speed is well outwith the scope of most fit and sane hillgoers - and of many very fit / mildly insane ones too. But the author isn't boasting here, merely conveying the sense of relish with which he comes to - or rather at - the hills.
It's unusual - and refreshing - to encounter someone both super-fit and well matured in hill-sense: this serves as a good role model for other hillgoers. Turnbull also makes this reviewer deeply envious by appearing to have reached his mid-forties virtually injury-free, without anything more than fleeting aches and pains! He's omnivorous, gobbling up everything in his path, big or small, moorland or rock-ridge, like some planet-eating creature in a SF novel.
The pieces in this book could perhaps best be described as examples of "journeying" - walking a while, then running, then walking again, as the mood takes you. Most chapters give a subjective, entertaining account of the journey in question, followed by a hard-factual breakdown of routes, peaks, times, then further notes on access, accommodation etc. This latter point will get Turnbull into various bad books, since he names bothies and gives occasional gridrefs. But at least he, unlike many other bothy-mentioners, does actually get out there and use the damn things. Less controversial is the useful pinpointing of features such as path junctions and bridges, whilst also good is a nice line in honest description: hotels can be "seedy", a war memorial "nasty". Hillbooks should have more of this: too often they either falsely applaud or simply say nothing.
There are inevitably odd errors and facts in need of updating - surely the bloke at Carnmore was reading Touching the Void, not Touch the Void; the trig at Balconie Point isn't the lowest in Scotland, Rhunahaorine Point is; it's no longer any use climbing Beinn Talaidh on Mull in search of a Corbett. But these are more than offset by frequent sensible suggestions - eg walkers, no matter how self-sufficient they be, should try and spend a bit of cash in poor areas such as south Ayrshire.
He can spin the odd cracking phrase too - "Rain was coming down like a depressing totalitarian regime" would be worthy of the best TAC articles! So all in all a good, mature book about fairly mental behaviour. Probably difficult to find in many shops, but still well worth seeking out.