"Head for the Cloud" by Sue Pugh is a book that can be described in three words: "engaging", "enjoyable" and "inspirational". It might be worth, for the sake of completeness, adding a "lovely" in there too. It has to be said that there has been no shortage of books published that give accounts of hillwalking in Scotland, and some of them have been very good. Sue Pugh's book is very good indeed, and should be considered a "must read" by anyone who dreams that one day they might take their hillwalking a little more seriously: especially anyone not in the first flush of youth.
In 2012 the death of a friend brought home to Sue Pugh just how fragile life was. At the time she was a middle-aged lady from Yorkshire and viewed herself as an unremarkable hillwalker, having climbed 49 Munros (separate Scottish mountains over 3,000ft ) over the preceding 14 years. Being guided to the top of the formidable Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye by renowned mountain guide Martin Moran sowed the seeds of what quickly became an obsession. She decided that by the time of her 60th birthday, on 31 December 2015, she would have climbed the remaining 233 Munros. With enthusiastic help from her husband Dave, and her friends Anita and Carl, she set out to achieve her goal.
This wonderful book tells the very personal story of how Sue tackled the challenge she had set for herself. Given that she lived in Yorkshire, and everyone taking part had domestic and professional lives to fit in as well as hillwalking, it soon became clear that 233 Munros was a lot to climb in a remarkably short time, especially as Scottish mountains can offer adverse weather and limited hours of daylight for a fair chunk of each year. Enter Martin Moran again, who trained Sue, Dave and their friends in the joys and challenges of winter hillwalking and survival, which in turn allowed them to plan a year-round campaign of long weekends and longer periods in Scotland. What makes Sue's book so exceptional, apart from the excellent writing, is the intense honesty that comes over. Anyone who has ever trudged up a Scottish mountain in adverse weather, or got lost on one, will testify that hillwalking can be as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. Sue's account is "warts and all". We read about occasional moods and arguments, but these only serve to cast in much sharper relief the sheer joy of a successful ascent or a sudden view, or the sense of achievement gained after a long day in the hills, or the humour that can come from adverse circumstances, or from a misinterpretation of an innocent comment.
Of the three words we used at the start of this review, "inspirational" is perhaps the most compelling. There must be very many people in Sue's position. Getting on in years by some definitions, and wishing they were more active than they are. This reviewer is one of them: a year younger than Sue, with a bag of (from memory) 35 Munros, the last of which was completed a couple of decades ago. Could I realistically aspire to repeat what Sue has done? Could I head out into the hills on days when the weather is keeping most sane people indoors and in front of their fires? After reading Sue's account of what she achieved, the simple answer has to be "why not?"