The Alternative Reading List for Mountain Leaders

As the summer stretches out many people are getting out in the hills and clocking up Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) in preparation for their Mountain Leader assessment. Navigation and emergency rope work are learnt and practised intensively; the Mountain Leader Training Handbook Volume 1: Hill walking frequently referenced. Being knowledgeable about the environment is also important too, and aspiring (MLs) often have books like Rock TrailsCicerone’s Mountain Weather and a selection of the Field Studies Council fold out charts sitting on their bookshelves. In addition, you have downloaded the night sky and mountain flora and fauna app. You’ve got it covered, or have you? How can you expand that knowledge, how about the alternative reading list for Mountain Leaders?

Britain is rich, not only in its diverse mountain landscapes, but also its nature writing and mountain literature inspired by it. These books are a wonderful resource for Mountain Leaders (ML). This alternative reading list for Mountain Leaders is not about the hard skills of becoming an ML it is about expanding your knowledge of the environment, leadership, traditional livelihoods in the upland regions and the background to our access rights, mapping and unique tradition of hill walking in the British Isles.

Below is my alternative reading list for Mountain Leaders:


The Living Mountain book

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd

A masterpiece in mountain literature and nature writing. The Living Mountain, as with all masterpieces, a book which demands to be savoured. It devours your attention, transporting the reader to the Cairngorm plateau. In the Living Mountain Shepherd describes the mountain hare, swifts, rocks, lichen as well as the hillwalkers and lairds she meets on her travels through the lairigs and bealachs.

Other books: Findlings by Kathleen Jamie, Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlene




Snowdon book

Snowdon: The story of a Welsh mountain by Jim Perrin

With more than 360,000 visits to the summit each year, Snowdon is one of the UK’s busiest mountains (and I’d put money on it being THE busiest). It is likely that as an ML you’ll find yourself on it’s summit or carolling DofE groups around it’s flanks at some point.

Jim Perrin brings the mountain alive. With a turn of every page beautifully crafted sentences, detailed and lyrical, showcase Welsh literature, culture and language around this mountain. Perrin, an eminent mountaineer and Snowdonia local, writes captivating about this unique mountain.




The Shepherd's Life book

A Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

The perspective of this Lakeland sheep farmer is insightful and reinforces that the mountains aren’t just for recreation, they are layered and multifaceted landscapes, with different meanings to different people. Understanding of different uses of the landscapes we work in and enjoy as Mountain Leaders is fundamental to respecting others that we share this space with.

I didn’t always agree with Rebanks, a farmer’s point of view that the landscape is theirs and their family’s, is not a point of view I agree with. Nor that farmers always do what is right for the land. However, I am grateful for their tireless work, maintaining the uplands as we know and love, and inparticular the wonderful Herdwick sheep which make up Rebanks’ flock. Reading the book I gained a deeper understanding of sheep farming and particularly the devastating impact of the foot and mouth disaster in 2001.

Other books: I bought a Mountain by Thomas Firbank


Kinder Scout Mass Trespass book

The Battle for Kinder Scout by Benny Rotham, Roly Smith & Tom Waghorn

It is easy to take for granted the access to the uplands, and nationwide in Scotland, that we enjoy today, and forget that once landowners denied the majority use of the land. The Battle for Kinder Scout includes Benny Rotham account of what happened on the 1932 Mass Trespass and its immediate aftermath including the arrest and trial of some of the trespassers.

The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass was arguably the most successful acts of civil disobedience in British history leading to the passage of the National Parks legislation, the establishment of the Pennine Way, and other long-distance footpaths, and the protection of walkers’ rights by the CROW Act of 2000 to travel through common land and open country.

Before reading this book, I’d not appreciated how young the protesters and coordinators of the trespass were. They went against the established ramblers clubs to protest for something they vehemently believed in, starting a chain reaction of events which changed government policy, something we continue to benefit from today.


Ogwen Mountain Rescue book

Risking Life and Limb by Judy Whiteside

This book documents the history of mountain rescue and the mountain landscape that the team operates in. Published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ogwen Mountain Rescue Team this is a well researched and written book. It’s packed with historical incidents which gave birth to the mountain rescue teams as we know them today.

Other books: Cairngorm John by John Allen




Corvus a life with birds book

Corvus: A life with birds by Ester Woolfson

“’Is that a raven?’ they’ll say on seeing Chicken standing on top of her house or perching on her branch. I suspect they don’t really think she’s a raven because they don’t know what a raven looks like either, that it’s a name, a word risen from part of the ether in which is kept a list of names of black birds.”

