Book Review: Tales from the Grahams: 231 medium-sized hills of Scotland by Alan Dawson and Ann Bowker. 

A review by Norman Wares

The latest book by Alan Dawson has created considerable interest but the author’s registration of the term “Grahams” as a trademark, together with the lowering of the minimum height from 609.6m to 600m seems to have caused annoyance to some as the list now includes an additional 12 hills, 3 of which had previously been demoted and 9 new ones. Those who thought they had climbed them all are now faced with travelling to South Uist to bag Hecla. All 12 are Marilyns so unsurprisingly many of the 45 listed completers are folk who have concentrated on that list. As an indication of the furore, the Scottish Mountaineering Club has stated that those who have climbed the previous total of 219 will be classed as completers on their website. It’s all just a bit divisive and unsatisfactory and detracts from what is a truly entertaining book.

Those familiar with the usual Scottish Sections of 1 -28 will be surprised to see the hills grouped into 10 topographic Regions. In the book each hill is accompanied by a tale with a thematic title. Alan’s humour shines through most, but a large number of tales are from notes written by the late Ann Bowker who was the first person to climb them all. Other contributors include RHSoc members, Barry, Eric and Anne. It’s not a guide book but route descriptions could prove useful to those about to  embark on the list. I read it through to compare my own adventures, but I suspect readers may just dip in to the stories.

The book includes 180 colour photos and many references to RHSoc members present and past, with moving tributes to Lynda Woods, David Batty and others. One of my favourite tales was entitled “Vegetation Profile” where Alan has created a table of different types of terrain rated from 0-6. Marilyn baggers will be familiar with grade 5, Head -high bracken, brambles etc with the experience quoted as “Crawling, falling, wading, backtracking”. (Grade 6 is “Impenetrable”). Many other tales made me laugh out loud such as when Alan had to break into his metal tape measure which became a “Twirling Dervish”.

It's not all humour, and as well as many serious tales there is a section on the history of how the list came into being, as well as information on William Docharty, an earlier list compiler. Fiona Torbet who had collaborated with Alan in 1992 to produce the list which ultimately became Grahams is also mentioned together with details of her untimely end.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book although I haven’t sampled the quirky soundtrack available on CD. It seems that Alan’s next book scheduled for 2024 is provisionally titled “The Revised Relative Hills of Britain”. One wonders what surprises that will reveal!

Pedantic Press  ISBN 978-1-9163662-4-4  £20

Also availabe: Ten Tables of Grahams: The Official List (printed booklet £4 or free digital download).

Both are available from Alan'sa website: Pedantic Press books


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