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/ REVIEW: The SMC Guide to the Outer Hebrides

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SMC Outer Hebrides Guidebook Review, 4 kbThere are few places more special in this world than the Outer Hebrides, but can the SMC's latest guidebook do the area justice? Rob Greenwood takes a look...

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Kafoozalem - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

Wow - it looks amazing. Obviously a monumental effort. Congratulations to all involved.

Robert Durran - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

Rob, if you find it sad that The Ancient Mariner has been downgraded because it was one of the best E5's you've ever done, spare a thought for someone for whom it was not just one of the best but one of a decidedly limited number of E5's they've ever done!   Though the fact that I got up it ok almost certainly means it was a bit soft........

And is Big Kenneth really only E2? If so I'll have to get back asap for the E5 tick!

robertmichaellovell - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:

> And is Big Kenneth really only E2? If so I'll have to get back asap for the E5 tick!

Me too, can't believe I missed that one on my last visit!

Ramon Marin - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

Could agree more on the cover, though I like the actual shot of Tony, it's not the best for a cover. The white cover design is in desperate need of re-design, I totally agree.

Mark Collins - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

I'd just like to echo some of the other comments. This guidebook is an absolute triumph. I've barely put it down since I bought it hot off the presses. Who knows, I may even get to climb there as early as next year.

Frank the Husky - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

It's an excellent guide which will encourage many more people to go to the Outer Hebs in search of solitude and adventure. The guide is inspirational and the effort that's gone into it shows. It beats the current selective guide hands down on everything from design and layout to quality of photos and accuracy of descriptions. The effort that went into getting the topo shots is quite remarkable. Even if you never intend to climb here you should still buy it.

The only downside is the dull and lifeless front cover shot. It might make the grade for an internal shot, but is too poor for the cover. Given the photo oportunities avaialable, this was a very strange choice. In other online discussions it seems that the only reason for using it was to annoy Tony Stone, the guy in the shot.

Very nearly a 10 out of 10 guide, and that's a very rare thing indeed.

Tom F Harding on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

Agreed that the front cover photo is not the most inspirational but the white background style of SMC guides still comes across well - formal and professional. I'm guessing this new guide also has the excellent plastic cover as well. If we are talking about dated graphic design then Rockfax seems to be very much falling behind the likes of the new Climbers Club's, Wired's and Ground Up's modern fresh style. Rockfax's "Jingo Wobbly 1.0" style cartoons (crimps, pumped arms etc.), poor quality cartography and poorly placed pale yellow font is crying out for a modern update. 

Post edited at 15:35
Robert Durran - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to Ramon Marin:

> The white cover design is in desperate need of re-design, I totally agree.

I like it! (the design).

 

Rich A - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:

Yes, please keep the white design, or spine at least. Otherwise the 'SMC' top shelf of our bookcase will look rubbish.

Great guide. Well done to all involved.

Cog - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to Frank the Husky:

Several photos were considered for the cover. 


If I remember correctly there was one hill photo and a few sea cliff shots. I thought the hill photo was stunning, far better than the coastal shots but perhaps it was bigger and more dramatic on my screen. I wasn’t the only one that thought the photo of Tony really stood out from the others.
It didn’t matter who was on the cover but Tony’s Facebook ‘friends’ thought it was ok that it was used because it would annoy him.

Do you know how the Fairhead guide cover went down?
 

Robert Durran - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to Cog:

> I thought the hill photo was stunning, far better than the coastal shots.

There must be dozens of coastal shots in the guide which would have been better than the cover photo!

Cog - on 07 Sep 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:


I’m sure the best photos were chosen as possible cover shots but to repeat myself, 'perhaps it was bigger and more dramatic on my screen’.

In reply to Tom F Harding:

Before I begin, it's worth noting that I am employed by UKClimbing - the sister company of Rockfax; however, these views are very much my own (and as Alan knows, I've never been one to hold back on opinions when it comes to Rockfax either!).

