David Lintern reviews Kinder Scout – the people’s mountain, a ‘quietly astonishing and important piece of work’
This review was first published in the June 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors.
There’s more than one hill competing for that subtitle these days, but right from the opening pages this book stands head and shoulders above and outside the hyperbole. It’s is a collaboration between Alpine Journal editor and biographer Ed Douglas and the photographer John Beatty, and between them they have produced an exquisite biography of this much loved and sometimes maligned landscape. For the authors, Kinder deserves that subtitle because it is a landscape we have completely terraformed over millennia. In short, it’s a mirror, not a church.
Douglas lays bare a dense web of social and environmental history that has written itself onto the landscape. Kinder’s history is shared with the development of Manchester and Sheffield, the Industrial Revolution and the labour movement. Douglas walks through the landscape chapter by chapter, drawing out the opposing forces at play and the ghosts that still haunt the plateau; farming, military aviation, the beginnings of the controversial driven grouse shooting industry, and the subsequent battles for access and conservation that form the cornerstones of modern British outdoor culture. The writing and research is scholarly but the turn of phrase and sleight of intellect is increasingly that of the climber-poet; nimble and liquid. Ed tests his holds meticulously early in the book but isn’t afraid to go for the odd dynamic move in later chapters.
Beatty’s photographs are the perfect counterpoint to Douglas’s exhaustive research, and document Kinder’s many faces, often with an unnerving intimacy. Many of the images are inbued with an eerie stillness and shot in soft or diffused light. Unlike so much contemporary landscape work, it’s not about the photographer or the technology and the compositions are never forced – instead, our eyes are opened, the place is allowed to come to us. There are a variety of styles covering documentary, landscape and adventure, but to focus on style here misses the point entirely. This project is about substance. It’s a quietly astonishing and important piece of work, and one which everyone with an interest in our upland history should get hold of. It’s certainly a book I know I will return to for many years to come.
Kinder Scout – the people’s mountain is published by Vertebrate Publishing (£19.95 paperback, £30 hardback)