My Mountains: Kev Reynolds

© Kev Reynolds collection

Kev Reynolds claims to be The Man with the World's Best Job. He has enjoyed a relationship spanning more than four decades with guidebook publisher Cicerone Press, and has produced more than 50 books, including guides to trekking in Nepal, numerous routes in the European Alps and Pyrenees, as well as walking guides for Kent, Sussex and the Cotswolds.

His collection of autobiographical short stories, A Walk in the Clouds, is a record of 50 years of mountain travel and adventures. Another book, Abode of the Gods, tells of eight of his many expeditions in the Himalaya.

Guidebook researching in the Val des Dix, Switzerland  © Kev Reynolds collection
Guidebook researching in the Val des Dix, Switzerland
© Kev Reynolds collection

Kev's latest Cicerone publication is The Mountain Hut Book. He says: "It has been written in response to all those questions I've been asked about how to use them, who can use them, where are they, and what facilities to expect. Over the years, I've visited or stayed in hundreds of mountain huts all over the world. They are great places for meeting new people, learning about trail or route conditions – and practically every one has an amazing location.

"As I began to write the book, a great kaleidoscope of memories came flooding, so it is filled with anecdotes, reminiscences and brief stories with which many a hut user should be able to relate. Huts are where those who love mountains gather to share experiences. Isn't that what life should be about – sharing the good things?"

Kev says he has always enjoyed writing. He reveals: "I ran Crockham Hill Youth Hostel in the Kent Hills for 17 years with my wife when our two daughters were growing up and I would produce articles for climbing and outdoor magazines, mostly about the Pyrenees, when everyone had gone to bed.

"One day in 1976 I received a call from Walt Unsworth. He was the 'father of outdoor writing, editor at the time of Climber & Rambler and founder of Cicerone Press. He asked me to write a guide to the Pyrenees. At the time I'd never even looked at a guidebook, let alone used one, but my ego had been polished so I said yes.

"In 1978, Walks & Climbs in the Pyrenees appeared. Forty years on, it's still in print, after numerous updates and new editions. That modest little guide attracted the attention of two other publishers; one asked me to write a book on Countryside Conservation, the other a visitor's guide to Kent. Cicerone also published my history of climbing in the Pyrenees, so when YHA changed in the 1980s, and my wife and I found ourselves out of tune with the new look, a neighbour offered us use of her annexe, which became our new home and a base from which to start a career as a freelance writer and lecturer.

"Walt Unsworth was very supportive, and the next thing I knew I was travelling to various parts of the world researching and writing guidebooks for him. It had never been my aim to do so, but somehow I struck lucky. My wife became my life-support system, keeping the family together and paying the bills until I could earn a reasonable income. Lecturing also helped. I dreamed up a list of subjects I could talk about, had a small leaflet printed, which I distributed to a few libraries, and hey presto!

"That first winter I gave 40 lectures, mostly to local groups, but the word spread and before long I was sharing my passion for mountains with audiences as far apart as Truro and Inverness, and have been every winter since."

A younger author, in his element - the Pyrenees  © Kev Reynolds collection
A younger author, in his element - the Pyrenees
© Kev Reynolds collection

Kev is an honorary life member of the Outdoor Writers' and Photographers' Guild and an honorary member of both SELVA (the Société d'Etudes de la Littérature de Voyage Anglophone) and the British Association of International Mountain Leaders (BAIML).

He lives with his wife on the outskirts of Edenbridge, in view of the Greensand Hills of Kent.

Kev says: "We've lived within three miles of here for the last 50 years, having first run the hostel, which closed long ago. There's plenty of good walking on our doorstep and we use the footpaths at every opportunity."

What is your first memory of walking?

Brought up in the Essex countryside, the headteacher at my primary school had such an enthusiasm for nature that when I was about eight or nine years old he opened my eyes to the wonders "out there". He'd take any of us boys who showed an interest on day-long nature rambles at weekends and in school holidays. Half a century after he died, I still think of him when I hear a woodpecker, or taste a newly unfurled leaf on my tongue.

My first mountains were with the Scouts. We camped in Snowdonia and the Lake District, and despite my first week in Wales being so wet that I never saw a single mountain top, I became hooked and couldn't wait to go back again.

I still walk because it's the most natural form of travel; it helps me connect with nature, breeds contentment and nurtures my spirituality

Who introduced you to the joys of the great outdoors?

It was that headteacher. He had taught my father, my uncles and my older brother before me. He was an extraordinary man with a deep intuitive knowledge of the countryside; he brought the countryside into the classroom. The walls were decorated with pictures of birds, trees and wild flowers; there were stuffed birds, foxes and badgers on top of cupboards; we made nesting boxes out of lengths of silver birch, and studied and wrote essays about different aspects of nature. I could have had no better introduction than that which he gave me when still in short trousers.

When did you realise you would be a keen life-long walker?

I've never thought about it. I had a free-range childhood with access to the countryside over the garden fence, so I walked everywhere. I've never stopped. An hour's walking slips into a full day. One day leads to a week, a week becomes a month, and before I know it another year has gone. I still walk because it's the most natural form of travel; it helps me connect with nature, breeds contentment and nurtures my spirituality.

More guidebook research, this time in the Stubai Alps  © Kev Reynolds collection
More guidebook research, this time in the Stubai Alps
© Kev Reynolds collection

Do you prefer coast, hills, moorland or mountain ridges?

