Stone Country, bouldering in Scotland, review

Firstly I think I should say that I have never been bouldering in Scotland. It would seem that I'm probably not the best person to review this book. However this book is much more than just a guide to the bouldering in Scotland. Its a beautifully written, homage, to the stupid pointless game of bouldering. You will find yourself devouring the descriptions of places you may never climb.

This is what the book is about in John's own words:

'Stone Country’ is the first book to collate the best of bouldering in Scotland, with descriptions of over 500 of the best problems, articles by major activists and art-style photographs of Scottish bouldering action by photographer Tim Morozzo. Topos of of the main areas cover all major rock types found in Scotland... from the basaltic giants of Dumbarton to the gabbro monsters of Skye. The book mixes photography with a little philosophy, history with contemporary activism... it is a new breed of climbing book designed to be more than just a guide.

The front cover

The book is 144 pages of glossy A5 landscape format pages. The feel of the book is modern, the text, topos and photo all float amid lots of white space. Its a pity that the problem names and grades are included on the topos rather than as text as they can be quite hard to read, this is the only gripe I have with the book and its a minor one. The majority of the photos are by Tim Morozzo (see and most are black and white with a few in the middle in full color including one very interesting photoshopped shot of a beach.

This guide and Simon Panton's North Wales bouldering guide (see review here) have raised the bar and increased peoples expectations of what a guidebook looks like. The world of bouldering guides is becoming coffee-tabled.

Producing a guidebook in a minority pursuit like bouldering is no easy task, all the numbers are against the prospective publisher, low print run, high cost, scabby climbers. To do it right costs about thirty Euro for a glossy book and there is little point in doing a low budget book as it will be little better than a printout from the computer. What John has done is create a guidebook of interest to those who boulder in Scotland and a collection of essays and photos of interest to those who boulder anywhere. This is good business sense and I have no doubt this book will be bought by those with no interest in Scottish bouldering whose eye is caught by the great cover photo.

A review of a guide is inevitably a review of the place it describes as well as the book, so what of bouldering in Scotland? This is adventure bouldering - far from the Plantation on a crisp winter afernoon - with views, long walkins, solitude, a huge variety of rock types, endless potential is what its all about. So get up there with your walking boots and a "what around the corner attitude".

There is no doubt John can write, check out his blog for proof, he has the ability to express what we all feel about bouldering in a way that is beyond most. This will be a new side of bouldering for some, far from the "dude wheres my pad/beanie clad/baggy trou'ed" lazy cliche that some climbers cling to. Here is an extract to give you a flavour:

Bouldering and Failure

The words of the great writer Samuel Beckett – ‘Fail again, fail better…’ – might actually be the mantra for the modern boulderer. The whole process of bouldering has more to do with how you cope with failure than how you enjoy success. Success can be enjoyed for what it is without much thinking (usually with a whoop and a Lou Ferrino pose), but failing on a problem you have tried dozens, if not hundreds of times, poses a real mental stopper in how do you deal with this failure… What am I doing wrong? Am I too weak? Is this the wrong sequence? Are conditions right? Maybe I’m not cut out for this? Is there a hold I’m missing? These and other questions whittle away at your bouldering resolve all the time, making the goal of success both distant and hallowed at the same time, sometimes turning a bouldering session into a sit-on-the-mat-and stare-into-space day.

These are the low points. Truly the measure of the best boulderers is humility, an ability to accept these doubts and hear them, but not to give into them by throwing your shoes in the ocean and selling your boulder mat… an understanding of failure is the best we can do as humans and bouldering is no different.

You have to take the increments as success. These are the tricks – turn one move into a goal for the day. Hang that sloping hold, shift your centre of gravity, try digging in a thumb pinch… suddenly you’re hanging where you fell last time. You jump off, excited by such a small and seemingly insignificant improvement. You are still nowhere near completing the problem, but something has opened inside you – visualization suddenly flows like an internal movie and mentally you can see the rest unfolding. You chalk up in a hurry, you rehearse that tiny success, over and over. You go home tired, flappers hanging off un-hardened skin, beaten up, tendons aching, needing three day’s rest, having carted your mats into this lonely glen for hours just to hang off that one hold again.

This is the boulderer failing better… these are the tiny zen tricks of the art and they can only be learnt by failing again and again, without getting all humpty about it…until one day success comes, and it’s not the big deal you thought it was, in fact it’s not really the point at all - you almost wish you were back at that point weeks ago, where that single twist of the hip, that thumb-sprag, that hidden toe-hook, released the failure for a moment… gave you that golden glimpse, sharpened your eye, made you love this game again.

See for sample pages of the book, details on where to buy, photos and news from the Scottish bouldering scene. John's next project is a more international collection of bouldering writing and photography.