I have always loved books and, in particular, travel and exploration books. I am jealous of people who have not read The Worst Journey in the World, or The Kon-Tiki Expedition, or Wind, Sand and Stars, for they still have those joys to come. When I first began reading books like this I was a student in Edinburgh and positively riddled with wanderlust. Desperate to explore mythical-sounding places like Patagonia and the Karakoram, I burned off my energy dashing around the Pentland Hills and up and down Arthur’s Seat.
It was not until years later that I discovered the wonderful variety of books about British landscapes and adventures, and began using them as inspiration for planning trips around the UK. I want today to share some of my favourites with you to encourage you not only to read them (or re-read them), but also do so with the mindset of using them to hatch ideas for yourself of peaks to climb and places to explore.
For example, I love Waterlog, by Roger Deakin. It’s part nature writing, part mildly anarchic travelogue, about a swimming journey round the UK. Last summer I set out one hot day to specifically swim in a series of the spots he mentions in his book and make a little film about it. It was fabulous in every way. Or take Mountains of the Mind, by Robert Macfarlane. Macfarlane is a writer who was clearly issued a bigger brain than me, but we share a strong love of wild places and words. His description of Loch Coruisk as bearing “a silence that reached backwards to the Ice Age” inspired me to visit that beautiful spot for myself. Macfarlane has also pointed me in the direction of other books I have loved, including Nan Shepherd’s ode to the Cairngorms, “The Living Mountain”.
Britain’s landscapes are also a rich source of properly tough, gritty adventures. I loved Mike Cawthorne’s “Hell of a Journey”, shivering my way through his unbroken winter journey up and over all of Scotland’s 1000-metre mountains. Similarly eccentric, Ronald Turnbull’s “Book of the Bivvy” opened my eyes to the possibilities of travelling fast and light, sleeping high, and the joys and frustrations of dropping down from the hills in search of open village shops, and the cost to calorie benefits of custard cream biscuits.
Two more for you, in the spirit of encouraging you to travel simply and look and see more deeply: The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham, and Dominick Tyler’s Uncommon Ground. The more you know about a landscape, I find, the greater the experience. Learning birdsong, the shapes of trees, and the names of the hills I see (allow me to squeeze in a shameless plug for the brilliant Skyline feature on my sponsor’s ViewRanger’s app, if I may.) I would love to hear your own recommendations via @al_humphreys on Twitter for books that will help me learn more about the ancient hills of our land.
Finally, I fear that this month you’ll hear the first Christmas song playing on the radio. Use this as a cue to go climb a hill immediately!
This piece originally appeared in Trail Magazine.