Wednesday 24 July 2013

Lowdown on the Upland of Mar by Joe Dorward: book review

by Joe Dorward
(Kindle and print)

I first came across Joe's excellent website on the history, etymology, and geography of the Cairngorms a couple of years ago. A lifelong stravaiger of the mountains, Joe's area of special interest focuses on the historic Mar Forest which includes many of the highest mountains in the district. His website is a treasure trove of knowledge containing priceless insights into a landscape with a rich and fascinating history.

This book is a distillation of his online resources - a field guide intended for reference while in the hills. The paperback edition is a slim volume, ideally proportioned for stuffing into your rucksack, and is laid out in a very clear and concise fashion with efficient use of typography and emphasis. The good design makes it very readable for at-a-glance reference, which is really what the book is intended for although I read it in two continuous sittings.

Joe places great importance on Gaelic place names, and in the book he takes some trouble to demonstrate how the Ordnance Survey maps frequently get it wrong. I'm as guilty of this as anyone: "Lairig Ghru" has become the accepted version of Làirig Dhrù, for example, and Lowdown on the Upland of Mar has opened my eyes to the far more complex world of Gaelic hill and place names.

Something which I think really boosts this book's appeal, particularly for the historian or the wanderer with an interest in history, is the focus on chronology. Many sections of the book are displayed in chronological order, and dates are often printed in bold type. This will not necessarily be of use to the casual walker but it really helps to instill a sense of the age of this landscape and how dramatically it has changed over time, from the ice age right through to the Highland clearances and the land management strategies of the present day. The book also includes an excellent index and list of references.

Nothing in life is perfect, of course, and it must be said that I thought the map diagrams weren't printed to the same standard of quality as the rest of the book. They looked quite grainy from JPEG compression and I suspect the original files weren't at 300dpi .This certainly isn't a major criticism but was a minor irritation in an otherwise excellent book. I also don't like the Comic Sans font used in the diagrams, but that's down to personal preference and not everyone will agree!

In the introduction it states that the book is a work in progress, and that the author intends to expand and correct the guide periodically. I would like to see sequel volumes, perhaps going into greater detail on individual glens, or maybe companion guides to other mountainous areas.

Lowdown on the Upland Mar really is an excellent reference book for lovers of the Cairngorms and should be in the rucksack of every wanderer of the glens and mountain tops.


Joe's website - The Upland of Mar
Order a paperback copy of the book here
Or download on Kindle

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