Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Wainwright in Scotland

"All my holidays have been spent North of the Border; I have never had a vacation anywhere else, nor wanted to. Those are my qualifications for daring, as an Englishman, to write about the glories of Scotland and especially of the majesty and grandeur of the Highlands and coastal areas. Scots must forgive me. I love their country as they do"

So wrote Alfred Wainwright - the author of the much loved 'Wainwright Guides', to upland Britain which featured route suggestions, magnificent pen and ink mountain sketches and wonderful prose, rich with his deep love of mountains, wild places, wildlife and pugnacious contempt of any modern interference with them.

For more than four decades A. Wainwright seemed to have spent every spare hour alone in the hills; walking them, gazing at them, photographing them and sketching them. The reclusive author (a local civil-servant in the English Like District) hid from personal publicity for many years but whose output single-handedly kept a local publishing and printing firm in business!

In the 1980s the BBC persuaded the 80-year old Wainwright to make a TV series in which he travelled in the company of Eric Robson around the Scottish Highlands. Together they walked many miles - although Wainwright himself was too old for climbing peaks by that stage - re-visiting countless favourite places; the Cuillin of Skye, Suilven, Glen Coe, Ben Nevis, Rohiemurchus, Rannoch Moor, The Cairngorms , Lochnagar and many more magical places. The results of that summer's expedition are captured in a book and DVD, which together form a quite charming, nostalgic, whimsical and rather lovely tribute both to the great mountains themselves and a man whose passion for them was as infectious as it was unquenchable.

In many ways he DVDs are quite dated; the picture grainy, the soundtrack a mournful chamber orchestra, while the hairstyles, clothes and long-forgotten British-made cars, all speak of an age now long since past. This is all good through, for throughout the tour Wainwright reflects on the many changes he has seen in the Highlands, in comparison with the enduring qualities of the mountains. This is coupled with the sense of nostalgia that comes through every reminiscence of his youthful exploits amongst the peaks. The viewer today is therefore treated to a nostalgic reminiscence - packaged in what now appears as exactly that itself!

I have owned the "Wainwright in Scotland" book for many years, and indeed read it many times. This Christmas I was given the DVD which goes with it, and have thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the episodes in which he explores places in which I have particularly powerful memories. Wonderful stuff, sure to enthral all lovers of The Highlands.

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