“This book is not only an account of a long-distance walk, it also has a clear intent to broaden the dialogue surrounding depression and offer some help to those who suffer from it”
Review by James Roddie
This review was first published in the September 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors.
Keith Foskett is a well-known name in the world of hiking literature. But his latest book, High and Low, is as much about mental health as it is the outdoors. Realising that you are suffering from a mental illness can be a life-changing experience – but what would it be like to have that realisation while walking a 550-mile route through Scotland?
High and Low opens with the line: “Read this if you suffer from depression. If you don’t, read it anyway”. This book is not only an account of a long-distance walk, it also has a clear intent to broaden the dialogue surrounding depression and offer some help to those who suffer from it.
Foskett’s previous books have covered some of the world’s great long-distance walks, including the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Although the route he takes through Scotland in High and Low is far shorter, it is undeniably an impressive undertaking. Starting at Cape Wrath with the UK’s toughest trail, he rapidly finds there is often no trail at all. Despite the challenges of the terrain and the weather, the author’s affinity with the Highlands is obvious and his descriptions of the landscape are captivating. We are introduced to beautiful glens, rivers and lochs that many of us will never have heard of. We are reminded by an experienced international long-distance hiker to not forget the quality of what we have at home in the UK.
Scotland is at times portrayed as if it were a character in the story, helping to guide Foskett towards understanding his illness. Equally compelling are the journeys on which Foskett takes us into his own mind. He is open and honest about his struggles. While he does not shy away from the dark reality of his illness, neither does he smother us with it. He provides meaningful and relatable metaphors for depression, which will encourage others to think about their own mental health and that of of those around them. We are helped to realise that depression is not the same for everyone.
As Foskett moves through the landscape we can feel his self-awareness gain momentum. This is not a story of taking to the outdoors to cure a mental illness – indeed the landscape often gnaws away at his strength and determination, and we’re faced with an obsessive hiker repeatedly feeling unable to handle the demands of the thing he loves the most. It is not a book about anyone ‘conquering’ anything, despite the enormity of the challenges that the author faces.
It’s hard not to admire Keith Foskett for what he achieves in this book. But he does not take himself too seriously either, and handles the weight of the subject matter with humility and a good dose of humour. This is a bold and important book which I genuinely hope will appeal to a wide audience.
High and Low is available in paperback (£9.95) and e-book (£3.99) from Amazon.co.uk.
Keen to read more? We published an exclusive extract from High and Low in March 2018.