Our ignorance about corvids, their habits and life cycle, has, no doubt, led to their long persecution. This book goes some way to dispel the myths around these birds through the unique perspective of someone who rescues and cares for these birds.

The main character of the book is Chicken, a rescued rook, who came to Woolfson as a chick. Quirky and intelligent Chicken, through Woolfson’s writing, brings these misunderstood birds to life. Other characters enter Woolfson’s life and home like Spike the magpie and Ziki the crow.

Other books: A Mind of a Raven by Bernd Heinrich


Extreme Leadership book

Extreme leadership ed. by Cristina M. Giannantonio and Amy E. Hurley-Hanson

The Mountain Leader, being a leadership award, means that understanding the fundamentals of leadership are an essential part of the role. Many books on leadership focus on business leadership. Sometimes these books use examples of leaders in the outdoors and draw ‘lessons learnt’ from their experiences, translating them to the business environment. As Mountain Leaders our workplace is in the outdoors, we learn more directly from people leading in challenging outdoor environments.

Extreme Leadership analyses leadership of polar explorers and mountaineers. One of the most referenced expedition leaders, Shackleton, is the topic of the first chapter.

This book is American.  Despite this, the American spelling and liberal use of the word ‘conquer’, there were some advantages to an American perspective. Many examples are of British leaders. As I read further, I soon appreciated the book’s subjective critique of these leaders, untainted by national pride and sentiment, and it led to me reflecting on the ‘British-ness’ of my own leadership and where this is an advantage, or could be a disadvantage. This is illustrated in the chapter which compares the Scott and Amunsden expeditions. British character traits in Scott’s leadership style, such as stoicism and a need to ‘suffer’ for an achievement to be truly valid, are shown to hinder or even be of serious detriment to a leader. This is only one leadership lesson, many more are packed in to this book. Highly recommended for leaders in the outdoors.



Wainwright Pictorial walking guides

A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells by  A Wainwright

Wainwright describes his seven handwritten pictorial guidebooks as a love letter to the Lakeland Fells.  He wrote the volumes between 1952 to 1966 and create a list of summits 214 to climb. The writing is superseded by Wainwright’s sketches, which depict routes, illustrate views from summits and show the names of peaks along the skyline.


Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Reading, or re-reading, a children’s book every now and again is good for the soul. As Mountain Leaders we often, sometimes entirely, work with children. I believe that seeing the outdoor world as a child is of much benefit. A child’s possibilities of the adventures that can be had; making dens, damming streams and, as in Swallows and Amazons, sailing a craft across the wide-open expanse of Lake Windermere, to uninhabited islands and places of infinite adventure.

Swallows and Amazons shows how the landscape of the Lake District can be re-imaged through a child’s eyes. Maybe it is a bygone era, that of allowing children the freedom to explore independently, but the Walker children did seem to be ‘remotely supervised’. They are occasionally visited by a parent. So, maybe we do still facilitate such adventure through some our work as MLs.


Mountain Flowers book

Mountain Flowers by Michael Scott

This recently published (2016) book introduces the UK’s mountain flowers by discussing the different UK mountain environments. It begins with how British flora is a remnant from the last ice age before featuring the flora of each mountain area in Britain. Rather than being a comprehensive identification book, Scott selects iconic species and expands in detail on these species in specific areas. These areas include those that Mountain Leaders frequent; the Northern Corries in the Cairngorms, Ben Nevis, Snowdon, the Lake District and the Brecon Beacons, and more. Concluding chapters discuss the modern challenges for mountain flora and conservation issues. In addition, the book includes stunning photography with not only detailed photos of the the flowers but also flora within the mountain landscape.

This book is fantastic a resource to reference before heading out to a particular mountainous area of the UK. It can be used to read up on the species that you might see and then try to find them once you are out and about. Therefore enabling you to expand your knowledge without being overwhelmed by identification books. It is a book I’ll continue to dip into whilst working across the UK.


The Moor book

The Moor by William Atkins

If I could re-title this book it would be ‘The People of the Moor’. This is due to the book’s focus in describing the characters and livelihoods the English moorlands sustain. It includes descriptions of gamekeepers on Kinder Scout, peat cutters on the North York Moors, the military on Otterburn to the influence that Dartmoor had on the poet Ted Hughes and the story of the Moors Murders. Atkins details the conflicts of land; the mass trespasses in the Peak District and the persecution of hen harriers.

