Environment Magazine

The Last Hillwalker - Review

Posted on the 26 November 2017 by Ashley Crombet-Beolens @Fromanurbanlake
The Last Hillwalker - Review (book cover image)
Mountain climbing has never been my thing, it's not that I am scared of heights, I used to hang out in trees as a kid, and am not hugely opposed to walking cliff edges, although the overwhelming questions of throwing oneself off are always there (I'm told it is quite normal, and many people have that same feeling); but the few times I have been hundreds of feet up, staring over the edge of a rocky precipice into a gaping chasm whose rocky floor would not make for a soft landing, I must admit to feeling a little dizzy.

The Last Hillwalker - Review

I've not really spent much time walking in hills, a few visits to the Lake district, some rambles along the Chilterns, and a couple of forays up some Scottish mountains in search of Ptarmigan are my limit, but it is something IO would like to explore more. 
Unfortunately time and transport don't allow for this at the moment, so I decided to try the next best thing and read about other peoples experiences, and what better place to start than in a book shortlisted for the Great Outdoors Magazine book of the year 2017: The Last Hillwalker: A sideways look at forty years in Britain's Mountains by John D Burns.
When I first opened the book (well pressed the kindle button on my tablet, we are after all living in the 21st century) my heart sank a little as John dove straight into being up some god forsaken mountain. Ice axes in hand we were transported to the heights of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak no less. I considered giving up straight away, like I said mountain climbing is not my thing, but the first paragraph was captivating, and soon I had lost my doubt and was quickly reading through the pages eager to hear more tales of mountain adventure. But it is not a climbing book.
John tells the story of one mans journey as he progressed from hill walker to full blown mountain climber then back to walker once more as age, and the inevitable fears experience brings, catches up; joined along the way by various friends and climbing partners, he is not ashamed to  laugh at his own naivety and, at times, incompetence; the scrapes and mishaps that befall them, the camaraderie that they found, and beer they drank; and, at times, the harsh reality of the tragedies that can befall even the experienced.
While reading this excellent book (you can see why it has been shortlisted for awards) I have traveled with him through the Lake District, across boggy uplands, climbed ice sheets in the Cairngorms and nearly fallen from others, I've even made it to the top of Mont Blanc with him. John Burns has managed to capture, beautifully, the Majesty of the scenery, but kept the tone light and fun filled. Even some of the more upsetting moments have, whilst conveying the real threat that being stranded on a hillside can be, been entertaining. The descriptive text really takes you on those journey's, sometimes the writing is as chaotic as real life, there is a master story teller here, a craft honed by the campfires and in the climbers bars he has frequented.
There is true adventure in the hills, and there is laughter and wonder in Johns words. I just wish I had the ability to pronounce the plethora of Gaelic names.
I'm Walking 2500 miles in 2017 to raise money for Birding For All - Read about it here - Please consider donating through My Donate
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