7. Precarious Freedom and the Cape Wrath Trail, with David Lintern
In an interview recorded in May, Dan Aspel speaks with the multi-talented highlands-based journalist David Lintern about his new Cape Wrath Trail book Thunder Road, the insecurity and rewards of a portfolio career in the outdoors, and learning to use the wonder of the hills to sustain us in more mundane everyday life.
Based in Kingussie in the Cairngorms National Park, David Lintern is an outdoor writer and photographer of high reputation. You've likely seen his images and read his words across many different magazines and websites that focus on Britain's hills, mountains and rivers. So, who better to spend an hour with discussing the challenges and rewards of this environment we all love so much?
Having just released his latest book, Thunder Road: Voices from the Cape Wrath Trail, David's keen to describe the landscapes and people discovered along the most famous hiking route in Scotland's epic north-west, as well as to discuss what he's trying to achieve in documenting these unique subjects.
The bit that's important to me is allowing other people to speak
Connecting Fort William with Cape Wrath at the far northwest tip of the British Mainland, the 240-mile CWT has a reputation as Britain's toughest long-distance walk, something that David was keen to investigate with the work:
"There's a lot of romanticism and machismo associated with these big walks" he says "but the trail is far more than any individual effort to complete it. It's a complex web of old paths and stories that connect us to the past and to each other in the present."
While researching the book he spoke not only with hikers on the trail, but people living in the scattered communities it passes.
"They told me about their need to reconnect with nature and themselves" he explains "about the pressures of modern tourism, and personal stories of community and migration. It was a humbling journey because of the people I met, not just the miles travelled."
In this podcast David also shares the fascinating story of how a person ends up living the life of an environmental journalist in the Scottish Highlands - a dream job, perhaps, but one which brings plenty of insecurity with its limitless freedoms. From London-based cinema projectionist, to "scruffy musician", to founder of a children's charity, David's eclectic journey has taken him from a deeply urban life to one spent amongst the wildest of places. There's even time to discuss a fateful two-month hike of the Pyrenees and a formative winter mountaineering trip across the Ben Alder range with some deeply eerie details…
We have big environmental decisions to make as a society… and we're not able to have those conversations
All of this and more in Mountain Air episode 7:
03:23 - Welcome, "a photographer and writer focusing on human-powered travel, landscape and the environment", discussing the book "Thunder Road: Voices from the Cape Wrath Trail"
06:53 - Most definitely not "striding forth under self-imposed adversity", more details of the Cape Wrath experience
13:28 - War games off the Scottish coast
17:33 - "Vanishing Point" photography project, the struggles of being a freelancer during the COVID pandemic, "lots of freedom, but lots of insecurity"
20:13 - Enjoying "the wrestle" of writing, details of an outdoor media career, "esoteric ramblings"
27:38 - "We were all feeling pretty experimental in COVID, weren't we?"
28:33 - Coming to the outdoors relatively late, discovering the mountains as an adult. A former life as a London-based cinema projectionist, youth music worker, sound engineer, and university lecturer… seeing "literally thousands of films at the National Film Theatre"
33:23 - Becoming a community music leader, setting up the Soundmix charity (http://www.soundmix.org.uk/who-we-are/), working with the refugee council and "unaccompanied minors", "what can a scruffy musician do?"
35:23 - An "early mid-life crisis" expressed by walking across the Pyrenees in a two-month charity trip, starting to work with the John Muir Trust
38:10 - A passion for cinema, music and soundtracks, performing background music for TV programmes, an interest in analogue machinery
40:13 - Creating electronic music and dub via Projector Records: "to call it a record label would suggest that it actually functioned… it was basically a group of friends that lived in a house in the mid-90s"
42:51 - Some heartfelt words about a love of the outdoors and life in Kingussie, "when you live here you realise that they're called the grey hills and the red hills for a reason… it's a special place"
49:39 - "The bit that's important to me is allowing other people to speak… really I'm the least interesting bit of the equation".
53:03 - Enriching your life through experiences in the "heavens". How can we bring those transformative experiences back down to our everyday lives.
54:23 - Greatest mountain memory… a long winter mountaineering weekend in the Ben Alder range, the Lancet Edge, eerie sounds, unsettling footsteps, a golden eagle.
59:23 - All the time, money, freedom… what would you do? A simple answer… and a more complicated one: fixing the gap between recreational hill people, and those that live and work on the land, conservation and shooting estates ("we have big environmental decisions to make as a society… and we're not able to have those conversations").
Mountain Air podcast is made, recorded, hosted, edited, released and occasionally sworn at by Dan Aspel (he didn't, however, do the theme tune). Dan has teamed up with UKHillwalking to produce a new series, his second, and we'll be publishing regular episodes over the next few months. You can listen to the ten episodes of his first series here: