Book Review// Wild Winter

Winter is my favourite time in Scotland. The mountains achieve a majesty in winter as the weather turns cold and changes the landscape. Wild Winter depicts this change as the chapters focus on the autumn and winter months in the Highlands.

Each month focuses on John Burns’ trips to Scotland and how the changing season affects the wildlife there. Starting in October with a trip to see the deers rut and whale watch, the book progresses through to March, with trips to find mountain hares, pine martens and beavers.

The book follows the same format as Bothy Tales, factual information on Scottish endeavours to re-wild, interspersed with Burns recounting trips to remote locations to be in the landscape. 

“Mountaineering plans are made in a warm room with a map spread out in front of you and a glass in your hand. Mountaineering decisions are made on aching legs, sweating, gasping for breath with reality howling about your ears.”

As he looks at the natural world he also discusses man’s impact. From salmon farming to the culling hares by grouse farmers, he is critical of man’s control of wildlife for our own profits. The constant battle between nature and man is best recounted in the discussion on beaver reintroduction to Scotland.

That Scotland’s wild spaces are anything but due to the management for deer and grouse is something most visitors overlook but wild winter brings to the fore. 

“Where I once saw wilderness and stood in awe of a magnificent landscape, now I see desolation. Now I see the scars we have wrought on this earth. I see the high moorland burnt for the shooting if driven grouse. I see our hills denuded of trees.”

Wild Winter is another beautiful book by Burns. If you love Scotland or just love literature which celebrates the landscape rather than tries to tame it, or battle through it – then Wild Winter is a book you will love.

Book Review // 100 Great Walks with Kids

I’ll start by saying I don’t have a kid, but I do have a 13 year old stepson who prefers the playstation to the outdoors and a small puppy who’s currently only able to adventure for a maximum of 30 minutes. They’re the same as a small child, right?

Providing a range of great walks all as mini adventures, this book provides an opportunity to engage children in the outdoors and explore new places without having to drag them for a dreaded walk.

100 Great Walks with Kids covers the basics of what’s needed for walking with young children, such as considering footwear and buggies/ carriers.

It breaks the walks down into regions and for each provides a great overview and why the walk is exciting to children, as well as the key info such as distance, start/ finish, and difficulty grading.

All of the walks are relatively short 1-3 miles long so do-able for small children with plenty of exploring along the way.

The only downside of this book is that in trying to cover the whole of Great Britain, the walks are spread far and wide – from Scilly to Skye.

The maps are quite basic with not many features marked on them for navigation but there are clear written directions to follow.

All the walks also include a panel of other things to see and do nearby, which is great for making a full day out somewhere if your little one walks quickly!

This is a great book for families who might need some inspiration for day trips, weekends away or a summer holiday. Its also got some great ideas for inspiring young people to get excited about the outdoors from a young age.

Book Review // Day walks in the South Pennines

I wouldn’t normally use a guidebook for day walks and definitely not for the area in which I live. But given the chance to review this guide I thought I’d see if it would still impress me, given the amount of walking I’ve done in the South Pennines.

The ‘Day Walks in…’ guides produced by Vertebrate Publishing now cover almost all of the National Parks and some extra areas too, as with the South Pennines. The same format is also used for their mountain biking guides, which I’ve used a lot since taking up mountain biking last summer. (who didn’t get on a bike in lockdown 1?)

Day walks in the South Pennines covers 20 walks around West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, all between 8 and 29km (5 and 18 miles).

Each route has stunning photos, an overview of the walk with a clear OS map route image and detailed written walking guide.

Each route also has a really clear overview panel covering the total distance of the route, ascent, grid reference for the start, parking suggestions and which OS map you will need.

The books covers a lot of classic walks in the area, so is a great introduction to the South Pennines for visitors. You’ll find walks around Dove Stone Reservoir, Bridestones and Stoodley Pike, Hollingworth Lake and Blackstone Edge.

Some of the routes covered require good navigation skills – for example the first route in the guide of Holme to Black Hill and while it says as such in the written text its surprising for a guide book of this nature to suggest a route which requires walking on a bearing across open moorland which is a hotspot for mountain rescue locally.

The South Pennines isn’t a designated national park or even an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so many people don’t necessarily associate the term with a specific bounded area. So the inclusion of the area in the ‘Day Walks’ series is fantastic to encourage more people to visit the towns and villages in this area that is between two National Parks.

The guidebook does sneak in some routes outside of the rough geography of the South Pennines though with the inclusion of Pendle Hill (in the Trough of Bowland), Rivington Pike (in the Western Pennines) and Goodshaw and Hamilton Hill (in the Western Pennines). These are great routes, but its a shame as there could have easily been 3 more routes on the South Pennines Moors included in this guide. And surely there’s enough great walks in both the Western Pennines and Trough of Bowland for a separate guide too?

That said this is a great introduction to the area and some of its classic walks.

Book Review // Walking the Literary Landscape

I’ve been reviewing Vertebrate Publishing books for the past year and they never fail to inspire the imagination for adventures. I was delighted to review Walking the Literary Landscape, particular as it focuses on the North of England. There’s so many hidden gems in the North that guidebooks like this which are national are going to always miss something wonderful.

