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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

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on 7 September 2010
This is a wonderful book. I read it in one long sitting- a sleepless night, actually.

John Allen is a vastly experienced mountain rescuer, having been a member of the Cairngorm MRT for many years and latterly serving as its Leader. The book relates many accounts of rescues in the high Cairngorm and alongside them tells the tale of a developing team and its members.

Here I must admit a personal interest; I have a background in MR [not in Scotland] and may well be disposed to find enthralling many things written on the subject. There is actually quite a literature touching on MR in the UK- from Gwen Moffat and Hamish McInnes to Bob Maslen Jones and the somewhat less estimable work by John White. What Allen brings to the literature is a sense of the work of an MRT in the round- not only the high-profile rescues and searches, but the mundane fundraising and administration that necessarily accompany a proudly voluntary and unpaid organisation.

We learn much of the author's life outside MR and something of his upbringing in Glasgow. He clearly draws out the links between his professional life as a pharmacist and businessman and the ways he used protocols and procedures in the work of his Team. I admit to being a little amused by his emphasis on discipline within the Team: many people would say that trying to organise mountaineers, that most independent group of individuals, is like herding cats and I have respect for anyone who feels that discipline can be imposed on them.

So, you get a book full of adventures, some with happy endings but all too many involving loss of life and serious injury. You get a feel for how a busy Highland Team is run and how it works on the hill. But I think you also get a powerful sense of the man himself, his motivations, his triumphs and a few regrets. For all of these reasons I commend this book most highly- to lovers of the Highlands [and of mountains in general], to those with little or no knowledge of MR and to those with a background in it. Buy the book, enjoy it and remember some of its lessons.

On the negative side, I have only a couple of points. Firstly, the book has the feel of something written with assistance from a ghost writer; passages have quite different characteristics and phrasing which sometimes jars a little. Allied to that is some lousy copy-editing: Cumbrians will be interested to note that one of our villages is called Pattadale, for example.

But the final point is one of phrasing and philosophy. John Allen makes frequent reference to the amateur status of MRTs in the UK, albeit with professional standards at all times. Many would prefer to escape the amateur/professional dichotomy altogether and refer to MR as an unpaid professional service. But maybe that's for debate elsewhere.

A great read. I hope you enjoy it as much as did I.
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on 6 October 2009
Coming home from the Scottish hills in winter, perhaps after a storm had brewed up, friends and I would often wonder if people had got caught out in the Cairngorms. Sometimes we would read the next day in the papers of missing or dead people. A number of incidents stick in mind: the tragic death of a child out for a walk with her father and brother; the bizzare case of a woman who managed to elude the rescue services for several days, and on being found claimed to have recieved visions preventing her from walking over cornices.

So it was with great interest I read Cairngorm John. These incidents, and more, are brought to life by the man who was at the centre of mountain rescue in the Cairngorms for years. Not all are tragedies: there are the hilarious stories of the yeti hunters, the incredible cheerfulness and resilience of a climber who broke several bones and was stuck upside down in a waterfall for several hours, and a touching story of a man and his son bonding in the hills. We get the inside story on these, and on the team's relationship with police and RAF, and the challenges and responses of professionalism on the amateur volunteers.

Above all, John is a team player, which shines through in the slower-paced stories. I couldn't do what the likes of John did, but I'm grateful that folks like him and his volunteers are ready to come out in all weathers to help walkers and climbers in distress. As an inside look in the work of a mountain rescue team - and, by example, of what to do to improve your odds of coming home in one piece - this is going to be on the shelves of everyone who heads regularly for the Scottish hills.
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on 1 March 2017
A great read for a world class volunteer service right up there with "Touching the Void".
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on 4 October 2009
I came across this book merely by accident because, unlike most mountain books that stack my shelf or I'm waiting in anticipation for release, I had no idea that this one existed. However, I accidentally came across it on Amazon after searching on "Cairngorm".

The book is a valuable insight into the Mountain Rescue services and one particular team (the Cairngorm MRT) that faces the dangers of both summer and winter seasons on a yearly basis. The book explains how the Cairngorm MRT was developed, which is very interesting, but also how one or two key rescues changed the MRT SOPs and attitudes towards other services and the public themselves. The book does describe the less known aspects of the MRTs outside the general public knowledge and that is one of recovering bodies on the mountain and this dark side to the role is yet another aspect that we take for granted by the MRT in Scotland, England and Wales.

