Saturday 23 May 2009

Irvine Butterfield

Just yesterday, on finishing the TGO Challenge, I heard the sad news that Irvine Butterfield had died. Irvine will be known to most British hillwalkers as the author of the excellent The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland: A Guide for Mountain Walkers, which covers all the 3,000 foot summits (he completed the Munros in 1971). I have a well-worn, not to say battered, 1986 first edition that I often use for reference and inspiration. There was to be a second volume covering the 2,500-3,000 foot hills but although completed it unfortunately never found a publisher. I also have Irvine’s much less well known A Survey Of Shelters In Remote Mountain Areas Of The Scottish Highlands, a spiral-bound volume published back in 1979. Many of the shelters described here are long gone but others are still useful, and not all are recognised bothies. Irvine’s other books include the sumptuously illustrated The Magic of the Munros and the Call of the Corbetts plus The Famous Highland Drove Walk, following the trail of cattle drovers from Skye to Crieff and packed with historic information. Whilst these books were Irvine’s public face they are only a small part of the major contribution he made to the knowledge and conservation of the Scottish hills he loved. Over the years he was deeply involved with the Mountain Bothies Association, the Scottish Wild Land Group, the John Muir Trust, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and, most recently, the Munro Society. All these organisations are indebted to Irvine for the time and effort he devoted to them. Last year the importance of his work was recognised by the John Muir Trust with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Irvine was only the fourth person to receive this honour, following Tom Weir, Adam Watson and Doug Scott. He also received the Golden Eagle Award from the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild, of which he was a long time member, in 2000.

Over the years I met Irvine many times at various meetings and events and accompanied him up a few hills. Always entertaining, whether castigating outdoor and conservation organisations for failing to live up to his high standards or telling stories of his years working as an excise and customs man (and I really hope someone recorded the latter tales), he was a gruff and outspoken yet genial companion. He could be caustic and blunt but always in the service of the mountains and always with the intention of prodding people into doing more and not taking the easy or comfortable way.

Irvine’s death has been well covered with heartfelt obituaries in outdoor cyberspace, not something he himself ever turned to, including Irvine Butterfield, giant of Scottish hillwalking, by Dave Hewitt on the Grough site; In Memory of Irvine Butterfield (Hill Gangrel, champion of Scottish mountains and MCofS ‘Writer in Residence’) by Kevin Howett on the Mountaineering Council of Scotland site and Irvine Butterfield by Cameron McNeish on Cameron’s own site. The Guardian also published an obituary by Ed Douglas in its May 21st edition, which can be found on the web here.


  1. I've owned a copy of Butterfield's "The High Mountains" for about a month. Had it shipped from the UK to help plan my 2010 TGO route. I've read it every night since it arrived. Incredibly inspiring, fantastic photos, what an incredible book.

  2. I was lucky enough to have walked with him a few times.