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What's on Your Bookshelf? Article

© Robert Durran

In our second What's on Your Bookshelf, Robert Durran lets us peruse his shelves of old, new, rare and valuable books. From private accounts of early alpine ascents to pre-war first editions, Robert's collection is undoubtedly unique.


Robert Durran's Bookshelf  © Robert Durran
Robert Durran's Bookshelf
© Robert Durran

Which was the first book that you bought?

I am not too sure about this but there are two books I bought in my early teens which certainly had a considerable influence on me. The first was Hamish's Mountain Walk, the story of Hamish Brown's first continuous round of The Munros. I remember reading it in just a couple of days. I had been ticking off Munros for a few years, but it was at about this time that it became an obsession, giving me the perfect grounding for the following decades in the mountains and a lasting love of the Scottish hills. The other book was W.H.Murray's Mountaineering in Scotland. This was for me, as for many other people, a huge inspiration as I moved on from The Munros to more serious climbing.

Which is your latest purchase?

The latest book I have bought is Tony Howard's Quest Into The Unknown. Tony has been absolutely instrumental in the development of climbing in Wadi Rum, so, as a fellow Rum devotee, I'm particularly looking forward to reading his tales of exploring and climbing there with the local Bedouin.

Which are the oldest books?

I am lucky to have inherited a remarkable collection of old books from a mountaineering uncle. It includes many early alpine classics, pre-war Himalayan expedition books and a number of more unusual publications. The oldest is an amazing privately published account of an ascent of Mont Blanc in 1837. I think the earliest books on British climbing are first editions of Owen Glynne Jones' Rock Climbing in The English Lake District from 1897 and The Abraham brothers' Rock Climbing in North Wales from 1907.

Which book is the most valuable?

Although I have not had them priced, I suspect the most valuable books will be first editions of Whymper's Scrambles Amongst The Alps and Shackleton's South. There is also a later pocket edition of Whymper. On my first trip to the Alps as an 18-year-old with my uncle, he would read aloud an apt passage from it or from the writings of other early pioneers such as Mummery the night before an ascent.

Old and rare books handed down by his Uncle  © Robert Durran
Old and rare books handed down by his Uncle
© Robert Durran

Which books have you read most recently?

The books I have most recently read cover to cover are Simon McCartney's gripping The Bond and Ed Douglas' Ben Moon biography, Statement. I am currently just grazing from my copies of Guy Robertson's Great Sea Cliffs of Scotland and the earlier Great Mountain Crags of Scotland, dreaming of the north-west, The Hebrides and freedom…

Which are your favourite and Desert Island books?

It is impossible to choose an absolute favourite, but there are certainly some books which I keep returning to or which have been very important to me at different stages of my climbing life. Along with W.H Murray's books, Tom Patey's One Man's Mountains was eye-opening during my formative years. The Classic/Hard/Extreme Rock and Cold Climbs quartet was undoubtedly inspirational as I worked up the grades. Bonatti, with his On The Heights was my undisputed alpine God, and Joe Simpson's The Beckoning Silence has later resonated as I have wrestled with the conflict between ambition and a creeping sense of mortality. Three other books which stand out as I scan my shelves are Doug Scott's and Alex MacIntyre's The Shishapangma Expedition, David Robert's The Mountain Of My Fear and Nick Bullock's Echoes.

But I suppose, if I had to choose one book for a desert island, it would have to be The Games Climbers Play; it is full of great extracts and articles and contains what are my favourite few paragraphs of climbing writing, possibly of any writing – Robin Campbell's brutally powerful obituary of Dougal Haston.

A few of Robert's favourites  © Robert Durran
A few of Robert's favourites
© Robert Durran


Want to talk more about literature? Join our UKC Lockdown Book Club here.



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17 Feb

Lovely article. Got me thinking: If the Ken Wilson quartet were to sprout a fifth incarnation in the form of Hard Extremely Very Severe Rock (E9+), or something like that, I’m fairly confident that I could buy it, stack all five on top of one another and finally crack ‘Desert Island Arête’.

17 Feb

Got some impressive rarities there Robert!

17 Feb

You are always welcome to borrow :-)

18 Feb

Got to agree with you about Campbell's obituary of Dougal Haston. Must be one of the most emotive pieces of writing ever written in a mountaineering context.

It can be found on page 209 of the 1977 (no. 168) SMC Journal - https://www.smc.org.uk/journal/downloads although the link doesnt work for me as I think its too big a file.

What a really nice guy he was too. I was very fortunate to get to know him quite well about 40 years ago. We worked together quite closely - but I can't for the life of me remember what on. I would have to do some deep historic delving.

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