I speculate that the tendency for Atkins to dwell on morose and gloomy themes throughout the book might be because of so much time spent walking alone across barren moorland. However, the beauty and wonder of the moors does occasionally shine through the leaden skies of his writing, like shafts of sunlight through the clouds. I enjoyed the commentary on the natural wonders of the moorland as nature writing is what I enjoy the most. Moorland plants are so small they are easily be overlooked but, to me, butterwort, sundew and the delicate yellow flower of bog aspinal is wondrous.

The moor is a shared landscape one where hillwalkers, farmers, gamekeepers, conservationists and military training areas all collide. It is important for mountain leaders to understand other livelihoods and mountain users to prevent conflict and so that we can continue to have the freedoms we currently enjoy.

Other books: Inglorious: Conflict in the Uplands by Mark Avery, The Dark Stuff: Stories or Peatlands by Donald Murray


Map Addict book

Map Addict by Mike Parker

Mike Parker, resident of Mid-Wales, close to Cadair Idris, is a kindred spirit, someone who can get the same pleasure as I for reading maps like reading novels, and enthusiastic OS lover.

There is no doubt that this book isn’t going to win any literature prizes, but it is entertaining. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is packed full of interesting facts about maps, with a British focus. In Chapter 3, Every nodule and bobble, about the history of OS mapping, is particularly interesting for map geeks, and if you’re doing your ML you should, unashamedly, consider yourself a map geek.

Occasionally, the book slips into the crass; I really didn’t need the mental image of what part of the anatomy Kintail and Arran equated to in Chapter 7 Carto Erotica. However, in the same chapter, it was somewhat interesting that the OS omitted the same body part of the Cerne Giant when they mapped the chalk-hill figure.

Early comments in the book, such as that of surprise when Parker discovered women working at the OS, ‘and in senior positions,’ meant that I started Chapter 8 Boys toys? with a little trepidation. Despite this, I was pleasantly surprised. I read with interest about Phyllis Pearsall the creator of the London A-Z mapping.

Map Addict is well worth a read. If you only pick up this book for one chapter read Chapter 5, The Power Map. It’s about the history of the OS and how maps have been used to control and divide, and it very enlightening.

Other books: History of Britain in Maps: Over 90 Maps of our nation through time by Philip ParkerMap of a Nation: A Biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt, On the Map: why the world looks like it does by Simon Garfield


The MunrosThe Munros

The Munros: Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers’ Guide

A glorious book and one of my most read. Once an owner of this book, it is impossible not to be just a little bit tempted to become a ‘bagger’. Despite the photos are pretty dated now, wool shirts and red socks a plenty, the mountains haven’t changed significantly making this book still useful. To plan days in the hills there are clear topos and route descriptions for each peak. They show the most commonly taken routes to the summits and the topos are easily translatable to a map.

The one downfall of the book is that, to maximise bagging potential, only the easiest routes are suggested. Some of these routes will be adventurous enough but there are often other, more interesting, routes worth seeking out.

As a Mountain Leader having at least a handful of Munros (or Corbetts) under your belt is useful. Experiencing these mountain makes use appreciate the breadth of terrain the British Isles has to offer the hill walker.

Other books: The Corbetts and other Scottish Hills: Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers’ Guide



Turned out nice again weather book

Turned out nice again: Living with the weather by Richard Mabey

This is a grand wee book, written by renown nature writer Richard Mabey. It’s about British weather rather than mountain weather. Mabey weaves together the British relationship with weather with personal anecdotes to create an interesting read. The author manages to explain succinctly the difference between weather and climate. This is an important thing to understand. Despite the book being about weather, the author doesn’t shy away from the impact of climate change on British weather.

“The forecast has become an oracle and, like all sooth-sayers, we regard it not just as a source of guidance, but as a scapegoat, a focus for blame when things go wrong.”

This sentence, and others like it in the book resonated with me a lot. After all, how many times do we blame the weather forecast in the mountains?

Other Books: Rain:Four walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison, And now, the weather…. A celebration of our national obsession by Alison Maloney


What would you add to an alternative reading list for Mountain Leaders? If you have any books I’ve missed then add them in the comments below.


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