Scotland’s wilderness explored in new book by author and artist Jack Harland
Jack Harland’s third book in a series about his passion for nature and hiking in the Highlands has just been published. Gayle Ritchie chats with author and artist.
Jack Harland is drawn to the wilderness – to moments of silence, to the sound of running water, to the gentle rustling of the wind through the trees, to the chirping of birds in the mountains.
“I am not a religious person,” he said to himself. “But it is in these wild places that I feel close to something far greater than all the often sad and petty concerns of humanity. I feel free and at peace. “
After studying geography at the University of Dundee in the 1970s, Jack taught the subject and his love for exploring the great outdoors was forced to take a back seat.
His dreams of hiking and climbing couldn’t compete with the demands of building a career and being a father of four, so for many years his hiking boots gathered dust.
It wasn’t until he retired as director of the Bridge of Don Academy in 2013 that he was able to indulge his passion, completing his last Munro, Stob Coire an Laoigh in the Gray Corries, in 2015.
Retirement also gave him more time to paint, draw, map and write, which led to the publication of his first book in 2018 – Highland Journal 1: The Making of a Hillwalker – an illustrated memoir chronicling his adventures. .
The book detailed Jack’s introduction to family vacation hiking in Polbain, north of Ullapool, and continued to examine his transition from wide-eyed novice to proficient climber.
A second book, Highland Journal 2: In My Stride, followed in 2019.
Now Jack has written a third book, Highland Journal 3: Beyond the Last Munro, published May 28.
Some chapters record days of great adventure, such as crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Ridge at Lochaber, but there are milder days at Angus, Wester Ross and Assynt – days when the focus is on the passion for the author for the rocks, plant life and wild creatures of the Highlands.
“The inspiration for Highland Journal 3 was the same as for the others – a deep love of the wilderness of Scotland and a desire to share it with others,” says Jack, 69.
“I enjoyed my days on the hills so much that I started to fill notebooks with a daily report, as well as maps and sketches. Family and friends read them and keep saying I should turn them into a book.
“I had to wait until I retired, however, because I had so little free time.
“I did some math and realized I needed three pounds to do it justice.”
In Jack’s third book – the book in which he climbs his last Munro – he points out that “Munro-bagging” is not the ultimate solution.
“I take as much pleasure exploring little-known hills in quiet corners of our beautiful country as I do days on the big ones,” he said to himself.
“It’s called Beyond the Last Munro because I wanted to clarify that my books on the Highlands are not just a recording of the climbing of Munros.
“There is so much more to explore and enjoy, often superior in many ways to the Munros.”
But Jack of course scaled the 282 Munros, spurred on by pals.
“When I realized I had climbed 100, I decided I had better climb the rest!
“Towards the end, climbing mountains just because they were classified as Munros sometimes got boring and it was with some determination that I set out to climb the last ten.
“On the last one, I felt a great relief and I knew that then I had a new freedom to go where I wanted.
It was the Boy Scouts who first introduced Jack to the Scottish Highlands, finding himself enraptured by what he saw as a new and mysterious world, exploring windy ridges and scaling scree-laden hills during the camps of summer.
While at the University of Dundee, he spent weekends exploring the Angus Glens with one of his professors.
“I love the hills around Glen Clova, Doll, Esk and Shee and consider them to be my ‘home hills’,” he says.
“My family say that someday, when I’m old, I’ll die up there on Jock’s Road.
“I always respond that I appreciate the prospect. No perseverance in a retirement home for me.
Over the decades, Jack has found himself drawn to the wilderness of Assynt and returns there often.
“As I drive the crazy road past Stac Pollaidh, I still feel the same – that this amazing scenery is so much better than the Alpine scenery.
“Understanding something equally extraordinary about geology certainly adds depth to my appreciation, and the plant and animal life of the mountains fascinates me.
“But it’s the desert that attracts me. I have lived such a busy life, full of people, and as wonderful as they are, I enjoy my days of escape and peace. Many days in the mountains, I don’t see anyone at all.
“My family say that someday, when I’m old, I’ll die up there on Jock’s Road. I always respond that I appreciate the prospect. No perseverance in a retirement home for me.
While Jack is accompanied on expeditions by various people, his oldest hiking companion is his son, Tom, whom he describes as a “cognate spirit.”
An old soldier and member of the Cairngorm Club, James Murray, accompanies him on many walks, as do two of his grandsons and the Jolly Boys, a fun hiking group.
The third book has highlights, and of course a few hairy moments, but Jack says there aren’t any weak spots.
“Crossing the Carn Mor Dearg Ridge; climbing Ben More the hard way with the Jolly Boys; being with my grandsons when they climbed their first Munro; walk the hills of North Harris; being on the snow covered Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan on a perfect day with my son; every moment in the desert of Fisherfield and Letterewe; the day of Breabag, Assynt, where I saw the mountain vole; spending time with an adder at Hunt Hill – those were highlights, ”he told himself.
“There were often difficult times and the book is full of steep drops, flooded river crossings, attacks by ferocious hordes of midges and, worse than the cold, from afar, climbing in the heat that makes every step. a torture.
“But what worried me the most was getting it right by helping to get an injured person into a rescue helicopter on Beinn Narnain.
Jack’s latest book sees him heading to the Isles of Mull and Harris, exploring the lonely moorlands of Sutherland, the Rough Bounds, and the Great Wilderness.
“Mull has always fascinated me because of its complex geology and how easy it is to see and understand there; the very bones of the earth are exposed, ”he says.
“Harris is stranger, and we had a memorable family vacation there, in a little cottage perched on the edge of a low cliff above the sea.
“The mix of mountain, sea, lochan and sea loch makes it a very special landscape, where it’s hard to see where the water ends and where the land begins.
“The skies are often fantastic and the soft light has a quality that I haven’t seen anywhere else.”
Anyone who has explored Glen Carron may have drove by or stayed in Gerry Youth Hostel, about 3 km east of Achnashallach station.
It was here that Jack befriended the man himself, describing Gerry as a legend among hikers.
“He really was a pot character, some hated him and he hated them in return!” he’s laughing.
“I got along with him (with the help of a good malt whiskey) and danced dreamily in the evening to his collection of 1930s jazz records, the flickering flames of the fire lighting the living room. particular. I was sad to learn of his death a few months later.
Jack’s stunning illustrations, featured in his books, begin as rough sketches drawn in his notebook when he’s in the mountains: “I find photos invariably downscale things and the sketches are so much more evocative of particular walks, creating memories that truly stand the test of time. . “
When asked what his favorite walk is, Jack hesitates – there are too many.
But he says Ben Avon and Beinn a ‘Bhuird in the Cairngorms are hard to beat.
“It’s a great day to climb them both because they are so far from the road and partly because of that they are often unmanned.
“I love the massive mass of these granite mountains, the savage storms that tear them apart, the exposed granite twists that create such an alien landscape and the huge skies.
While thrilled with the release of Highland Journal 3, Jack has other irons on the go.
He wrote the first version of an illustrated children’s book called Little Dog and Tiger, writes a book on hill climbing which he sees from his home window in Peebles, and has plans for an illustrated book on Dundee .
*Highland Journal 3: Beyond the Last Munro by Jack Harland is published by Troubador, priced at £ 15.99.