In April 1974 experienced Scottish mountaineer Hamish Brown set out to climb all 279 Munros (3,000 foot summits in Scotland) in one continuous walk, something that had never been achieved before. After 112 days, 1639 miles and 449,000 feet of ascent he completed the walk. Continuous rounds have been done quite a few times since - sometimes in winter, in much faster times and with the addition of other summits - but Hamish Brown was first. Four years later the story of his pioneering walk was published. I bought a copy as soon as it came out and read it several times over the next few years. This is one of the books that inspired me and my hardback copy is dog-eared and well-thumbed. The book has been in print most of the time since 1978 but the last edition, published in a volume with Hamish’s Climbing the Corbetts, went out of print a few years ago. Now Sandstone Press has published a new and welcome paperback edition, making this classic book available to a new generation of mountain lovers.
Whilst the story of the Munros round is at the heart of Hamish’s Mountain Walk and is an inspiring and exciting tale in itself there is much more than this in the book as Hamish covers history, geology, natural history and more as well as stories of people he meets and from his past taking parties of schoolboys out in the hills. This mix produces an entertaining, informative and enthralling story that is written with verve and passion.
The latest edition has a new preface by the author and a selection of colour photos of the Scottish hills, many of which were clearly not taken during the walk. The original edition had black and white photos, which Hamish says are no longer available, which is a shame as they capture the feel of the walk well and show Hamish at various times during it, including on Ben Hope, the last Munro.
The appendices from the first edition have been omitted too and I miss these even more. The statistics of the walk and the equipment and food used are still of interest and valuable for planning. Indeed modern ultralight and lightweight backpackers could well study Hamish’s gear notes and realise that it was possible to travel very light back before most of today’s lightweight materials were available. Yet Hamish’s pack averaged around 23 lbs, including food, and only twice went above 30lbs. Most backpackers in the Highlands carry more than this today.
Despite these omissions I welcome the new edition. The story of the walk is still there, intact and untouched, waiting to inspire new walkers to explore the Highlands.
As the equipment list is missing from the new edition here are some notes taken from the first one. Hamish’s pack - a Tiso Special - was a simple frameless bag with no hipbelt, no back padding and no pockets. His tent was a single-skin nylon ridge tent with a floating groundsheet attached by elastic tabs that weighed “a bit over 3 lb”. The heaviest item was his down sleeping at 4lb, which he says “gave reasonable weight/quality ratio” – at that time light downproof fabrics didn’t exist. Weight was saved by not bothering with a sleeping mat – “except on snow these are just bulky extras. The rucksack, tent-bag, waterproofs and any spare clothes did just as well”. And this for a walk in the Highlands starting in early April. For cooking Hamish used a Camping Gaz Bleuet stove, changed for a solid fuel stove for a section where he used bothies instead of the tent, and a two pint pot whose lid doubled as a mug. His spoon was “edged sharp enough to cut” so he didn’t carry a knife or fork. His boots were “light, fairly soft” and with them he wore “good, soft wool stockings”. Clothing consisted of nylon waterproofs (non-breathable – this was before Gore-Tex), a long-sleeved Damart synthetic vest, a cotton shirt, a Shetland wool pullover, flannel trousers and a sun/rain hat. No gloves - long shirt sleeves pulled down did instead. Nor did he have an ice axe even though there was still much snow on the hills. Instead, when necessary, he used iron fence posts or even rocks instead.