Whilst I admire your dedication to the other publishers mentioned, I think you're blinded by your hatred of Rockfax. Taking a step back, Rockfax has - like it or loathe it - led the way in graphic design pretty much since day one. Whether it's the black and white photographic topos of their first Pembroke guide or the colour coded lines indicating the grade range of each route, these were largely Alan's ideas and have been replicated (I hesitate to use the word 'copied') by countless other publishers since, with little or no credit. Whilst I haven't seen the recent North Wales Slate guide in the flesh, the pdf sample pages I've seen look to be the next stage in guidebook evolution, with the adoption of the drone as a major stepping stone in getting topos/action shots from new angles. 

Whilst I love the recent guides from the CC, SMC, Ground Up and Wired I still think they are behind in terms of graphic design and layout. The closest any publisher has come, at least in my eyes, is the YMC's Yorkshire Gritstone guides, which really are a thing of beauty. Where RF has been beaten hands down is in the personal accounts + historic information, but were you to ask Alan about this he'd openly admit defeat, because that's not what he's attempting to do with his guides (which is fair enough, because RF are - after all - guidebooks and not historic documents).

In terms of the cover's design I am afraid to say that anyone I've spoken to with an ounce of graphic design experience would disagree with you: it is a very dated format. To once-again challenge your aspersions on Rockfax, just take a look at the current Western Grit guide, which also features the tiled format. Put this next to a copy of the latest guides such as North Wales Slate or Eastern Grit and it just looks ancient. In fact, were I to be a betting man I would put my money on all future SMC guides having a full bleed format because of this.
 

robertmichaellovell - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

Agreed regards the YMC guides. Realising the second volume of Yorkshire Grit was out was one of the more exciting parts of my guidebook buying career, second only to Patagonia Vertical (albeit a somewhat different subject).

The chain above (and the FB conversation, and the conversations I've had) suggest that personal opinion, which can have a great many influences, varies from person to person. Who would even consider not putting a picture on the front of a guidebook, and just drawing a line (ref Gary Smith's scrambling guide)? Looks ace though!

I reckon you can probably pick up any guide and pick out things you'd improve, achieving the right mix of design, based on the objective of the book is the trick. Taking Outer Hebrides, or any of our comprehensive guides, as an example. The text layout is basic, but allows us to fit a lot in; which is what we need to do when trying to get as near to 100% coverage as we can. We took the decision to sacrifice space to diagrams and action photos in this guide, and put more stuff online (by the way, check it out, it's free - https://www.smc.org.uk/publications/climbing/outerhebrides). I'm glad this has been noted both in this review and in feedback from others.

I will be the first to admit that there are opportunities to modernise SMC guides, which now that we've finished the series, we have the opportunity to take a look at (are you still allowed to place bets if you know the people on the publications team?)! 

Anyway, I'm happy with the feedback that we are getting and I'm happy that people are feeling inspired by the guide! Let's hope for more weather like that which we've had recently, so we can go and test it out...

Misha - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

Agree with what you say Rob but let’s not let the minor criticisms overshadow the fact that it’s great to see this guide out and the photo topos are invaluable. To be fair I think that’s the gist of your review, it’s just that discussion always seems to focus on the defects! 

Misha - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to robertmichaellovell:

Are there any plans for a modern guide book for the Ben? 

I think an update of Scottish Winter Climbs would sell like hot cakes. May be even in A5 format as a resource to have at home and take photos of. 

r0x0r.wolfo - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to Robert Durran:

> There must be dozens of coastal shots in the guide which would have been better than the cover photo!

Have you got a couple of examples in mind? I think the hill shot is stunning.

Edit: The one of you is very good although the climber is perhaps a little low in the frame. The cover shot is the only one in the article that makes me *gulp* but I've not seen the book in the flesh. 

Post edited at 12:53
r0x0r.wolfo - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

> Before I begin, it's worth noting that I am employed by UKClimbing - the sister company of Rockfax; however, these views are very much my own (and as Alan knows, I've never been one to hold back on opinions when it comes to Rockfax either!).

I do think this should be the standard of review from UKC. It's certainly not pulling any punches and takes it to task in a number of areas but that's completely legitimate with the high standards on offer these days.

Unfortunately the reviews for larger gear companies and UKC sponsors don't always get the same critical treatment.

