Scottish Rock - by Gary Latter

Review by Dave Pickford
Monday 28th July 2008

Scottish Rock

- by Gary Latter -

It is now eighteen years since Kevin Howett’s imposing Rock Climbing in Scotland was published. That book was a seminal work in the selected-guidebook genre, making an intelligent and varied selection of routes from the vast wealth of Scottish rock climbing, and then cramming them into a single volume illustrated by austere black-and-white photographs. But it went out of print some years ago, and a dedicated, selected climbing guide to Scotland’s extraordinary wealth of rock climbing has been long overdue ever since. Enter Gary Latter’s Scottish Rock: a lavishly-illustrated and beautifully produced two-volume guide covering all the key regions, from the Southern Highlands to the Outer Hebrides and Orkney Isles. Latter has taken over a decade on this two-volume work, and his colossal efforts have produced an exceptional guidebook to one of the world’s finest adventure climbing regions.

The first and most striking feature of Scottish Rock is its sharp, uncluttered, and extremely user-friendly layout. The dark ages of single-sentence SMC descriptions of 1000-foot routes reading ‘climb the rib, bearing right’ have clearly passed. Scottish Rock is a piece of modern guidebook work par excellence: it combines the benefits of colour-coded sport-crag style topos with detailed written descriptions, interspersed with well chosen photographs. The crag photographs are particularly good, and many Scottish climbers will doubtless take a copy of this book out with them along with the definitive guide, for the points of reference provided by its many photographs. Volume II will, no doubt, be particularly popular with devotees of the Outer Hebrides, since it precedes the publication of the new, dedicated SMC guide to the region.

A strikingly effective feature of the book’s design is the colour-coded numbering system for the routes according to their grade. Latter has sensibly used four colours: green for routes from Moderate to Severe, orange from VS – HVS, red from E1 – E3, and purple for E4 and above. The visual signal of a crag’s average standard this produces is immediate and powerful. A classic cliff like the North East Buttress of Ben Nevis appears predominantly green, whereas a high grade cliff such as Tunnel Wall in Glencoe is covered in purple highlights. This feature makes analysing and choosing a crag much more straightforward, depending on the preferences of your team. The choice to split the book into two volumes was also a wise one: Volume 1 alone weighs in at 476 pages!

Gary Latter’s superb new guide will undoubtedly become an indispensable companion to both first-time visitors and experienced devotees of Scottish rock climbing. This book is about as good as selected guides to British climbing have got, so far.

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