Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Under a Poet's Moon, There Are Dreams In Action....

We all need inspiration from time to time. And we can find it in all sorts of places - the beauty of a photograph, a glimpse into nature's secret world, a rainbow across a thundery sky.

But, personally, I always take (and have always taken) great inspiration from reading about the adventures of others and their ability to push their boundaries and take on new and exciting experiences.

So, as I scanned the books on the shelves earlier, I thought I'd put down a small list of the books that have inspired me, and which continue to inspire me every time I pick them up and flick through their pages. So here are my "Six Of The Best Inspiring Outdoors Books";

i) W A Poucher - The Scottish Peaks

In chronological order, this has to come first. As a wee boy, my Dad took me off to the hills on a regular basis and I was privileged to have become accustomed to reaching summits of major British mountains throughout my childhood.

Back then, there wasn't the choice of guidebooks that there is now (and, interestingly, a certain set of a Lakes guides by a grumpy old Lancastrian were hardly even heard of!) but my Dad relied very much on the books produced by Mr Poucher, covering the Scottish Peaks, the Lakeland Peaks and the Welsh Peaks.

They were fantastic books, well ahead of their time, with a white line drawn on photographs to show the route being taken. They certainly weren't comprehensive in covering all hills, but they included the major groups.

And, as a boy (perhaps a bit of a strange one?!?), I could spend hours poring over those editions, looking in amazement and wonder at the photos and dreaming of our next day out in the hills. And, most probably, pestering my Dad to take me to certain places I'd been reading about!

Only in later years have I found out just what an interesting and colourful character Mr Poucher was and I urge anyone interested to go and pick up a copy of Roly Smith's biography "A Camera In The Hills". You'll not be disappointed.

ii) W H Murray - The Evidence of Things Not Seen

I've always been fascinated by reading tales of climbing in yesteryear. The adventures they had seemed to much more "on the edge" and, indeed, these people were pioneers in the mountains, pushing the boundaries of what was thought capable.

And, at a time when life was generally much more harsh, they were doing so without the "leisure" opportunities afforded to us these days. The hard men from Glasgow, who worked in the shipyards all week and then took a bus up to Glencoe on a Friday night for a weekend of climbing, drinking and general debauchery, before dragging themselves home for another week in the docks, cannot fail to inspire.

But ranking above all of those, for me personally, are the thrilling stories of W H Murray and the incredible feats he achieved in climbing, despite the trials and tribulations in his life.

You can't help but have huge respect for such characters and, reading his book, you can't help but think that, next time you're complaining about being tired or uncomfortable, you should think about the conditions he had to endure, both on mountains and in POW camps.

iii) Richard Askwith - Feet In The Clouds

Well, of course, it had to figure, didn't it!?!

The more I read this book these days, the more I see the flaws in it and yet, undeniably, it has been the single most influential factor in my fellrunning to date.

I started fellrunning with a group of lads from Newport on the hills around Church Stretton, and was immediately hooked by it....being outdoors, the views, the terrain, the challenges of uphill and downhill, the lack of rules, the lack of formality, the camaradarie, the beer(!).

But, at this stage, I still knew little about the wider fellrunning scene. Feet In The Clouds changed all that. Whilst the "story" is about Mr Askwith's attempts to complete the Bob Graham Round, the best parts as far as I'm concerned, are the chapters which delve into the history and characters of the sport. Each and every one is inspiring.

That said, I picked up my first copy of this book at around about the same time that I'd been reading about these incredible athletes who were able to complete the "ultimate" challenge, the Bob Graham Round. I was in awe of such people, clearly on a different level to mere mortals such as myself. And then......Feet In The Clouds changed all that and made me dare to believe.......

iv) Joss Naylor MBE Was Here

The more I read about this man, the more I see, the more I hear, the more he sums up exactly what fellrunning is all about and why I love it so much.

A simple, humble man from a farm in Wasdale, who rose to become probably the greatest fellrunner of all time, despite physical difficulties, but who still seems to run just because he loves running in the hills and for no other reason.

Of course, there's a smashing large-size book called "Joss" which you can get now, and a great read it is, often picked up in this household.

But for a truly inspiring tale, pick up a copy of Joss Naylor MBE Was Here and read, in his own words, about Joss's incredible run across all 214 Wainwrights in just 7 days.

v) Hugh Symonds - Running High

I've had this book for many years as well, and I can honestly say I must have read it a dozen times and have a feeling I'm going to be reading it again over the next few weeks.

As someone who came from a mountain-walking background, but then realised that being able to run them would allow me to cover much greater distances and have longer days out, this book summed up everything I thought was wonderful about fellrunning.

If you've not read it, Hugh set out to complete a continuous traverse of the Scottish Munros, all 277 of them, running every step of the way and being met at night by his wife and children in a campervan. He achieved this, but didn't want to stop, so headed down to complete the 3000 footers in England, Wales and then Ireland, running all the way.

The book is fascinating and gripping, with contributions from his wife Pauline adding to Hugh's narrative. I guarantee that if you purchase this book, you won't be able to put it down until you've read it!

Just under a year ago, I managed to acquire a copy of the ITV 1/2 hour programme that was made about the run at the time. It's fascinating to watch, even if the clothes, hairstyles and colours are a little old fashioned!

Oh, and of course, I can't forget the contributions in the book from Hugh's two sons, who travelled along in the campervan and were "home educated" by Pauline Symonds on the way. How bizarre then, at the Knockfarrel race we organised last November, to be confronted by one of those lads, Joe, who is now a fine runner in his own right and how lovely to be able to run for nearly 3 hours with him on Saturday just gone.

If I could only have one book about mountain running, this would be it....I can't think of a higher recommendation than that!

vi) Mike Cudahy - Wild Trails and Far Horizons

I came to this book much later, only in recent years, but it's one I'm so glad I found and which speaks to me much more as a slightly older, slower, long distance runner.

It's a fabulous collection of autobiography together with articles he'd written in the past for various magazines etc on all sorts of subjects connected to the runs he did.

Overall it's the tale of a man going from simple runner to incredible feats of endurance, and enjoying every minute of it! But he is also someone who quite clearly thinks a lot about what he does and how it impacts on everyone and everything around him.

So there we are, six fantastic books which inspire time after time - I'll no doubt be picking one of them up to start again later. But of course there are plenty of others as well. No room for any books by my namesake, Richard Gilbert, who has inspired many a long route I've done. No room for any of Joe Simpson's books, a fascinating yet abrasive character, who is always thought-provoking. No room for any Cameron MacNeish titles, always worth reading. And no room for any of the other more recent "classics" such as "Born To Run" and "UltraMarathon Man".

So plenty out there to read and be inspired by and I welcome any other suggestions.....

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