Kinder Scout: Portrait of a mountain, edited by Roly Smith
(Derbyshire County Council Libraries and Heritage Dept, 2002, 144pp, ISBN 0 903463 68 7, £12.99)
Review: Val Hamilton
KINDER? A MOUNTAIN? Well, it is the obvious question. But how do you subtitle this 15 square km of featureless peat-bog with its long and featureful edges? A major component of the peakless Peak District (at least the Ponds does have ponds), Kinder is more than a hill. "Portrait of a plateau" would alliterate better without accurately reflecting the contents of the book, certainly in terms of the photographs: 90% are of the edges rather than the ripply bit in the middle. Part of the problem is the instinctive avoidance by self-deprecating walkers of the word "mountain" for anything they might go up. And if the Whangie can become a mountain in the Scottish edition of the Metro ("Man rescued from mountain", 17/7/02), then we should perhaps pass over Kinder's orographical status.
The book, although attractive, is an unusual shape and size: 18cm x 21cm with soft covers. The only similar publication I have is another Peak District book, First and Last, again edited by Smith - although at that stage in his career he was Roland rather than Roly. (TAC-reading authors should note that odd-shaped books and name-changers do not endear themselves to librarian reviewers.) There are photographs on every page, most in colour and most stunning: never pretty, but capturing Kinder's drama, starkness and space.
The prose of Smith's introductory essay is at times mauve if not fully purple, but he ranges wide and sets the scene well. One point which resonated was that for many people Kinder provides "their first taste of real wilderness". To those who do not know the place, this may sound hyperbolic, especially given the preceding sentence which talks of Kinder as "one of the most walked-on mountains in Britain." But when the cloud is down, finding your way across Kinder can be surprisingly challenging. There are so few landmarks that you are tempted to take bearings on sheep. Do you risk disorientation but save your knees by wandering along the groughs, or take the straight-line approach and charge up and down them?
The main body of the book consists of thematic chapters: solid sections on geology and natural history (a bit flowery for such a florally-challenged area), then human history from prehistory to the 19th century. The 1836 Enclosure Act is highlighted due to its significant alteration of previously liberal access conditions. An 1880 quotation summarises the situation: "To the rich, according to their riches - 2000 acres. To the poor according to their poverty - 0 acres."
The guidebook element contained in fold-out pages at the centre of the book must be unique in that all 11 routes lead to the summit of Kinder: "an insignificant spot lost in an impenetrable maze of peat hags" and rarely visited intentionally except by Marilynbaggers. There is a thoughtful chapter covering the role of the Mass Trespass in access history. This includes the timeless quotation from John Derry's 1904 book, Across the Derbyshire Moors: "Nothing keeps alive the spirit of revolt and iconoclasm so fiercely as a refusal to the general community of the use of their eyes over beautiful remote tracts of earth under the plea of private ownership. The rocks of 20,000 years echo laughter at the arrogance of the claim: 'These are mine and no other man may even pass near and look at them.'"
A more general chapter on recreation by Roger Redfern includes a description of the classic Kinder Edge walk and covers ice-climbing on the Downfall and fell races as well as standard rambling. The chapter on the National Trust's work in "Looking after Kinder" concentrates on the beneficial removal of sheep and management for grouse - without mentioning the killing element, of course.
The only striking omission is any reference to the well-documented dozen or so aircraft wrecks which become important navigational aids in this featureless landscape. The range of sources for the well-chosen quotations dotted throughout as photo captions deserve a proper bibliography, while the quotations themselves deserve a larger font: the small faint italic would be ideal for insurance exclusion clauses. In fact the whole book would merit a full-scale fold-flat coffee-table format: it reaches that elusive goal of capturing a sense of place.
Portrait of a mountain made me want to return to Kinder, and not just me. Having flicked through the book, my Sheffield-based friend Andy, celebrating his half-century in the Peak District, paid the ultimate compliment: "I must go up on to Kinder more often."
TAC 55 Index