Book Review: Exploring the Nevis Range and Mamores

Exploring the Nevis Range and Mamores, Scotland. James Barnet. Mereo Press. 2014. 253 p.

Conceptually, the idea of a route guide to the Nevis Range and Mamores with a geological underpinning had great appeal to me as a geologist. Paul Gannon’s Rock Trails series has set the standard in this area but books on the Lake District, Snowdonia and the Highlands are focused on geological walks in serious, mountainous terrain.

Barnet’s book focuses on two of the major ranges around Fort William, including the Ben itself which has been the subject of recent re-investigation by geologists and botanists in collaboration with mountaineers and Barnet combines this set of skills in his professional and personal pursuits, which is reflected in the contents of the book.

Two substantial opening chapters set the theatre that the drama of the walks takes place across. Two initial chapters give a broad geological overview of the formation of Great Britain and the more detailed geological history of the Nevis and Mamore ranges. Many books and other sources cover the geological evolution of Great Britain but the section on the rocks of the ranges is particularly useful to the mountain leader with short descriptions and photos.

A series of sections on the climate and weather, flora and fauna, mountain photography and other hill matters follows. Most of these are about two to four pages long and tailored to the ranges covered by the book but are covered in more detail in books such as Hostile Habitats. The best of the sections is the history of human activity on the Ben, which is a reminder of how close Ben Nevis came to having a café on the summit plateau, which the current stewardship of the John Muir Trust will prevent being reinstated.

Details of the principal peaks of the two ranges form the start of the section on the walks, which range from easy walks to admire the North Face of the Ben to very challenging routes for walkers, although no mention is made of the Tranter and Ramsay Rounds. Each route has a route card and sketch maps and profiles. The latter two are the best feature of the book, as the remind us of the value of the sketch or drawing that can draw out key features. Each route profile lists the geology, vegetation and major peaks. Knowledge of the conditions underfoot is most useful for route planning but such information is rare except on orienteering or Harvey maps. Or from bitter, bitter personal experience.

Many of the walks are illustrated with the author’s personal photographs that have panoramas of the ranges from various peaks to help identify more distant hills. Although the photographs are good, reproducing fewer in landscape view would have enhanced the quality and utility of the illustrations and there is the odd instance where the contrast between annotation and the grey skies is too low to make out the text clearly.

Although the book is indeed ‘the most comprehensive guide available for the hill walker exploring the Nevis and Mamore ranges’ and is good value if bought through Amazon (I paid £15.74 including P&P) it is not be a volume you’d be inclined to carry on the hill, given the size and thickness of the volume. The volume is self-published through Mereo Press, which is unlikely to have the editorial expertise to handle the scientific (the popular science section includes a book on astrology!) or outdoor elements of such a work and it would be great if a specialist outdoor publisher would pick up the book and work with the author to produce a smaller, tighter guide that focuses on the strengths of the work and discards many of the sections that are covered well on websites or in the standard reference works for the hillwalker and mountaineer.

I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

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Posted in Book reviews, Books, Geological Walks, Mamores, Nevis Range

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