Book Review: Walking the Watershed
The Border to Cape Wrath along Scotland's Great Divide
Dave Hewitt. TACit Press, 1994. 240pp. £7.99 (9.00 inc p&p)
Perkin Warbeck writes:
We could hardly let the publication of the first book by TAC's editor pass by without comment. (Yes we could - Ed.) Critical detachment would be impossible for one of the regular TAC hacks, so in keeping with this ever changing world in which we live in, we decided to contract the job out. Famous author and sometime TAC reader Archie Hind was slated, but he was away crewing on his nephew's boat. Fortunately, the enigmatic N Eacheile stepped into the breach:
Before we start, I would like to put my name on the TAC contributors' official Register of Interests with regard to this book. I would like to, but I can't. It was some time after it had been suggested that I do this book review that I realised what was wrong: reviewers do not usually have to buy a copy of the item under review. There was another problem in that I had just picked up two interesting looking items from the library for my holiday reading, and I always tend to read library books first because of the inherent deadline in the date stamp. So I started off with Imran Khan by Ivo Tennant. This was constructive, as it put an end to those distracting, time-wasting fantasies of being swept off my feet by the great Pathan, since it became rapidly clear that I haven't the money, the cheekbones or the family name to be even in the hunt. Also, an interest in cricket seems to be a great disadvantage.
Next on the pile was The Black Cloud: Scottish Mountain Misadventures, 1928-66 by IDS Thomson. The introduction to this book, including a thought-provoking insight into the history of weather forecasts in Scotland (did you know that weather forecasts were classified as secret during the war? Yes, okay, well I didn't), raised my hopes of a good read. Unfortunately, the painstaking, academic treatment of the main text gets bogged down and snowed under with detail as every possible conflicting account is weighed and debated.
These finished, my remaining holiday reading consisted of my flower book and my bird book and a copy of Walking the Watershed. The amount of Latin in the first two meant that WtW had to be the winner. Of course, as you have now realised, I was saving the best till last. The first comment, though, is that this book should carry a wealth warning. Okay it has route maps, but unless your knowledge of some of the boggier parts of Scotland is very good, or you are the Watershed Kid, you are going to have to buy a lot of OS maps to accompany it (and if you are the WK you'll already have done this). For many, this will require a special purchase of "the map featuring Cumbernauld" (except the WK kid of course, who started at Ben Lomond - although don't tell the men in suits, since this might be regarded as a perfect justification for Border relocation).
Although WtW is a book which can be appreciated by the armchair hillwalker (and let's face it, they are the most environmentally friendly), it will mean more to those who have faced the midges, who have walked off down the wrong valley, who have got so used to peeing outside that they forget this is not necessary when alternative facilities are provided.
The book is very honest. (Or at least it seems to be: could it all be a front for a car-driving, helicopter-using, fair-weather tripper with a back-up team in matching shellsuits?) The low points are there with the high, the soul is bared as well as the legs, the questioning of purpose with the answering of breathtaking, life enhancing moments. Where it differs from other Long Walk books is in there being no element of challenge to others. Rules are not laid down to be picked at. The integrity of the walk is a private concern - a good thing too, as he missed a bit and of course that bit would happen to be the one section this reviewer has actually walked! (Yet another version of Sod's Law this - well known to all who ever commit a "fact" or opinion to paper.) The seductive allure of Inchnadamph - well, it's all relative and he'd been walking a long time by this stage - meant he missed probably one of the most intrinsically interesting parts of the whole route: the site of a WWII Anson plane wreck, a very sombre and emotive place.
Few people reading WtW will want to go out and repeat the walk. As the guy met at Kinbreack said, "Too bloody hard". But you may find yourself looking at maps with an eye to the Watershedness of the hills you climb, and perhaps the odd felicitous phrase will come to mind on those rare days of privilege/blessing/fortune when you climb through the valley cloud to another world - days earned as reward for those when the climb through the valley cloud just brings you into the wetter, colder summit cloud.
In conclusion though, one should bear in mind the old saying: "Beware the man who does not know his sewage works from his drinking supply".
TAC 21 Index