Since our home is filled with books about mountains, and mountain photographs hang on our walls, that's where my preference lies. But truth be told, wherever I happen to be, is good enough, and I can get as much joy when wandering along the hills above our home, as on the most exotic trek in the Andes or Himalaya. Why compare? Each has its own unique kind of beauty: One is a rose, the other an orchid.

Are you a fair weather or any weather walker?

I'll walk in any weather. If you wait for the sun to shine you'll only have half the fun!

What are your three all-time favourite hill or mountain walks?

1: The Faja de Pelay in the Ordesa Canyon, Spanish Pyrenees. This high balcony trail is reached by a lung-challengingly steep 600m climb, but it then levels out and teeters along a natural shelf high above the valley floor, and with Monte Perdido luring you on.

2: The Manaslu Circuit, Nepal. I've made this 21-day trek three times, twice with my wife. It was her first Himalayan trek and she's been hooked ever since. We begin among terraces in the foothills, then hike through a series of incredible gorges to emerge in a Himalayan wonderland. The crux of the route is the Larkya La, a terrific pass with the most exquisite high mountain views on the descent to Bimtang meadow.

3: Roc de la Vache above Zinal, Pennine Alps of Switzerland. A steep haul up, followed by a steep descent, then divert into the Arpitetta cirque below the Weisshorn; a bowl of soup in one of my favourite mountain huts, and views to die for. It's serene and I remember it as one of the finest days out in all the Alps.

Is the night-time a good time to go walking?

Of course! Walking at night awakens the senses in a way that daylight doesn't. You become aware of sounds and smells of which you're ignorant during the day.

Have you ever been lucky to avoid/escape a difficult situation in the mountains?

In a lifetime of mountain wandering and climbing, "difficult situations" become par for the course. I took a group to Everest once when one of my Sherpas had a heart attack; in the Bernese Alps a member of my group slipped on a greasy rock and broke her leg in two places; I survived an electric storm in the Austrian Alps; my partner on the rope fell into a deep crevasse in a Pyrenean glacier; and I caught TB in a remote Himalayan village. Apart from that, it's been an unremarkable career!

Windswept in the Pyrenees. KR (left) with climbing partner Alan Payne
© Kev Reynolds collection

You have written a great deal about walking. Are there challenges?

When researching routes for guidebooks, numerous challenges come up. It can be a costly business spending weeks abroad without an income, so every day must count.

The summer I spent gathering routes for my guide to the Ecrins National Park was the wettest I'd ever known. Practically every day the heavens opened – but I went out regardless, trying to imagine what the landscape would look like in sunshine. My tent leaked, I was flooded off a campsite and I even picked the tent out of a tree one morning when I'd had to evacuate in the middle of the night.

One evening I lay in my damp sleeping bag, cooking a meal over my little stove that stood in 4cm of water, with rain dripping through the flysheet, then straight through the inner. Just as I began to feel sorry for myself, I pictured a very wealthy neighbour at home who only stays in five-star hotels, and imagined him sharing the tent with me. After that I laughed myself to sleep.

Life is okay. And skin is waterproof.

Who is your perfect walking partner?

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, I can honestly say that my wife is my favourite walking partner. We've been married for more than 50 years and were walking together long before that. Once our daughters were independent, and money was not so tight, she began joining me on long mountain treks. We also walk together here at home and share thousands of memories of trails, places and people we've met all over the world. They are an added bonus to our daily lives.

Are you happy to go solo?

Definitely! While my wife is my favourite walking companion, I love being totally alone in the mountains. Countless research trips were, of necessity, solo ones. I might go days without seeing anyone, and that can be bliss, because there's a heightened sense of awareness in solo trekking; there's no room for error, for any accident – even minor – can have serious consequences. But to perch on a rock for an hour, with no other person in sight, is the finest way to connect with the world around you. I'm very good at just sitting…

Boots, trail shoes, wellies or barefoot?

Lightweight walking boots any day. For the first nine or 10 years of "serious" mountain walking and climbing I assumed that blisters and raw heels were all part of the experience. Then came the lightweight revolution and I discovered boots could actually be comfortable. I've not had a blister since.

How do you navigate? Maps, GPS or smartphone?

I'm a map and compass man. I wouldn't know one end of a GPS from another and my mobile phone is the most basic kind and is only for emergency calls and texts to my wife when we're apart. It would be no use at all to guide my walking.

What three items are always in your rucksack?

First aid kit, water bottle and a penknife.

What goes in your pack as a guilty secret?

I might sneak in a KitKat.

Your favourite walking foods?

Home-made bread rolls with a chunk of Cheddar cheese covered with home-made date and apple chutney. And a fairly green banana.

If you could only pick one area of Britain to walk in, where would it be?

The South Downs. I can be there in an hour and having written guides to the South Downs Way and the South Downs National Park, I know scores of wonderful walks there. When our grandchildren were small we would spend hours romping over the Downs with them. We would sit on old Iron Age burial mounds to eat our picnics and tell them stories.

What is your ultimate walking heaven?

I've always had a yearning for Patagonia, but have yet to make it there. Of the places I have been, I guess my ultimate walking heaven would be the hidden land of Dolpo in Western Nepal. I led an expedition there many years ago, and it still haunts my dreams.

Will you be walking until you are 103?

Why stop at 103?

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