Although not a big company the recent flask review was pretty vacuous (pun intended). The flask's light, looks good in photos, and the reviewer seems to like it but any comparisons of performance are limited to other products from the same manufacturer. So no idea if the 'weight savings' that are advertised are worth it because the only comparison are smaller and larger models from the same company! Who would like to guess that the largest volume flask retains heat for the longest? 

When you're limited to what free stuff manufacturer's send you. A) You don't want to annoy anyone by writing scathing reviews B) You're stuck with reviewing whatever came through the post that week. So if it's a bunch of jackets that aren't really in the same class, and aren't necessarily the best on offer you're forced to contrive an article out of it and give something a slightly underwhelming 'best in test' badge. 

Post edited at 13:14
oscaig - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

Got to say that I also agree that the cover shot (while good) doesn't really convey what this guide and the area covered is all about.  Bit of a shame but doesn't  - for me - detract from what is an amazing and inspirational piece of work.  I'm a fan of the latest series of SMC guides but the OH has pushed the standard for sure.  Good work guys. 

Robert Durran - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to r0x0r.wolfo:

> Have you got a couple of examples in mind?

When I said dozens I was probably exaggerating a bit, but there are a few fairly jaw dropping ones from places like Dun Mingulay (not got the book to hand)

> I think the hill shot is stunning.

It's an excellent photo, but, like others, I feel the issue is that it simply doesn't epitomise what the islands are all about.

> The one of you is very good although the climber is perhaps a little low in the frame.

Yes, it would have been better if I was higher, but unfortunately I failed on the route only a couple of moves further up ! I think it would have worked very well, if, as some people seem to be preferring, the photo took up the whole cover with the titling over the top of the photo.  The Sula one in the review would also have been good like that.

Anyway, the fact that the only real quibble seems to be over the choice of cover shot probably just emphasises what a brilliant guide it is - I think it really does take UK guidebooks to a new level.

Post edited at 13:35
robertmichaellovell - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to Misha: Let’s just say if you have, or take, any high quality inspiration winter action photos or shots of crags in decent condition for the Ben or further afield, I’d be interested in seeing them...

 

Smith42 on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to robertmichaellovell:

I really like the cover photo and the SMC White cover format.

And I v not even been given a free copy hint hint!

DH3631 - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to robertmichaellovell:

Firstly, great job on the new Outer Hebrides guide. Having had the privilege of living in the western isles for a while, I only wish it had come out before I left. Anyway, very much looking forward to using it in anger whenever I get back over.

I noticed that you referred to the current series of comprehensive guides now being complete - just wondering if that means that the Southern Highlands/ Arrochar are not getting covered in this series? I remember hearing that the plan was to combine Glencoe and the S Highlands in future which seems quite logical, however is this likely to be on the horizon in the next few years? 

Ramon Marin - on 08 Sep 2018
In reply to Tom F Harding:

As a design professional I know you can discuss a design forever, it’s horses for courses really. But such an amazing book as this one I can’t of thinking it’s a missed opportunity not to have a better cover. If you compare this with, say, outstanding covers like the Ireland guidebook or the Peak Rock book (veterbrate), it’s hard to argue the case for the SMC white cover with the little black box for the title. The design is clunky and it doesn’t glorify the area, something a stunning full bleed shot really helps to do. Also the font choice could be a lot better too, the current is dated and lack character. But I understand the white is a ‘look’ that the SMC guidebooks are recognized for. But times move on...

robertmichaellovell - on 09 Sep 2018
In reply to Smith42:

Send in a photo for the next guide and you'll get a free copy... If we ever manage to go winter climbing together it can be of me, then we both win!

Frank the Husky - on 09 Sep 2018
In reply to Cog:

Whilst my comments about the front cover should not detract from my other ones abut how damn good the guide is, it remains a real shame that the cover is so poor and unrepresentative. Better shots abound throughout the guide. Pretty much all the feedback, both here and in other online discussions agrees with that view. The one person I remember who volunteerd the opinion that it was a great shot couldn't come up with reasons to support his view, and then hid behind something about having a rule that he never shared his opinions online which was patently untrue. Funny old world.

