Alastair Borthwick

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Alastair Charles Borthwick OBE (February 17, 1913 – September 25, 2003) was a Scottish author, journalist, and broadcaster who wrote books chronicling the popularization of rock climbing as a working class sport in Scotland and World War II from the perspective of an infantryman.


Always a Little Further (1939)[edit]

Always a Little Further: A Classic Tale of Camping, Hiking and Climbing in Scotland in the Thirties. Eneas MacKay, 1939.

  • Above and beyond were mountains, scarcely touched by the tidemark of humanity at their bases, impervious to pipers and ice cream barrows or to the customers of either, as aloof and untouched as the desert which hems in the airport of Timbuctoo.
  • The tent door faced the summit. The three pinnacles were gigantic fingers, black against the sunset. Nothing stirred. Arrochar and all its works were out of sight below the skyline, and there was silence.
  • A precipice, seen by a person who has never had to climb one, is a sadly misunderstood part of the landscape. It is written off, in the mind of the beholder, as so much light and shade set at an angle of ninety degrees to the part of the world where reasonable men may walk, a given area of rock, steep as a wall and impossibly smooth. It is seen as a whole, because no sub division seems possible.
  • The scale is so vast and so far beyond his comprehension that the conventional signs of the cliff mean as little as those on the map. Therefore, if he should think of rock climbing at all, it is as a foolhardy sport clear against the laws of God, man, and Sir Isaac Newton.
  • The impact of these things and people on our minds was considerable. In the three years since we had left school, many things had happened to make us suspect that the world was a slightly less ordered and restricted place than we had been led to believe. But this was immense.
  • In time (though there was no such thing as time) the handhold gave way to another handhold, and another, and another. A pair of boots appeared level with my face. I pulled myself over the edge and sat panting. Murdo smiled at me, and automatically I smiled back. I turned, and looked over the edge. And then, and only then, did the gears re-engage and the world become the world again.
  • The strange, other worldly, Alice in Wonderland feeling never quite left me at the difficult places; but it diminished as the day passed, and by the time we had reached the north peak John and I were able to sit with our legs dangling over the drop and agree with Tizzie that one met such nice people on mountains.
  • The ground we had covered was easy; but we did not know that, for we had not yet learned that a vast amount of space below one is not of itself a difficulty, and that the difficulty in rock climbing varies according to the presence or absence of holds. To us, the drop was everything.
  • They crawled like flies over the face of the Cobbler; and it was not too fanciful to imagine that the mountain might sigh in its sleep, shake a rocky paw free of the heather blanket which surrounded it, and brush the insects off. To us, who had imagined mountain tops to be uninhabited deserts, it was surprising that there should be so much life in this twisted landscape of rock. Here was a society whose existence we had never suspected.
  • Climbing to my mind finds its chief justification as an antidote for modern city life. One cannot sweat and worry simultaneously. The mountain resolves itself into a series of simple problems, unconfused by other issues. Its problems are solid rock, to be wrestled with physically; and in the sheer exuberance of thinking through his fingers and toes as his primaeval fathers did before him the climber's worries vanish, sweated from his system, leaving his brain free to appreciate beauty.

Quotes about Borthwick[edit]

  • I saw him in the studio treating the microphone like an old friend, chatting away, waving his arms about, and I knew this was how it was done.
    • Producer James Fergusson, as quoted in "Alastair Borthwick". The Telegraph. October 4, 2003. Retrieved on 20 September 2019. 

External links[edit]

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