Friday 8 November 2013

Book Review: The Call of the Mountains by Max Landsberg

Subtitled Sights and inspirations from a journey of a thousand miles across Scotland's Munros this entertaining book tells the story of the author's discovery of the Munros (which he does via Google) and how they slowly drew him in until he'd climbed them all. It's also the story of how a novice hillwalker - he admits to being ill-prepared on his first Munro outing - develops into an experienced Munroist. Along the way Max Landsberg  becomes deeply involved in the hills with his passion for them shining through his writing. He also analyzes the various stages he goes through from becoming hooked at the start to being an out-and-out Munro bagger and finally to wanting high quality experiences and not just ticks on a list. The author's journey has become more important than his destination. I found this analysis interesting as I never went through such stages myself. I knew I wanted to climb all the Munros as soon as I knew what they were and I also wanted to climb them on backpacking trips rather than as day walks as I already knew such trips gave me the highest quality experiences. (In fact I did most of the Munros on my first round on four backpacking trips, two of them 500 miles in length). But then I wasn't a novice hillwalker when I set out on the Munros.

Max Landsberg is not a backpacker. Although there are a few camps and bivouacs most of the hills are done as day walks and nights are spent in hotels and B&Bs. The author doesn't sanitise the experience of hillwalking in Scotland and there's plenty of rain, mud, mist and midges. Every Munro is mentioned but many only very cursorily - I found it a little disorientating in places to see favourite summits passed over with barely a word - and every walk is described. There is much additional information as to the author's inspiration and motivation, including frequent references to Taoism, about which I must admit I knew nothing before reading this book. There's a fair amount of geology too, the author having a degree in Natural Sciences. This I found interesting as I think a little geological understanding greatly enhances appreciation of the hills.

Overall The Call of the Mountains is an interesting and worthwhile addition to the literature of the Munros and a book worth reading by anyone with an interest in the hills and hillwalking even if you have no intention of doing the Munros (but that's what many people say at first....). Those who have completed the Munros will find it entertaining and, if they are like me, smile or shake their heads as the author's experiences bring back fond memories. Those doing the Munros will find encouragement here even if they live far from the hills. Max Landsberg travelled many thousands of miles by car and train from southern England to the Highlands. His descriptions of these journeys sound more exhausting than the actual hillwalking - especially the time he forgets most of his gear and has to drive back south to collect it. Those beginning the Munros can also learn much about what it's like to climb them and travel with the author as he learns essential skills.

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