Wednesday, 24 October 2018

There’s Always the Hills by Cameron McNeish

 I was lucky enough to buy my copy of this book directly from Cameron after he had given a talk on his life in Banchory during the summer.  In this autobiography Cameron looks back on his childhood in Govan, his early interest in Athletics and his discovery of the Outdoors as a playground and the realisation, after a variety of ‘normal’ jobs that, with luck, hard work and perseverance a living could be made from one’s hobby.  The result has been a career now decades long, and continuing, in which Cameron has become a guru on the nature, history and culture of Scotland’s wild places.

Cameron’s early life, though marred by the early death of his father, seems to have been a happy one from his recounting of it here.  Today, as in the past, many youngsters, on leaving school or university, are pressured into deciding on a career before they even know themselves.  They can take comfort from Cameron, who would take seven years after leaving school to find a job, as the warden of Aberdeen’s SYHA Hostel, that gave him the time to plot what he actually wanted to do.  In the meantime he would marry at the age of 21 and work as a policeman, a part-time barman, selling weighing machines, selling insurance and spend a year in the financial sector. Even getting the SYHA job was not easy due to sectarian discrimination the appointments board of the 1st hostel he applied for turned down his application n the grounds that his was a mixed marriage – his wife was Catholic.  Once the appointment at Aberdeen was made however, Cameron discovered the nearby Cairngorms and never looked back.  Soon he became the warden at Aviemore SYHA and eventually, through beginnings in writing outdoor articles for local newspapers, would become the editor of ‘The Great Outdoors Magazine’ and author of a number of books on Scotland’s Mountains.  After a stint on Saturday morning radio, a chance conversation with Richard Else who was then covering a Chris Bonington expedition to Mount Elbrus would lead to TV career that began with ‘The Edge – One Hundred Years of Scottish Mountaineering’ and would lead on to ‘Wilderness Walks’, some episodes of which can be found on You Tube and which inspired the title of this book, and the series of walks that have become essential watching each Christmas on BBC Scotland.

As age has slowed him down, Cameron continues to work in the outdoors and to carve his own path.  A health scare is overcome and the worries it brought about are recorded here with honesty but phlegmatically.  Cameron’s response to old age is to recognise that one needs to modify expectations though he still treads his own path.  Mountaineering and guiding take less prominence than pack rafting, cycling and travels in his campervan through which new adventures are still pursued (walking and back packing are still in his repertoire though less prominently than before).  McNeish is clearly his own man, obviously he has made compromises but this book is the record of a life that is continuing to be well-lived and should provide inspiration to us all that we can choose our own path provided we don’t fall into the trap of forever wanting more ‘stuff’ we simply need to recognise what is ‘enough’ and to work hard at living the life we desire not what others desire of us. 

No comments:

Post a Comment