IF there’s a book that is going to inspire you to get into the outdoors by making you think it’s something you might be able to do too, it’s veteran long-distance walker and Cairngorm-based writer Chris Townsend’s latest Out There: A Voice From The Wild.
And Chris agrees that he likes the idea of the book – a collection of writing on everything from the pleasures of walking solo, meeting wildlife, reflections from his past epic walks, such as the Pacific North West Trail, to the positive side of Munro-bagging – bringing people to the outdoors.
“There are a lot of people, of course, who do go out in the hills, but they might do day walks, perhaps in the summer. Or they might go to a campsite when the weather is nice.
“But they may like to dream of doing a multi-month walk so they might like to read about it and imagine themselves doing it through my words.
“I hope I put it across in a way that people feel ‘Hey, I could do that’,” says Chris.
In the introduction to Chris’s book, his friend and fellow writer Cameron McNeish has called Chris an “evangelist”, spreading the good news about the natural world and how good it feels to taps into the space it offers – and he describes him as “a man who literally walks the walk”.
Chris has written about his experience of walking the Pacific Northwest Trail and, in his last book for Sandstone Press, Rattlesnakes And Bald Eagles, he wrote about walking the Pacific Crest Trail back when few attempted it and before he had achieved his ambition to become a writer.
Now Chris is known for his writing for TGO- The Great Outdoors - magazine and reviews of outdoor gear and has 22 books behind him.
These include the award-winning The Backpacker's Handbook, Scotland in Cicerone's World Mountain Ranges series, Crossing Arizona - the story of an 800 mile walk along the Arizona Trail and Walking The Yukon, the story of 1000 mile walk through the Yukon Territory. Closer to home, Chris written about Scotland’s wild landscape in The Munros And Tops, the story of his continuous round and A Year In The Life of The Cairngorms, a photograph book.
“I don’t feel I do anything special,” says Chris, when asked if the book might encourage people to feel brave and try something they might not otherwise have done.
“Most of what I do is not like, say, technical mountaineering. If you are going to climb a Himalayan peak you need an awful lot of technical skills and training. What I’m talking about is going for a walk – it’s just that I’ve done walks longer than most people go on.”
Among the subjects he looks at in the book is the positive side of Munro-bagging, seen by some as a list-ticking exercise, but also Chris celebrates the pleasure of spontaneity – such as deciding to camp early if you come across a beautiful spot.
“I like to allow plenty of time. I’d hate to do a walk where I was commited to walking a long distance every day or I had to reach a certain place by a certain time.
“That would take a lot of the joy out of it for me because I’d think I had to meet that deadline and I can’t stop and look at this view because I haven’t got time.”
Chris also promotes solo travel.
“If you want to experience the natural world then you need to be out there on your own.”
Looking back over some of his earlier adventures, Chris agreed there had been some revelations.
“With the Pacific Crest Trail, I didn’t realise how significant it was going to be for me. At the time, it was an exciting adventure.
“And I only realised afterwards how much I missed all those huge natural forests.
“I think if you’d asked me during the walk, what I’d enjoyed most, I’d have said the spectacular mountains because that was the most dramatic scenery.
“But when I thought back on it afterwards, it was the forests that stood out most and that got me interested in looking at the Highlands.”
There are plenty of once-in-a-lifetime moments in Chris’s book, like stumbling – almost literally – on a grizzly bear while walking in the Canadian Rockies.
“That was totally overwhelming! At the time I had this mixture of excitement - I’ve finally seen one – and a mixture of fear, especially when I realised the bear hadn’t seen me! Most grizzly bear attacks are because the bear feels threatened. It thinks ‘I’d better attack this before it attacks me’,” says Chris who reveals in the book his simple act that saw both pass on their way.
There’s also a great description of him seeing two male black grouse displaying in the Highlands while he took part in the TGO challenge – which Chris will be doing again this year – his sixth. And as well as spring giving Chris ideas for walks he wants to do this year, he’s planning his next book – possibly about walking the Scottish Watershed.
He has a surprise for anyone asking him what his one essential item to pack for a walk would be.
“People expect me to say ‘my boots’ or ‘a tent’ or something,” says Chris.
“But I’d say ‘a book’, now an ereader. That’s the one thing - especially going solo.
“You can take a library with you and choose what to read according to your mood!”
It’s likely his own book will also be in ebook format, but on Thursday, March 17, there’s an old-fashioned concept that’s more than welcome to Chris – meeting his readers at an event in Waterstones bookshop.
He says: “The great thing about an event like that is you learn what people are interested in through what they ask.
“Sometimes you think ‘Oh I thought I’d be asked about this, but no-one’s mentioned it - maybe it was boring after all!’ laughs Chris.
“So feedback is very useful – and enjoyable.”
* Chris Townsend will be in conversation with Sandstone Press’s Robert Davidson at Waterstones Inverness on Thursday, March 17 at 6.30pm. For more on Chris: Chris Townsend Outdoors