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Book Review: The Great Wilderness by Alex Nail

Chris Townsend is impressed by Alex Nail's wonderful photography

Chris Townsend

The vast area of mountainous country that makes up the Letterewe and Fisherfield Forests in the NW Highlands of Scotland has long been known as the Great Wilderness.It’s spectacular, rugged and remote and has some of the finest scenery in the UK. Alex Nail set out to produce a photographic account of this challenging region. He succeeded magnificently. The Great Wilderness is a stunning collection of breath-taking images that capture the landscape in all seasons and all moods.

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Photographing these mountains is not easy. The terrain is rugged and distances long. In the Introduction the author says he walked around 420 miles, usually with a heavy pack, and spent around fifty nights camping in remote locations. Many of the last were on or near summits, even in winter.

The Scottish weather meant that not all trips were a success with low cloud, rain, and strong winds sometimes ending any hope of decent photographs. The dreaded midges make an appearance too. Alex Nail says he hasn’t tried to show the statistically likely conditions, which would mean many grey skies, but the area at its most resonant. It required many trips and much patience to take the dramatic images for the book.

The heart of the book lies in the splendid photographs and many hours can be spent looking at these and marvelling. There are also fascinating stories of some of the trips that resulted in these pictures. These show the careful planning and skill that goes into producing such glorious images.

Viewpoints, often unusual and little-visited, are selected, compositions meticulously chosen, hours spent waiting for the right light. Many of the photographs didn’t come easily. Reaching some places – such as the remote Munro A’Mhaighdean in the snow in December – required determination and hard work. Mountain skills were needed as well as photographic ones.

The photographs are in four geographical groups from north to south, each with a map and useful introduction. You can see how the images relate to each other and roughly trace some of Alex’s journeys on the maps. The design has been carefully done so the photos complement each other. The book also comes with a fold-out map of the whole area created and hand-embellished by the author.

This book is a great achievement.

The Great Wilderness is published by Alex Nail Publishing (£49, hardback) and is available from

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Profile image of Chris Townsend Chris Townsend


Chris Townsend is known globally as a writer on hiking and backpacking skills and equipment, the author of 25 books – many of them award-winning – and as a record-setting long-distance hiker. He was the first person to complete a continuous round of all the Scottish Munros and Tops and the first person to complete a continuous walk the length of the Canadian Rockies. He has also walked the Scottish Watershed and walked coast-to-coast across Scotland 18 times. In the USA he has walked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Northwest Trail and Arizona Trail plus several self-devised long walks. Other walks include south-to-north through the mountains of Norway and Sweden and 1000 miles through the Yukon Territory. He has also worked as a Nordic ski tour leader in Scandinavia and other places and as a trek leader in the Himalayas.


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