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Mike Cawthorne began hill-walking on Ben Nevis aged seven, and has been climbing mountains ever since. He has worked as a teacher, professional photographer and freelance journalist. He has an intimate knowledge of the Scottish Highlands, undertaking his first long distance trek there in 1982. His first book, Hell of a Journey: On Foot through the Scottish Highlands in Winter (2000, new edition 2007) was short-listed for the Boardman-Tasker Prize for mountain literature. His second book, Wilderness Dreams, was published in 2007. He lives in Inverness.
A record of travels in one of the wildest and most remote corners of the UK – the Cairngorms. Following in the footsteps of Scottish writers such as Neil Gunn and Rowena Farre, Mike Cawthorne recalls the landscape as his subjects would have experienced it and, as he walks, we see the landscape of today and the issues that beset even such a remote place, ownership, wildlife, conservation and depopulation. May 2014 Non-Fiction Book of the Month. Like for Like Reading Findings, Kathleen Jamie Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination, Robert McFarlane
Walking Through Shadows describes a winter walk in memory of the author's friend, Clive Dennier, a popular Inverness journalist, who died in Knoydart in March 2013 but whose body was found only some weeks later. The journey begins at Whiten Head on the north Sutherland coast and ends at Kinloch Hourn in Knoydart, the place where Clive was eventually found. Mike Cawthorne undertook the walk with his friend, Nick (also a friend of Clive's), from mid-January to late February 2015. Their walk traversed the wildest and most remote areas of Britain, often in atrocious winter conditions. The walkers were entirely reliant on food parcels buried beforehand. As well as describing some the last wild places in Scotland in the heart of winter the narrative explores themes of grief, chance, mental illness and ecological damage. The author's companion is struggling throughout with the effects of severe mental illness but sees in the walk the hope of some relief from this suffering. The walkers are asking a question: whether the hills can heal at a human level and whether the hills can themselves be healed. In the shadow of the Anthropocene Mike Cawthorne evokes the darkness of winter, of two individuals seeking answers, alone in a freezing wilderness that is both beautiful and moribund. In the context of an extreme mountaineering adventure, he is grappling with issues of vital importance to us all.
The journeys in this book are tales of adventure on foot and by canoe through some of the last wild places in Scotland. Each journey is haunted by the ghost of another writer-Neil Gunn, Iain Thomson, Rowena Farre-who has left behind the trace of his or her own experience of these isolated hills, glens, streams, or lochs. Traveling in time as well as space, Mike Cawthorne gains a new perspective on burning contemporary issues such as land ownership, renewable energy, conservation, and depopulation. On one level these are exciting and lyrical evocations of wild walks and nature in the raw; on another level they explore the meaning of Scotland's surviving wilderness to wanderers in the past and its vital importance in the present day.
'Hell of a Journey' describes what is arguably the last great journey to be undertaken in Britain: the entire Scottish Highlands on foot in one winter. On one level it is a vivid and evocative account of a remarkable trek - never attempted before - on another it celebrates the uniqueness of the Highlands, the scenery and ecology of 'the last wilderness in Europe'. The challenge Mike Cawthorne set himself was to climb all 135 of Scotland's 1,000-metre peaks, which stretch in an unbroken chain through the heart of the Highlands, from Sutherland to the Eastern Cairngorms, down to Loch Lomond, and west to Glencoe. His route traversed the most spectacular landscape in Scotland, linking every portion of wilderness, and was completed in the midst of the harshest winter conditions imaginable. Acclaimed on its first publication in 2000, this edition contains an epilogue in which Mike Cawthorne reflects on his trek and wonders what has changed since he carried it out. He warns that 'wild land in Scotland has never been under greater threat'. Hell of a Journey is a reminder of what we could so easily lose forever.
This book has been a long time in the writing. While Mike Cawthorne's life over the last two decades has been mostly involved in climbing and journalism, he has managed to stow away a large memory bank of experiences of his times spent deep within the wilderness areas of Scotland. These 8 extended essays begin with a canoe trip down the River Dee in 2002 ( Tale of Two Rivers ) and his epic round of the Munros in the company of his friend Dave Hughes in 1986 ( Paupers and Kings ). Terra Ingognita deals with the Monadliath mountains, 'one of the last places left on these crowded islands where you can experience genuine solitude'. Crofting on the Edge deals with people Mike has encountered who have chosen to live in the most remote and inaccessible areas of Scotland as does The Hermit's Story , which describes the life that James McRory-Smith chose to lead in Strathailleach, a shepherd's cottage near Cape Wrath. A Last Wild Place describes the ruination of many of these wilderness areas and the efforts made by large energy companies to exploit these special places. '...only wilderness if you can be killed and eaten' is a quote by American writer Edward Abbey referring to grizzly bears stalking humans in the Rockies. Mike recalls this in Dying for Trees as he spends a day on Creag Meagaidh with a deer-stalking party where a minor bio-diversity miracle has taken place by carefully controlling deer numbers to allow the spread of broadleaf woodland. Scotland's Alaska is the final essay on Sutherland's flow country...'the best and worst of wild Britain.'