I first read this book in the late 60’s when I was working my way through the climbing and hillwalking section of the Stirling Library in Glasgow. It’s a series of chapters about camps and climbs in the Scottish Highlands by Tom Weir, where he talks about his epics and experiences in the hills. It led to me spending a couple of student summers wandering all over the Highlands from Sutherland to the Cairngorms.
Tom Weir was born 100 years ago today. He was one of the first people to make a living from outdoor writing and journalism and became a ‘national treasure’ in Scotland in the 1980s after a series of TV programmes called Weir’s Way. He travelled the length and breadth of Scotland talking to people and communicating both his love of the land and his genuine interests in what people were doing. Fittingly, a statue was unveiled to his memory on the shores of Loch Lomond, close to where he lived for most of his life. (BBC link)
His popularity in the 1980s led to his early book being reprinted and I remember buying it on a trip home to Scotland. I re-read it then and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. It brought back my experiences in these 60’s summers before work and family made trips to the hills a very occasional pleasure. Recently, I rediscovered it on my shelves and read it for the third time.
Tom travelled all over the Highlands in the 1930s and early 1940s. He writes about his experiences in Skye (a particular favourite),Knoydart, Torridon, Wester Ross, Sutherland and the Cairngorms. Long before lightweight gear, he backpacked into remote places and camped amongst the hills. On this reading of his book, I followed some of his days on a map and was amazed how much ground he covered. But he also interacted with the local people – staying with keepers and shepherds and establishing long-term friendships with them.
Tom was not a lyrical writer but he wrote with commitment and honesty. He doesn’t pretend that all days were good days but his joy at the landscape as the weather improved is infectious. His descriptions of his walks and climbs pull you into his experiences and makes you wish you were there to share them.
The book is now more than 70 years old. It’s about a place that is both unchanged and totally changed. The essence of the book – the landscape – has changed a bit bit but most of the walks that Tom describes are still recognisably the same. But the Highlands themselves have changed as they have modernised and developed into a tourist destination. Old communities, which were disappearing in Tom’s time, have been revitalised by incomers. While there are still problems with professional jobs for young people, the Highland are no longer an economic basket case.