"The Mountains are Calling" by Jonny Muir is a book that is simply inspirational. It is certainly a book we would without hesitation recommend to anyone who has ever toiled up a mountain in Scotland or the Lake District in pursuit of an elusive summit. I should probably start by declaring an interest. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (OK, while living on London in the 1980s). I dreamed of running the London Marathon, but never quite pushed my distances out to anything like far enough. Later, while living in northern England and in Scotland, I became irresistibly drawn to mountains, first in the Lake District, and then in Scotland, building up a rather modest tally of Munros.
Occasionally, while slogging breathlessly up a mountain, or tentatively making my way down one, I'd meet an alien being. Hill runners always seemed to be a blend of superhuman and mountain goat. They would run - apparently effortlessly - up slopes that would repeatedly stop me in my tracks for want of breath, and bound down mountains with an abandon that seemed positively reckless. And they'd do it in clothing and footwear that to my eyes seemed ill-suited for high places. Who were these people?
Jonny Muir answers that question in his book, and he does it in a superbly engaging way that draws the reader in and keeps you turning the page. This is a book that tells of the author's own growing passion for the mountains, and it blends in fascinating, remarkable and at times amusing tales of others who run in the mountains. It tells of adventures and misadventures. It tells, for example, of the runner who through lack of concentration missed completing a record round of the Cuillin ridge on the Isle of Skye because, he subsequently realised (having re-ascended the mountain in question to check), he'd passed a few feet from the actual summit.
Much of the book has as its backdrop the famed Ramsay Round. First completed in 1978 by Edinburgh-based runner Charlie Ramsay, this involves a circuit of 58 miles to the east of Fort William, taking in 24 summits with a total climb of around 28,500 feet, or not far short of the height of Mount Everest. And if all that were not enough it has to be completed within a single 24 hour period to count. It was inevitable that Jonny would find himself increasingly fascinated by the ultimate challenge his sport has to offer.
What really draws you to this wonderful book is the quality of Jonny Muir's writing, as shown here: "For years I used roads to run and mountains to walk. I had only the haziest knowledge of hill or fell running being an offshoot of the more conventional foot-borne exercise. But very soon running and mountains were indivisible; there could not be one without the other. Running is prose. But hill running? This is poetry. Some years later, as I descended the Nan Bield Pass in the Far Eastern Fells of the Lake District, a walker going up remarked: 'I don't know how you do it.' Encumbered by boots and bag, I wondered the same: 'How do you do it?'"