A QMD publication
Bill Fear 2020
These views and opinions are my own and are not representative of, or linked to, any organization or group
The Big Rounds is a book for grown ups who love being outdoors and taking on physical and mental challenges in remote and mountainous country (acknowledging that the only really remote country is in Scotland and even then it’s not really remote).
This is a well written (even if the editor appears to have a rather effusive enthusiasm for the comma, except in the title of the book), informative, warm, and ‘humorous’ book by someone who knows their stuff and knows the people who know their stuff. The author has taken the time and trouble to share small parts of their own story along with stories and interviews from some truly inspiring people who both developed and have completed these challenges. And it’s not full of machismo-bravado masquerading as ‘heroically being outdoors’ as is often the case on social media. This is a proper good ‘old fashioned’ book that can be re-read and cherished over time. A real book in other words, and real books are never truly ‘old fashioned’.
The Big Rounds covers, as one can expect, the Bob Graham, the Paddy Buckley, and the Charlie Ramsay. The author acknowledges additional challenges in the appendix and offers an apology, and explanation, for failing to include The Wicklow Round and the Denis Rankin Round.
Each of the big three has its own chapter. Each chapter has a map, a detailed description of the route broken down into manageable sections, ‘Practicalities’ – a list of practicalities for the route including resources such as accommodation and where to find water, the history of the round, and an interview with a significant person linked to the round in some way. This might sound dry, but the author has an easy style and good voice and the pages fly by as quickly as the ground underfoot when you are in the zone, and the journey is just as enjoyable.
It doesn’t stop there.
At the back of the book is a set of interviews with some of the people who have contributed not only to the rich history and tradition of the rounds but also to the entire ethos of challenging one’s self in this country. There are interviews with Paddy Buckley, Wendy Dodds, Nicky Spinks and Jim Mann, to name a few.
Delving into the detail of the route description for each section of each round is, without being too extravagant, enlightening. This is route description after my own heart. It reads as though writing it were effortlessly simple and is complete with micro-landmarks, catching features, the feel of the ground, and grid references. Take, for example, one of my favourite paragraphs thus far (doubtless to be superseded soon):
‘To escape the Aonachs, make your return south, down the slope you just came up, but this time using another smaller path, which stays west of the main ridge. Locate a cairn at approximately NN 189 721, which indicates the start of a path down. In the past, runners (and guidebook writers!) have chosen to use the gullies to the north of this to exit the plateau but this is extremely eroded and growing more precarious on a yearly basis. I doubt the path is much, if at all, slower and it’s definitely more environmentally-friendly. It hugs the north side of a westerly spur leading to the Bealach Coire Giubhsachan. After a little while, a burn emerges from the hillside on your right, which you cross lower down. It’s steep and loose but far preferable to the gullies mentioned above. This path exits the slope directly opposite a stone wall, which is the marker for the climb onto Carn Mor Dearg.’ (pg. 136)
I checked the GR on OS maps and looked on the aerial view and, indeed, the path is clearly visible.
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming this book was written only for runners who want to go out and conquer the Rounds within the stated remit. This is, as said, a book for grown ups who understand what it means to challenge yourself in remote and mountainous country. The author, and the interviewees, make is abundantly clear that these Rounds are available to all such grown ups. The author breaks the routes into sections that can be managed by even the slowest of walkers in a day and highlights suitable camping spots and other like resources along the routes. He takes the time to consider the logistics of each section and the route as a whole and provides sound advice and guidance with regard to this. As much attention is paid to the history, landscape, and culture of each route and country as is to the route itself. It is equally a resource for the hardened fell runner looking to hammer round with a lung-busting effort aiming to break a Round record and the slow backpacker wanting to leisurely enjoy some of the best remote mountain country this island has to offer.
All in all it’s a great read. It’s inspirational and informative. It is a lesson in breaking up a long-distance route into manageable sections and it is a lesson on writing route descriptions for complex and challenging routes. The interviews are human, humbling, and motivational.
The author’s sheer joy and appreciation of what it means to be outside with only yourself and ground and the air around you while facing long, difficult, days shines through. It’s not just about pitching yourself against the elements, or the route, or the mountains. It’s also about being alive. Perhaps that is a little to prosaic, but you’ll forgive me for liking the sort of book I wish I had written.
The one issue is that this is such a good book it will surely result in massive increases in the number of people on the Rounds. For a lot of people the Rounds are something you hear mumbled references to with the same sort of fabled awe accompanying the Welsh 3000s (on which I was trashed by a 12-year old girl and her dad). That is no more the case. Lintern’s book is a master class in accessibility and demystification, which is a good thing. But as with all good things there is an inevitable down-side. Nonetheless, the book is a prompt, a spur, to go out and discover new, similar, challenges in our remote country and, ultimately, to share them with others.
The Big Rounds: Running and walking the Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay Rounds is written by David Lintern (2019). It is published by Cicerone, Cumbria.
The Big Rounds is available from all the usual bookshops.
I didn’t get anything for writing this review. I just enjoyed the book.