As someone that holds the ML and has also faced a savage winter experience in the Cairngorms, that resulted in our little group heading desparately for Shelter Stone in a total white out and with a member showing signs of fatique and hyperthermia, I can only take my hat off to the lads in the MRT that do what I did (i.e. bring the group to safety) on what is sometimes a day to day basis. On that particular occasion, two of out three of us had winter or survival training and therefore we managed to walk back down to the Ski Centre the next day but it is certainly reassuring that in different circumstances a team as professional as the Cairngorm MRT would have been on standby to help if necessary.

Anyone who wonders why the UK MRTs are not full paid professionals (they are professionals in their own right) should read this book and learn the opinions of one particular leader and the general opinions of those that do this without pay but certainly with a great deal of well deserved pride.
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on 6 January 2010
John Allen's book tells Mountain Rescue in the Grampian Mountains (aka The Cairngorms) as it is. Harsh, lethal, sad, joyful, inspiring but always truthful. I have lived and worked in these mountains all my life and know how severe weather can be, and when it is a beautiful day in the Strath it can be violent on the high tops. The book is an insight into the bravery of all the Rescue Team in CMRT who venture out in atrocious weather to rescue both well equiped and experienced people and others not so. It is a privilege to know these heroes personally.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2009
Very few people understand what goes into mountain rescue. This book by the long time Leader of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team goes a long way in explaining what it's all about. It has a tremendous stream of humanity running through it and is a great read.

Similar books from the same publisher are At The Edge: Walking the Atlantic Coast of Ireland and Scotland (Non-Fiction)The Weekend FixBetween Weathers: Travels in 21st Century Shetland (Non-Fiction)The Kerracher Man (Non-Fiction)
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on 1 July 2013
The book doesn't feel like it has been written by a professional writer. This is not to say it is badly written but it is not a book you would read just for the quality of the writing. But if you want to know more about those involved in mountain rescue and read some amazing stories of life and death in the mountains, you should enjoy this book. The stories are told simply, the author does not bother with hype. It is not needed when the real-life stories stand up well on their own. Some stories will make you angry, others sad and some can only make you admire those involved, both the rescuers and those in trouble.

The author spends a lot of time reflecting on the rescues, especially those that did not go well and how facilities and procedure improved over the years. He also talks about the politics and funding of mountain rescue and his interaction with the press and other critics. I think this is necessary background to the stories of rescue, otherwise they have no context. Others have suggested the author may have old grievances to air but that didn't come across to me.

The author also describes his career and family life which again provides context and reminds you that the service is run by volunteers.

If you've walked in the Cairngorms, this book may bring back memories and will probably make you realise how close to disaster you yourself have been in the past! Keep safe in the mountains.
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on 22 January 2010
I am a keen hiker and whilst I had never needed the assistance of mountain resuce I was always curious of how they operate. Johns book takes you on an amazing journey through his life before, during and after he was involved in the Cairngorm mountain rescue team. He tells stories of tremendously brave rescuers which sometimes end happily and sometimes in tragedy. The author lets his opinions be known on issues regarding the ill prepared for the outdoors and the pressure on teams to remain volunteer based. He offers balenced arguements, always with respect and never judgemental.
This book would appeal to most who use the great wild spaces of Great Britain and have a healthy respect for the inherant dangers. This book helps answer those questions you may never otherwise find answers to and gives you something to think about when staying safe in the hills.
The combination of stories and the sharing of personal feelings is humbling.
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on 1 May 2009
Cairngorm John is more than a book about mountain rescue. It is an enjoyable, informative and thought provoking read that has clearly been written by a lover of the wildness of the Scottish mountains - and someone with a great sense of humanity.
Despite being a hillwalker for more than 40 years,I still learned a great deal from reading Cairngorm John and welcome the accounts of so many incidents not only as compelling tales but also as a stimulus to polish up my own mountain skills.
I would highly recommend this to anyone who ventures out in the Scottish hills.
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on 24 November 2010
I found this book a very good read, with many useful lessons for people who venture onto the hills from a man who knows. For example: keep your mobile phone mainly turned off on the hills so the battery is full for any emergency; the flash on a camera can help locate a casualty in the dark; keep your map in a clear freezer bag; carry waterproof trousers and put them on early. Highly recommended.
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