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British Crags and Climbers

British Crags and Climbers, edited by Edward C. Pyatt and Wilfrid Noyce. 235 pages, 16 illustrations. London: Dennis Dobson, 1952. Price, 21/—.

A stated purpose of this anthology is “to illustrate the foundation, the development and the present state of British climbing.” Drawing on books and journals that are described as generally difficult for the individual to come by nowadays, the editors have arranged 54 pieces of prose in chronological order, running from Tyndall’s account of “A Stormy Day on Helvellyn” (Saturday Review, 1859) to the record of a climb on Craig Cwm Silin in 1950. The Lake District, Wales, and Scotland are represented about equally; the last 20 years rather more extensively than the preceding 30 or those before 1900. One reads of the first ascent of the Napes Needle in 1886 and of J. L. Longland’s climb on Clogwyn du’r Arddu in 1928. There is a footnote to Dr. Collie’s story of the Long Man of Ben MacDhui, and a memorable answer by J. M. Edwards to the question, How do you climb? Two Everest men write of mild hills near home—Frank Smythe of the Surrey hills, Wilfrid Noyce himself of the Malverns. Many of the familiar names are to be found—Owen Glynne Jones, P. M. A. Thomson, Geoffrey Winthrop Young, W. H. Murray, A. D. M. Cox. The Introduction and the annotated Table of Contents provide historical background and technical information.

The main point is that British Crags and Climbers makes good reading and evokes pleasant memories. I hesitate to say much more. The Journal of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club has been drawn upon only twice—but perhaps that is because it supplied all of an anthology published in 1948 (Lakeland Scene, ed. Mary Rose Fitzgibbon). The special quality of climbing from Pen-y-Pass, not infrequently alluded to in books and essays, might have had some space—but Geoffrey Winthrop Young’s chapter in Mountains with a Difference and his essay in The Mountains of Snowdonia are (one assumes) generally available. Just one other comment: a different selection of pictures would have done more, I think, to bear out the editors’ purpose to show how British climbing has developed. Might there not be illuminating differences, for instance, between photographs by the brothers Abraham and photographs by C. D. Milner? Or between a diagrammatic sketch for Climbs on Lliwedd (1909) and a drawing by C. H. French or W. Heaton Cooper for one of the guidebooks published in the 1930’s? Perhaps this is to ask for another book altogether, an “essay in graphic history.” That would be interesting, too.

D. A. R., Jr.