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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Scottish Watershed (Peter Wright)

I recently reviewed Dave Hewitt's “Walking the Watershed” walked in 1987 (published 1994)  CLICK HERE .  Briefly I concluded that Dave gives a highly personal account and strong impression of what it is like to complete a long distance backpacking trip.

I have now read Peter Wright's “Ribbon of Wildness” which is his account of doing the same walk in 2005 (published 2010). There are significant differences between these two accounts. Dave's walk was continuous. Peter's was intermittent: “ was spread over a nine months period from January to October...the outings ranged from three days in winter to around two weeks in the height of the summer...” 

There is debate about the line of the watershed. Dave finished at Cape Wrath, and Peter at Duncansby Head. There is also debate about who first conceived the route. For anybody interested in these politics go to a thread on Chris Townsend's site: CLICK HERE . I don’t want to get involved in that debate here except to say that I was puzzled by Chris's partly dismissive comment on Hewitt's book, “... many years ago I’d read and enjoyed Dave Hewitt’s Walking the Watershed, about his walk from the Border to Cape Wrath, but this book hadn’t stirred any interest in the watershed itself or in doing a similar walk, perhaps because it was a personal account rather than about the landscape. Ribbon of Wildness is the opposite”, implying that Wright, was more inspirational for him in formulating his own intention of tackling the watershed. 

Wright's book is undoubtedly authoritative, and there is no doubt that to complete this demanding route in whatever format is a great achievement. Peter gives us a detailed account of the route including geology, flora and fauna, identification  of sections designated under many different conservation bodies, details of previous, ongoing and future conservation activities, and various historical folklore myths and legends, and lots of statistics. There are only about four occasions, with a few lines lines in the whole book where he gives us any kind of personal anecdote. There is no description of time parameters so you have no concept of how long he was taking over various sections or how the route was tackled on a day to day basis, or what equipment he used, and not much about his logistics. It is as if a helicopter traversed the route, non-stop, Hoovering up all the factual information and then presenting it on a very long scroll.

The final section describing The Flow Country does shine through, and Peter's obvious enthusiasm for this region is evident in these more subjective and uplifting descriptions.

If you are interested in conservation, history, geology and statistics, or perhaps if you are plotting the route for your own use this is the book for you. If you want to be entertained and to have an insight into long distance backpacking, and a vicarious personal journey along The Scottish Watershed read Dave’s.


Phreerunner said...

I also enjoyed reading Peter's book recently, but I agree with you about the lack of personal anecdotes that could have made it more engaging.
I may get hold of Dave's version, which I think I'd enjoy.
Have you read 'Hell of a Journey' by Mike Cawthorne - that has a few anecdotes and, I think, the thumbs up from Chris Townsend (perhaps because they are friends).

Anonymous said...

At the moment half way through Dave Hewitt's book,previously unknown to me but on your recommendation, will finish it tonight!
I'm enjoying the read as I know the areas fairly well from my own Scottish hill explorations. I'm able therefore to get into the way Dave thinks and writes - empathy? What a great walk he has envisaged and achieved. Can't get bothered with why or who thought of the watershed route - it was always there, and nobody can 'claim' it.
Dave's narrative is engaging and would provide stimulus for further exploration of the route for Scottish newcomers.

Sir Hugh said...

Phreerunner - Dave's book is easily available on Amazon.

I have not read Cawthorne's book but was aware of his trip. It has gone onto my reading list.

BC - Glad you are enjoying the Hewitt.

The politics are silly, and in particular the nerdy definition of where the watershed goes- when you have a look it is, as far as I can see, indeterminate - a possible subject for some bright youth to use for his PhD? I did sympathise with Hewitt after Wright had failed to acknowledge the previous walkers. I think most people who had achieved such a monumental trip would have piped up and said something, and what he has said has been fairly restrained. Hewitt's walk was a greater achievement than Wright's in that it was continuous.