Thursday, 13 February 2020

Book Review: Walking Through Shadows by Mike Cawthorne


Mike Cawthorne is no stranger to the Scottish hills in winter. His first book, the excellent Hell of a Journey, is about a continuous winter walk over all the 1000 metre summits. Walking Through Shadows is also about a winter walk, but a very different one. In it the author and a companion set out from Whiten Head on the north coast to walk south to Knoydart with as little contact with habitations and people as possible. 

Their route is tough, eschewing easier options for the remotest ones. In summer it would be challenging. In winter, with blizzards, bitter cold, short days, long nights, and deep rivers, it’s really testing, especially for Mike Cawthorne’s companion, Nick, who isn’t as fit and who suffers daily from sore and blistered feet. That they finish the walk together is a testament to their friendship.

The hardship and tough going are intended. The walk comes across as a mix of pilgrimage, penance and wake. It’s undertaken in memory of a close friend, Clive Dennier, who died at their destination, and whose body wasn’t found for months. His story is told in bursts of reminiscences throughout the book, his presence always there. 

Walking Through Shadows isn’t an easy read but it is a worthwhile one. The harshness of the Scottish winter and the sorrow for a lost friend are intermingled. The descriptions of the landscape reveal both its stark beauty and its hostile bleakness. What it’s like to walk and camp in this cold land day after day is captured well. 

The nature of the land and how damaged it is comes up again and again. Isolated and remote it may be. Untouched it isn’t and there’s no pretence that this is anywhere near a pristine wilderness. At the same time the author obviously loves and cares for it.

Walking Through Shadows is an unusual, thought-provoking and very worthwhile addition to the literature of the Scottish hills.

No comments:

Post a comment