Sunday, 2 July 2017

Book Review: A Mountain Before Breakfast by Alan Rowan

Moonwalker, Alan Rowan’s first book, introduced us to the idea of Munro-bagging at night, not accidentally but intentionally and repeatedly. A stirring and exciting book it added a new dimension to hillwalking. Now Alan Rowan has done it again with his new book on a round of the Corbetts. Entertaining, frenetic, and humorous, A Mountain Before Breakfast is a whirlwind of experiences and shows an incredible lust for life and for the hills. As with Moonwalker long drives are an integral part of the adventure and again, as a reluctant driver, I found them more frightening than any of the hill epics, especially when something goes wrong, as it often does.

In the hills themselves the author experiences everything Scottish conditions can throw at you – storms, rain, ice, snow, mist, heatwaves, sunstroke (in December!), wildlife, ticks, midges, bogs, glissades, getting lost. It’s all here, a mix of thrilling, hilarious, and sometimes downright weird  adventures that often jumps from one to the other with barely time to take a breath. Whilst the Corbetts take pride of place – and if you follow the journeys on a map you’ll learn a great deal about them – there are excursions to other hills. Munros of course but also Vesuvius and the mountains of Snowdonia.

Whilst the overall tone of the book is positive and life-affirming there are two stories that show the other side of hill walking. On Tryfan the author slips, tears his ankle ligaments and has to be rescued. Then comes a real tragedy, the death of a close friend in the hills. The effect this has on the author and his friends is powerfully described in the most moving passages of the book. The way the book slides into the stories of the accident and the tragedy and then moves back into uplifting tales without it feeling jarring or inappropriate shows Alan Rowan’s skill and sensitivity as a writer. This must have been a difficult section to write. He does it perfectly.

Overall this is a wonderful book that I really enjoyed. Many mountains, many breakfasts, many magic nights (and days) on the hill. Alan Rowan describes it all well and his words will bring back many memories for hillwalkers and hopefully inspire others to take up this tremendous pursuit, though probably in daylight. 

This review first appeared in the June 2017 issue of The Great Outdoors.

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