Review: There’s Always The Hills by Cameron McNeish

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I’ve been meaning to view this book for ages but as the blog has been in suspended animation I’ve simply not got around to it. Last week’s new that Cameron was retiring from the telly’ prompted me to get on with it.

Many of us know Cameron and many TGO Challengers know him personally through his long years as editor of that magazine. Cameron retired at 60 as he felt it was wrong to keep editing such a magazine after that but this then allowed him to turn his focus to the Wilderness Walks series that he made for the BBC and to the walking of trails old and new, from Skye to the length of Scotland. As ever with a ‘celebrity’ we feel that we know him well but that’s the point of a good biography, it tells us the story or the author got to be the person that they are, the experiences that made a difference, the opportunities that had to be grasped and — almost inevitably — the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

‘There’s Always The Hill’s’ is an autobiography but one in which the outdoors takes centre stage. We learn of Cameron’s first trips to the hills from inner city Glasgow, to his meeting and then marrying a local nurse Gina. We get the passionate and focus of the young man as he sets out to make the hills the centre of his life.

I’m stuck by how many of ur great outdoor writers — for example Kev Reynolds — have become hostel wardens (both here and abroad) to literally get out into the hills and the mountains. Cameron is such writer. Taking up the wardenship of a hostel in Aberdeen too him close to the Cairngorms and a move to Aviemore located him right in the middle of them. We follow Cameron and Gina from Aviemore to Kincraig and then on to Newtonmore, where they are still based today.

Like many autobiographies of this type it’s the early years that I find the most fascinating, the struggle to get out into then hill and the gamble to try and make a living from them.  There’s also a fascinating account of entering jounralism, the story of the developing TGO magazine and so on.  Perhaps, we know too much of Cameron’s recent work but the early years and struggles are what makes the book for me.

Cameron always seems to have an almost perverse sense of humour, for example championing the TGO Challenge while personally having no interest in the event whatsoever. Cameron only did the Challenge one — when he’d decided to retire. Many of us remember him on that walk but far more of us remember Gina who has tackled the event on a number of occasions. Cameron once told me that he preferred to be out on his own, in no small part he thought due to his shyness. Many would laugh at the notion of Cameron’s shyness but I think it shines through here as well. Aw with many, overcoming reservation and shyness often seems to make some people ‘larger than life’ and that’s certainly as I see Cameron.

Anyhow, I won’t spoil too much of the book; you really should read it for yourself.

At seventy retiring from the TV work will allow Cameron to have his summer’s back again and to continue to head to the hills — both here at home and further afield abroad. I doubt he’s going to disappear totally, this would see against the grain of his life so far (and I see he is still writing content for Walk Highlands).

But this seems the right time to say thanks for the magazines, the guidebooks and those TV shows. I really appreciate the way in which Cameron’s TV pieces have shown how to adapt to age, the focus on the mountain bike and the importance of the camper van. I’m sure he has many years of walking left in him yet but ‘There’s Always the Hills’ is the account of a hillwalking life that — without doubt — has indeed been well lived.

 

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