I don't know what the Fair Head cover has to do with this, apart from being a good way to divert the conversation!

robertmichaellovell - on 09 Sep 2018
In reply to Frank the Husky:

Not this again...! Check back on the thread; I did end up deciding to break my rule again. In fact, the rule got broken again in this thread where I offered an opinion on something else. It's obviously selective. Sorry you still don't like the cover.

Cog - on 09 Sep 2018
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

 

> Whilst I love the recent guides from the CC, SMC, Ground Up and Wired I still think they are behind in terms of graphic design and layout. The closest any publisher has come, at least in my eyes, is the YMC's Yorkshire Gritstone guides, which really are a thing of beauty.  

 

I’ve got Yorkshire Gritstone Volume 1 which looks great, I used it once at Brimham and found it SLIGHTLY irritating.

I would find a nice crag photo then go back dozens of pages looking for a map to see how to get to the crag. If page numbers for the maps were added at each crag (like the SMC do) it would be easier for visitors to use.
 

submariner - on 09 Sep 2018
In reply to UKC Gear:

I use Mr Sheen to clean my records, works a treat.

Chris Craggs - on 10 Sep 2018
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing:

> ........ or the colour coded lines indicating the grade range of each route, these were largely Alan's ideas and have been replicated (I hesitate to use the word 'copied') by countless other publishers since, with little or no credit.

Just for historical accuracy, colour scheme and current grade bands were my idea. Alan tested the water to see if we had the grade spread right with a thread on UKC  and to see how it would be received. For a while Alan wanted to use green/blue/red/black based on ski run colours but I argued more people were familiar with traffic lights,

 

Chris

In reply to Misha:

> Agree with what you say Rob but let’s not let the minor criticisms overshadow the fact that it’s great to see this guide out and the photo topos are invaluable. To be fair I think that’s the gist of your review, it’s just that discussion always seems to focus on the defects! 

I completely agree. It's hard to get the balance right when writing a review, because after all you are reviewing it - both the positives and the negatives - and hopefully the end result is something that fairly reflects your overall feelings about the product. With the guidebook at hand my feelings are overwhelmingly positive and I really hope that's come across!

In reply to Cog:

To be fair, I empathise with any guidebook writer attempting to document Brimham because it'd be a total nightmare. It's not so much a crag as it is a random series of boulders and pinnacles scattered around a hillside, thus almost impossible to describe in a logical order. If anything though I'd say they've done a good job, because slightly annoyed is better than really annoyed

TobyA on 10 Sep 2018
In reply to Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing/anyone:

I recently coughed up for both volumes of the Gary Latter Scottish rock guidebooks and it suddenly struck me that despite Rockfax-bashing being something of a constant thing on UKC, why doesn't Mr Latter get called a blood sucking vampire, determined to undermine and destroy volunteer guidebook productions, whilst he drives around in Rolls and pocketing the vast amount of money that many seem to presume is sloshing about in the guidebook industry?

Please note I'm not saying this about Gary's books, I think they're great, but why don't the Rockfax-haters hate on other non volunteer guidebook producers?

 

DH3631 - on 10 Sep 2018
In reply to TobyA:

I think I'm right in saying that both volumes of the GL guides, possibly more so the North vol, included a significant amount of stuff, not just routes but whole crags, that had never been covered fully, or at all, elsewhere. That may have changed a bit since they were published, but anyway, don't think it could be said that they were just re-presenting stuff that the SMC guides already covered. 

Andy Nisbet - on 10 Sep 2018
In reply to DH3631:

Maybe so, but also lots was blatantly copied.

In reply to DH3631:

> I think I'm right in saying that both volumes of the GL guides, possibly more so the North vol, included a significant amount of stuff, not just routes but whole crags, that had never been covered fully, or at all, elsewhere.

A bit like Rockfax then ...

Alan

 

Simon Caldwell - on 11 Sep 2018
In reply to DH3631:

> I think I'm right in saying that both volumes of the GL guides, possibly more so the North vol, included a significant amount of stuff, not just routes but whole crags, that had never been covered fully, or at all, elsewhere.

 

Isn't that the sort of thing that's got RF into trouble on Kalymnos?

 


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