The slim book is laid out in a relatively standard format with all the necessary safety information and countryside code reminder for hiking and hill walking in the UK.

The book covers 20 walks ranging from 5 to 14km (3 -9 miles), from the Lake District, North East, Peak District to Cheshire. Each walk also relates to a different literary author, which provides a great range of interesting routes and tales.

Each walk is covered with a beautiful photo of the location and a page summary of the author’s links to the landscape. Its then followed by a 2 page guide with step by step notes about the route and an ordnance survey map of the route.

Some of the walks and literary connections are obvious ones – Ted Hudges for the Calder Valley, Bram Stoker for Whitby and Beatrix Pottery for Windermere. Others were a little less obvious, such as William Shakespeare being associated with Wooler, and Charles Dickens with Carrock Fell in Cumbria.

Vertebrate Publishing always do fantastic walking guides but I like this one for the unique theme and the route choices. Rather than taking in the classic walks of the area, the routes are more thoughtful and cover a great range of beautiful locations.

So if you’re looking for inspiration for walks and have time to combine a trip with a good book then I’d highly recommend combining a walk from this guide with something by the author – perhaps a trip to Daresbury with a bit of Lewis Carroll?

Book Review // Big Trails: Heart of Europe

Having already had chance to review Big Trails : GB & Ireland I was very excited to be asked to review Big Trails: Heart of Europe too. What a great opportunity to be inspired for new adventures, (when overseas travel is once again allowed.)

Big Trails: Heart of Europe follows the same format of the GB & Ireland book, covering 25 long distance trails in Western Europe and the Alps. These include some of the really famous and well-walked routes such as the Haute Route, Tour du Mont Blanc and Tour of Monte Rosa. It also includes a lot of routes I’d never heard of before which was quite exciting.

Even some of these lesser known routes which cross flatter terrain sound interesting – such as the Brabantse Heuvelroute in Belgium and the Heidschnuckenweg in Germany, both of which meander along rivers, through farmland, heath and natural woodlands.

Having completed the Tour du Mont Blanc and done part of the Alterweg route in Austria, I felt I had a good basis on which to judge if the route descriptions were going to be both useful and accurate.

As with the GB & Ireland book, for each route there are beautiful images of the landscape you’ll see along the trail. These are accompanied with a summary of the route, covering highlights, key locations and things to think about while planning. This is useful on the mountainous routes where it includes information on refuges to stay at, if wild camping is not tolerated and when drinking water might be a consideration.

The descriptions of the routes provide both inspiration and allows you to learn about the history of the area and the trail. It also has enough information to help start to plan your adventure.

The overview maps show the whole trail so you can see at a glance where the route goes. These are not useful for navigating but the accompanying text provides key information about where you can get further details to plan your trip, from guidebooks to websites.

The essential details page covers distance, key features, a profile of the route height along the trail, and pros and cons of the routes – everything from how busy the routes are to transport connections at either end.

Whilst I’m super keen to do some of the mountainous routes in the book, learning about trails I might not have come across otherwise sparked my interest in visiting other areas of Europe. Who knew there was a trail in Luxembourg which was also an annual ultra event?!

It’s definitely worth doing a fair bit of research though after deciding on your route – the description of the TMB for example only really covers doing it in one direction and doesn’t mention the multitude of campsites available if the refuges are full.

The only downside to this book is that it only covers the central areas of Europe, missing out trails in the East, Spain and some of the long distance trails on European islands. (Shame as the GR20 is still my favourite route).

I can only hope this means that this is the start of a collection of European Big Trails books, which will eventually cover the entire area, providing inspiration for more long distance adventures.

Book Review // To Live

To Live by Élisbeth Revol is a powerful book of survival that tells the tale of the ill fated ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2018 by Élisabeth and climbing partner Tomasz Mackiewicz. 

Being immediately thrust into the terror of the situation sets this books apart from most mountaineering literature. Expecting to start with a window into the tragedy and then be taken back to their individual life journeys to reach that point – instead Élisabeth focused on that tragic night as they tried to descend the mountain. The only glimpses into her past are set as memories as she slips in an out of consciousness and sleep on her attempt to descend the mountain.

Throughout the narrative is punctured with reflections from the present day as she relives the disaster which provide the reader with an insight into how she has both been able to move on and how the fateful night still haunts her. She also reflects on why she’s driven to climb at high altitude and her achievements which provide an understanding of her motivations and abilities.

Trying to appreciate the difficulty of climbing an 8000m mountain in winter is challenging enough. But to understand the mental strength required to survive for days without food and water, to descend having left some essential kit with Tomasz in the hope it would help him survive and to do so with frostbite fearing no-one is coming to help you – is a strength most people do not have.

To Live is a harrowing read, but one that is gripping throughout and a book I highly recommend.

Book Review // Big Trails: GB & Ireland

Having had few exciting adventures in 2020 thanks to the Pandemic, receiving this book to review finally started to get me excited about future adventures.

