If you read just one book about hillwalking this year, make it this one. No-one interested in the Scottish mountains can have failed to come across the books of Ralph Storer. Over the years he has written a considerable number of excellent guides that have introduced many to the delights of hillwalking, and Scottish hillwalking in particular. We first discovered Ralph Storer, and through him the Scottish mountains, thanks to his "100 Best Routes On Scottish Mountains", first published in 1987. He has since written other collections of Scottish mountain routes; a four volume "Ultimate Guide to the Munros"; guides to the Munros for those wanting easier climbs; and a number of other books.
"See You on the Hill" is a collection of stories about the author's exploits as a hillwalker and wild camper gleaned from the five-and-a-half decades since he first set eyes on the Scottish Highlands: as he says, "it was love at first sight". Ralph Storer has published excellent collections of reminiscences in the past and, we've thoroughly enjoyed them. "See You on the Hill" comes across as rather different to anything we've seen from him before. What emerges is a sort of potted autobiography, addressing the large part of his life (though, as he makes clear, it is only a part of his life) that he has spent in the mountains in many different parts of the world. This is not just a collection of amusing stories; though in keeping with the style we have come to know and love, many of the stories are very funny. Rather it builds in a way that allows the reader to understand, to a far greater extent than we can recall from previous books, the way that Ralph Storer's horizons have expanded as the years have gone by.
For us, this somewhat chronological approach, which is also divided into a series of themes, makes this book a particular joy to read, as you know you are sharing the author's journey across those decades. There are seven main sections, each subdivided into a series of short chapters. We start with accounts of the author's early hillwalking adventures and misadventures as a Dundee University student in the 1960s. We then move on to stories about wild camping, or "camping sauvage", including accounts of Ralph Storer's top three worst wild camps and top three best wild camps. Sections on hillwalking in Scotland and France follow; and then we are on to his explorations elsewhere in the world, and in the United States. The book concludes with a collection of chapters reflecting on, for example, the complexities of the measurement of the height of mountains, the possibilities for hillwalking elsewhere in the solar system, and the life of a writer of mountain guidebooks.
Why did we start this review by proclaiming this to be the one hillwalking book you have to read this year? The fact that it's great fun and highly entertaining plays a part in that. But mainly it's because what emerges is in our view a classic in the making. There's something about the way Ralph Storer has approached this book, perhaps unlike any other we've read of his, that brings to mind W.H. Murray's two great classics, "Mountaineering in Scotland" and "Undiscovered Scotland", about climbing in Scotland in the years before and after WWII. If there's a single book we felt "See You on the Hill" reminded us of most, however, it was Alistair Borthwick's classic account of a life in the Scottish mountains in the 1930s, "Always a Little Further". We suspect that, like those great books, Ralph Storer's latest outing will have a lasting value for the way it captures what will become seen as a golden age for hillwalking.