Monday, November 25, 2019

94. Highland Days by Tom Weir

I took a bit of a flyer on this book.  I have a romantic fascination with the British outdoors, probably started by reading Swallows and Amazons and the like at an early age, and later nurtured by British adventure fiction.  Who knows, perhaps there is a genetic trace going back to my paternal grandfather's family who came over from Liverpool and perhaps before that the countryside.  Highland Days looked to have some nice discussions about beautiful walks in the countryside, quaint characters and asides about existence.

Well those things were certainly present in the book, but only in very small doses.  The majority of the text is him describing each of various climbs he did as a young man in the Highlands. This is a book for climbers, though thank goodness of the older school.  He doesn't go into the super boring technical detail we would get today and each climb is described in language that makes you wish you could be there.  Nevertheless, this is a book for specialists.  It would kind of be like if I wrote a book in which I went through all the books I read as a young man and how much I enjoyed them (wait a minute...).  And all the place names are in gaelic in Scotland of whose geography I am woefully ignorant. 

Because it was all so pleasant and most of the time he goes out it seemed to be pouring rain (or snowing), it somehow managed to capture my attention better than I would have expected.  It did give me a real desire to go for some nice hikes in the highlands (though not the climbing in freezing rain parts).  He also has a really interesting chapter on keepers, who were men who lived on the land to maintain it for the laird's who would come once or twice a year to hunt. This was a ridiculous remnant of the old aristocratic landholding economy of Scotland and Weir is rightly critical of it.  Though I am not so sure how well his suggestion of logging and other resource attraction would have the end he hoped for of attracting more people to stay in these areas, while not doing to much damage to the environment.

Weir was the vanguard of a new phenomenon which was working-class people being interested in the outdoors for its own sake.  As a child he would take the bus out on his own to get away from the drab tenements (tenements are always described as "drab" it seems).  He later went on to do some important climbs and had his own TV show called Weir's Way that was hugely popular.  You can even get a DVD of his best walks, which I would not complain were I forced to watch.

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