Alex Roddie enjoys the first book by Trail magazine's editor Simon Ingram. It's not very magaziney at all, he says, but rather 'offers a complete and rounded vision of the British mountains: what they mean to humans, their characteristics and history, and a good bit of the philosophy surrounding them too'.
It seems that every British hill is on a list of some kind. The Munros, the Corbetts, the Wainwrights – it can be all too easy to get sidetracked by the list itself, perhaps forgetting about the magic of the hills in the process. Do you suffer from ticklist fatigue? Then maybe this book is for you.
"Each chapter is a rich exploration of a mountain, told through the lens of a particular theme"
Between the Sunset and the Sea is all about the magic of the British uplands. It’s a little ironic that Simon Ingram chooses to do this by creating a new list, but I think that can be forgiven – it’s a very select list, and each of the sixteen mountains (or mountain areas) is given an entire chapter to describe its own unique charms. The hills in question are:
Beinn Dearg; The Black Mountain; Cadair Idris; Crib Goch; Cnicht; Cross Fell; Schiehallion; Ben Loyal; An Teallach; The Assynt Hills; Askival; Ladhar Bheinn; Loughrigg Fell; Great Gable; Ben Macdui; and Ben Nevis
A motley collection, then! There’s real variety in the mountains Ingram has chosen to explore, and I use that word deliberately – this is no mere collection of routes.
Each chapter is a deep, rich exploration of the mountain in question, told through the lens of a particular theme. For example, Crib Goch is danger; An Teallach is wilderness. Almost every conceivable aspect of the mountains is explored in this charming book, from myths and legends to mountain weather, from wildlife to light and the concept of wilderness itself.
Taken individually, the chapters are fascinating. I found myself drawn in to the myriad stories the author tells along the way, particularly enjoying the legends of Cadair Idris and the epic account of the experiment to measure the mass of the Earth. The author’s own journey, told in parallel to these historical, scientific and philosophical threads, takes him from a position of relative inexperience to some of the wildest and grandest mountains in the UK. Simon Ingram is editor of Trail magazine, and in these sections I detected an echo of modern mountain journalism – but the writing is more expressive and contemplative here than we’re used to reading in the mountain mags.
"The language is beautiful – and accessible to non-walkers"
Generally, the language is beautiful – and accessible to non-walkers. In a few places the rich description edges towards purple prose, but that’s easily forgiven in the context of such wonderful mountains and the stories that surround them. Simon Ingram’s voice comes through strongly and with authenticity. There’s a real sense that this is a very personal journey. In books of this type the author often takes a step back, but in Between the Sunset and the Sea the author is the central character.
“If it feels like a mountain, then it is one.” – This line stood out to me, and is a concept that echoes through all of the chapters. The concept of what a mountain actually means is returned to again and again, and it’s established straight away that there can be no universal, scientific definition. So the concept of mountain is entirely subjective and human; the hills are what they are, but as a culture we have assigned certain qualities and characteristics to them. That’s what this book is all about. What the mountain says to us when we look at it, scramble over it, or sleep upon it, is as valid as its inherent qualities. In these days of increasing threats to the wild places of Britain, that’s an important message – because if mountains mean nothing to us, who will stand up for them?
Taken as a whole, the book offers a complete and rounded vision of the British mountains: what they mean to humans, their characteristics and history, and a good bit of the philosophy surrounding them too. I think Between the Sunset and the Sea succeeds here because it doesn’t try to visit every mountain, or even every significant mountain. It narrows the focus down to a hand-picked few. Simon Ingram champions the unique characteristics of each of these hills, and in doing so the reader is given valuable insights into the British mountains as a whole.
I enjoyed this book enormously. The pace is leisurely and contemplative, and the book is long enough to devote a good chunk of time to each hill. It’s the perfect antidote to huge lists and frenetic quests to tick off every peak in sight, but ironically it may just inspire you to get out there and climb the hills on this particular list – a list of rich quality, if not quantity.
Between the Sunset and the Sea is published by HarperCollins (RRP: £18.99)
About the reviewer
Regular UKH contributor Alex Roddie is a freelance editor, writer, and outdoor enthusiast. He divides his time between editing the work of others and writing about mountains. His passion is the history of mountaineering and he has published two novels on the subject, The Only Genuine Jones and The Atholl Expedition. He is currently working on his third novel.
For more on what he's up to see Alex's website