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Alex Roddie reviews a book that captures the spirit of outdoor adventure – and that of the TGO Challenge

This review was first published in the February 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors


Hamish Brown is a legend in UK backpacking circles, and I don’t use that term lightly. An accomplished long-distance backpacker, mountaineer, and all-round outdoorsman, Hamish Brown has a long list of accomplishments to his name after a life spent in the hills. He’s the author of the classic Hamish’s Mountain Walk – the first uninterrupted round of the Munros in the 1970s – as well as several other well-loved volumes on the outdoors.

In his latest book, Walking the Song, Hamish Brown draws from his outdoor life to compile a collection of stories on a diverse range of subjects from Scottish Munros to cycle touring, from Alpine mountaineering to exploring the High Atlas. While it is at heart a collection of essays, there are strong common threads running throughout: the importance of outdoor education (and how it should be carried out), taking youngsters into the hills, self-reliance and competence. While it lacks the strong narrative structure of Hamish’s Mountain Walk, it makes up for it with sheer variety and breadth. The message here is that there’s a wide, wide world out there, and a great deal to do besides climb Munros.

My favourite section is a thrilling account of traversing the Matterhorn in a thunderstorm. The writer’s description of climbing perilously exposed slabs in a wretched maelstrom of snow, hail and freezing rain is among the best mountain writing I’ve read in years. It’s a classic passage that deserves a place in the body of literature on that mountain, standing shoulder to shoulder with Whymper, Mummery and Tyndall.

For readers of this magazine, Walking the Song has special significance, for Hamish Brown was the creator of The Great Outdoors Challenge. In 1979 he presented the idea to Roger Smith – the editor of the new publication then, and still a columnist to this day. While this book is about so much more, I think it’s no stretch to say that Hamish Brown’s tales in Walking the Song animate the spirit of the Challenge: skill, respect for the outdoors and the environment, grand adventures, and friendship.

Walking the Song is published by Sandstone Press (£8.99)