Mountain Literature Classics: Mountaineering in Scotland by W.H.Murray

© Alex Roddie

If you could distil inspiration for exploring the Scottish mountains into a single volume – seasoned with a hefty pinch of romanticism and even mysticism – Mountaineering in Scotland is probably what you'd end up with. Bill Murray's classic tome played a key role in the great post-war climbing and hillwalking boom. Although in some respects it can come across as a little dated today, you'd have to be dead inside for it not to move you.

Mountaineering in Scotland cover pic  © Alex Roddie
Mountaineering in Scotland cover pic
© Alex Roddie

Most 20th-century mountain literature can be divided into two piles: for climbers, or for walkers. But this book will appeal to both. While many of the chapters are about specific climbing routes, there's also plenty of adventurous hillwalking as well – and even the climbing sections reveal a greater appreciation for the mountains, over and beyond the immediate objective of getting the route in the bag.

Murray's main focus was winter mountaineering but summer routes get a look in as well: Cir Mhor on Arran, adventures in the Cuillin, the second ascent of Rubicon Wall.

Like many a young mountaineer, I first read Mountaineering in Scotland early in my apprenticeship. It didn't provide a list of routes to aspire towards, like Cold Climbs, and it didn't give me nightmares about severe Alpine north faces, like The White Spider. For me, Mountaineering in Scotland planted an irresistible seed of inspiration deep in my mind. This book is all about the life-affirming joy of testing yourself in the high and wild places of Scotland. When I seek winter perfection on the Ben, or that perfect ridge-top bivouac, I'm looking to experience for myself the nebulous feelings described in this much-loved book.

I asked mountain writer Ken Crocket for his views on Murray's masterpiece. Here is an extract from his upcoming Mountaineering in Scotland – Years of Change (not yet published):

"It is easy to forgive Murray's writing style of almost eight decades ago, with its attention to detail and almost cinematic drama, for his descriptions ignited a curiosity in many a young head. … It matters little whether his classic accounts do, or do not, impress the modern reader critically; what they did for many was to awaken a sense of curiosity which led to actual action and an introduction to the mountains. … Murray's writing was an inspiration for many."

The story of Mountaineering in Scotland's creation is remarkable in itself. Murray wrote the first draft on toilet paper while a prisoner of war – a draft that was found and destroyed. Although seriously weakened by this point, he started writing the book again. It was published in 1947 and came at just the right time to inspire a new generation to take to the hills.

Where it can sometimes come across as dated today is in its descriptive writing, which tends towards the romantic – with spiritual overtones from time to time. But for some this will only add to the book's character. It remains essential reading for the Scottish mountaineer.

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28 Jul, 2017
Love this book, a fantastic read. Production is well underway for Ken's Mountaineering in Scotland - Years of Change, covering many a well known character from the Great Wars onward; Patey, Smith, MacInnes, and loads more. Look out for the launch this autumn!
28 Jul, 2017
35 years ago this was the definitive "ambient" narrative about climbing in Scotland. It's still a great read. Looking forward to Ken Crockets new offering now!
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