Big Trails: Great Britain and Ireland covers 25 long distance routes. This includes famous routes such as the Pennine Way and Cape Wrath Trail, to routes I’d not even heard of, such as the Beara Way and the Raad ny Foillan. Having completed 3 of the routes already, gave me a good perspective on the descriptions provided.

First thing to note, this isn’t a book to take out on the hill with you. It’s meant for reading with a coffee on a wet day as you start to plan adventures; a place to start if you need inspiration and advice.

Big Trails starts with a detailed ‘How to Use this Book’ section highlighting understanding icons used, the colour coding used for when to go and the differences in pace calculated for each type of adventure.

For each route the book provides beautiful images along the trail, alongside a summary of the route, including highlights, key locations and things to think about while planning. This provides both inspiration and allows you to learn about the history of the area and the trail. It also has enough information to help start to plan your adventure.

For each route there is also an overview map showing the total trail. Obviously this isn’t going to be suitable to navigate with, but is great for planning and understanding where the route will take you.

The adjoining page provides a summary of essential information, such as distance, key features, a profile of the route height along the trail, and pros and cons of the routes, (my favourite is the Icknield Way Path which highlights Luton as in the list of cons!).

It also lists good places to find out more about the route to aid planning, from books to websites.

Reading through the routes that I have completed, such as the Pennine Way, Dales Way and Hadrian’s Wall Path reminded me of some of the highlights of the routes. It did however make me look in detail at the time taken for the routes.

The Dales Way for example I completed with a friend in 4 days which put us at the Trekkers category. The Pennine Way I did in 11 days (albeit over 8 years!) which put me in fastpacking category. That all sounds reasonable.

The Hadrians Wall Path however, I ran over 5 days. But the guide suggests is should be possible to trail run the route in 2 days.

Heading to the detailed section on speed at the front I looked at how they had calculated this – knowing that 138km in 2 days for Hadrian’s Wall was quite an undertaking for a ‘trail’ run. (That is technically an ultra run of 69km a day).

The calculations seemed logical but missed the obvious of how much kit you might be carrying which would slow you down, sensible places to stop for the night, and assume that you’re always going to walk/run for 8 hours a day. For walking this is probably realistic but the definition of trail running is a bit misleading. Few trail runners would run for 8 hours a day or complete such ultra distances. So that probably needs taking as a very rough guide!

That said the selection of routes is fantastic, with not all of them being National Trails or way marked long distance paths. I love that it has a fair spread of routes in the 5 nations and it does have some really useful information for planning routes. I’m totally inspired now to check out Ireland’s long distance trails and the Cambrian Way is now on the bucket list.

If you’re in need of some inspiration for an adventure and need a place to start then Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland is a great book for your Christmas list.

Book Review // Wild Running

Spent the summer running over the fells near home and need a bit of inspiration to get out over the winter? Then this book is for you.

Jam packed with over 200 great routes from around the country, it’s a great place to start if you’re heading somewhere new and need inspiration for your runs.

The book is organised into regions making navigation easy. Each route has only short one paragraph descriptions and the maps at the back are only really useful for identifying where the runs are. So on the face of it, its only good for inspiration but still requires a lot of though and planning.

Not so. Each route description has a unique code for a website for online downloads which includes gpx files for devices to enable you to keep you from getting lost when on the trail.

Compiling the book in this format allows there to be great photos and general information on the areas without the book having to have detailed maps which would make it too big.

Wild Running is a fantastic way to get inspiration to get off the road and into the hills and fields and a quick way to find route to run when you visit an area for the first time.

Book Review // Winter 8000

For any mountaineer any ascent of an 8000m mountain in winter is considered with awe; the harsh brutality of winter in extreme environments is unimaginable. 

Winter 8000 by Bernadette McDonald, tells the stories of the teams who pioneered ascents on the world’s highest mountains in the harshest season. 

Of course it begins with Everest, and the mental strength of the Polish team who got the first ascent in winter in 1973. That this has only been repeated 5 times despite the commercialisation of the Everest summer season indicates both the severe difference in weather and the radical difference in mental and physical strength needed for the winter feat. 

Each chapter covers the first ascent and subsequent attempts, success and failures of each mountain. The history of these climbers, often unknown outside the mountaineering community, is fascinating and their dedication to their ascents is inspiring. Facing harsh winter winds, snow storms and subsequent frostbite and death – it’s hard to imagine having such determination. 

The book neither glamorises mountaineering nor fails to paint a realistic portrayal of the battles and challenges faced by those who attempt to climb the mountains in winter. The Polish climber known as Jurek, epitomises this determination when he joined two winter teams in the same season to speed up his attempt to be the first to complete the all 8000s. Weaving his story and that of the Polish Ice Warriors across chapters adds to the sense of personal ambition of climbers and also the frequent tragedies of mountaineering. 

The tragedy of mountaineering is really brought to life with Broad Peak, a story very much belonging to Polish climber, Maciej,

No-one wants to die for their dreams. The only thing we truly want is to have a dream so strong it lets us feel young and alive… That is never too late for dreams, and no dream is so big and so beckoning or so icy its impossible.

page 178, Broad Peak.

Winter 8000 is a great book of adventure and achievement, and epitomises the art of suffering that is winter mountaineering.