Mountaineers can obviously take a joke. In 1981, four years before W. E. Bowman died and a quarter of a century after the publication of his spoof mountaineering book, The Ascent of Rum Doodle, he discovered to his amazement that members of the 1959 Australian Antarctic Expedition had affectionately named a small mountain Mount Rumdoodle and that this had been duly incorporated into Antarctic maps.
Travelling recently from London up to Scotland, I took with me a paperback reissue of his book to read on the train. I was going to visit my daughter, Sophie, who has relocated from London to Argyll and now lives in a cottage surrounded by mountains. Most of these are Munros (named after Sir Hugh T. Munro who in 1891 surveyed all of Scotland’s mountains over 3,000 feet). It is a place of wild waterfalls, wind and fast scudding clouds, and her kitchen cupboards are full of ropes and rock-climbing tackle. I thought she would enjoy Bowman’s book and planned to make her a present of it, but first I was keeping up the family tradition of book-giving: well-thumbed and with a bookmark still inside.
The new Rum Doodle contains an introduction by Bill Bryson and plenty of delightful illustrations featuring old engravings and possibly genuine photographs of mountaineering exploits, suitably
recaptioned with quotes from the book. Soon I was chuckling and smiling, not something I usually do on trains – all the way up, in fact, until we passed through the Lake District. There I laid down the book, not because it had in any way palled, but because I find it impossible to pass mountains without giving them my attention.
As a child, I lived in a grey granite house on the edge of the Cairngorms. In front of the house, across the road, was a municipal park with asphalt paths and tidy lawns but if you squeezed through
a gap in the railings, you could climb up a hill covered with blaeberries and harebells. At the summit someone had built an octagonal
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