It has taken me an unaccountably long time to get round to reading this book, but for anyone interested enough to read this blog I can unreservedly recommend that, if they haven’t already done so, they should read Adam Watson’s book ‘It’s a Fine Day For The Hill’.
It’s a fascinating read which I devoured far too quickly but which I’ll return to again and again.
I was particularly excited to read chapters on Bob Scott, Tom Weir and Tom Patey, all of whom were close friends of the author, but, despite the lure of these legendary names, what emerges from this book is the huge and inspiring enthusiasm of Adam Watson himself.
Rather than a carefully crafted, chronological narrative, this is a collection of reminiscences and anecdotes from Adam’s formative years and youth, from 1935 to 1962, some written for this book and others drawn from his diaries and contemporaneously written journal articles.
It’s a system that works well. The writing is engaging, as ever, and the thematic grouping of tales sometimes ranging back and forth across the timespan gives an immediacy to his tales.
And what tales!
How many times do we read “It was the best day/journey of my life so far.” ? In other memoires this oft-repeated declaration could be a lazy cliché but here it testifies to the intensity and joy of a man who lives life to the full, always eager to learn and to experience.
And Adam Watson has filled his life with incident. Here you’ll read about his early days, his introduction to the hills and his growing love of them. Of his childhood friendship with the great naturalist Seton Gordon and learning the secret locations of eagles’ eyries. Of youthful escapades as a student hitching a lift on a trawler to Iceland (where he seems to have existed on duck eggs straight from the nest) and climbing in northern Norway. You can read about madcap student stunts like climbing the tower of Aberdeen’s Marshall College and traversing the wires across Rubislaw Quarry. Hear him talk of his days as a gillie with the legendary Bob Scott, putting in long days on the hill gralloching and taking home deer carcases, or learning to ski in the hills around Luibeg with Tom Weir. Read how he and Tom Patey did much of the research for Mac Smith’s classic first rock climbing guide to the Cairngorms, and read, indeed, of his close friendship with Tom Patey and some of the escapades they shared. And, of course, there’s his account of his solo ski journey to cover the six highest mountains of the Cairngorms: Ben Avon, Beinn a Bhuird, Ben MacDui, Cairngorm, Braeriach and Cairn Toul.
It’s astonishing to read how much Adam Watson has managed to cram into his life in the hills – especially when you remember that this memoire only goes up to the start of the 1960s and only touches on the start of his professional career as one of Scotland’s most respected ecologists still very much active today and widely acknowledged as the greatest living authority on the Cairngorm mountain range. (See his Wikipedia page here for some of the statistics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Watson_(scientist) )
For anyone at all interested in the Cairngorms (And why else would you be here?) there will, of course, be a lot of interest in the chapter about Bob Scott, for many years the keeper on the Luibeg beat of Mar Lodge Estate and after who Bob Scott’s Bothy is named. The substantial section devoted to Bob here, and the many references elsewhere in the book, comprises what is probably the best account of Bob Scott in existence, explaining who he was and why he came to be such an important character in the story of Cairngorm walking and climbing.
Other key figures who appear in this book are the naturalist Seton Gordon, the climber, walker, writer and broadcaster Tom Weir, and the legendary climber Tom Patey. Other more complete biographies exist of these people but Adam Watson ties their stories together into one bigger picture that, at the end of the day, is perhaps not about any one of them, nor even about Watson himself, but about the magic and the possibilities of the Cairngorms.
If you haven’t already read this book you should go out and buy it now. But you can’t have mine – I gulped it first time, but now I’m going back to take my time with it.