Thursday 25 November 2010

Book Review: Cairngorm John by John Allen

This is a book I’ve been meaning to read since it was first published last year, partly because of the many good reviews it received (it was short listed for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature) but also because it’s about mountain rescue in the Cairngorms, my home mountains. John Allen was a member of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team for 35 years and team leader for the last 18 of those years. Cairngorm John was his call name when talking to RAF rescue helicopters. His book describes the development of the rescue team during those years and the vital role it plays in saving lives. Many examples of rescues are given, some when lives were saved, some when they were not. Some I remember following in the news at the time. Even when I knew the outcome I found the stories gripping. The writing is both terse and stark yet at the same time conveys well the feelings of the author and the intensity of a rescue. The dedication and professionalism of the rescue team comes across clearly as well, reminding me of how lucky climbers and walkers are to have such people prepared to come out in appalling conditions to help anyone in trouble in the hills. In all cases bar one there is no criticism or condemnation of those who need rescuing. Instead there is an understanding that accidents can happen to anyone. Indeed Allen describes an accident he himself suffered – though in this case he and his companion managed to effect a self-rescue.

The book is also valuable in giving a clear account of how a mountain rescue team works and the complex logistics involved. The close relationship between the civilian team and the RAF Search and Rescue teams is shown too. Anyone wanting to know about mountain rescue – even if there is no interest in the Cairngorms – will learn much from this book. I highly recommend it. At a time when the RAF Search and Rescue is to be replaced with private teams and it is unclear what will happen to the rescue centre currently based at Kinloss it should be required reading for those politicians who appear to have little understanding of mountain rescue or its importance.

Photo info: Looking down into mist-filled Coire Lochain from Cairn Lochan on the northern rim of the Cairngorm Plateau. Canon EOS 350D, Canon EF-S 18-55@18mm, 1/400 @ f5.6, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 3.


  1. I starting reading this book last year in Aviemore library whilst waiting for the sleepr train back home. It was a compelling and well written read, so much so that I had to buy it and finish it when I got back home

  2. im afraid to say it but after some recent decisions, i dont think politicians are capable of any lucid thought!!!.

  3. Chris it is my understanding that the RAF Mountain Resuce teams will remain (though not necessarily at Kinloss) and that only the Search and Rescue helicopters will be privatised (not good in my opinion). The future of the control centre at Kinloss is unclear at the moment and will probably move south but to be honest the location is unimportant.