(author: Jim Kelly)
It was early December, and Santa, in the form of TrailGuides editor Keven Shevels, arrived early, a crisp new copy of A Mountain Runner’s Guide to Snowdonia landing on my doorstep. I had become acquainted with Keven purchasing the company’s pocket training guides on all things off-road running which proved very popular prizes at IMRA races in 2008 and 2009.
TrailGuides have published a significant number of walking guidebooks over the past years, but this is their first guide with mountain runners in mind. Volumes of this genre are scarce: Steven Fallon covers “Classic Hill Runs and Races in Scotland” while two books detail the Rocky Mountains (“Running Colorado’s Front Range” by Brian Metzler and Steven Bragg’s “Run the Rockies”).
It is the publishing company’s largest running book so far (at 192 pages) and the first in full colour (indeed richly adorned with pictures). The new cover design template is sleek and, all things considered, adds-up to warrant the retail price of £18.99 also considering the limited print-run.
Let me move on to what I liked in particular about the book. Firstly, as a mountain runner I appreciated the sympathetic vision that author Jim Kelly brought to the book. He clearly loves Snowdonia in the way Kenny Stuart loves his Lake District, Kevin Shevels his Cheviots, and I my Wicklow Mountains, and what mountain runner would not like to see their favourite areas’ best runs put to print?
The book’s early chapters deal with where to stay, where to eat and other basic information before launching into a description of the Ferguson Grading System. Here-in routes are rated from 0 (easiest) to 16 (hardest) across three categories (trail, fell and mountain) and five aspects of the route: distance, navigation, terrain, remoteness and height gain, a comprehensive system which left me missing only the total climb of the route (route descriptions provide starting and finishing elevation and gradient).
You can use the Ferguson rating to get a quick idea of each run and the author has extracted a wide span of routes to cater for runners of all levels. You will find a selection of entry level routes, the easiest rated “4”, such as the popular 5 mile Moel Y Ci fell-race, and the hardest a series of runs rated at an ominous “13”. These more beastly challenges include the Nantlle Ridge circuit consisting of “long grassy ridge slopes and cwrms with intervals of steep rocky sections and easy scrambling” or the Peris Horseshoe circuits (based on the Peris Horseshoe race) with a daunting 17.5 miles and this advice from the author “It would be totally inadvisable to attempt this route in bad or uncertain weather.”
The many, like this reviewer, who were introduced to Snowdonia through the International Snowdon Race, would rightly expect to see the route as part of the book and we are not disappointed. The low rating of “7” may not be recognised by all former competitors but the description of the gradient certainly plays on the memory, to pick a snippet:
“This route is sustained uphill with some steep sections. Fast, hard descent..watch your knees and don’t trip!”
Apart from descriptive text and a Ferguson rating, the book provides everything I would imagine to need should I venture into Snowdonia: you have a rough map (with information on what map to buy for the area), key grid references, expected time, starting point and notes on access (always crucial).
I felt suddenly more closely acquainted with most routes reading through the detail which both goes into the terrain (“the terrain is a cocktail of steep rocky paths, loose scree, high rocky pinnacles, steps and ridges…”). The bulk of detail for each route is dedicated to step-by-step instructions accompanied by pictures, no lack of humour and colourful commentary and even a sly dig at hill-walkers footwear!
The author does not intend to dumb down the content or leave us with the false impression that you can simply pick up the book and go out with no further preparation, the raised finger in the description of the “Snowdon Horseshoe” a warning to all:
“Despite its “marketing” as a tourist attraction, regrettably, it [ed: Snowdon] claims several lives each year, often through personal negligence and/or inexperience.”
The book is tightly edited throughout except for the unfortunate “forward by Kenny Stuart” on page 7, but this is quickly forgotten as you enjoy the old champion’s opening lines.
What did I miss? Well my first instinct was to look for the Welsh Three Thousand Foot Challenge and the “Paddy Buckley Round” but these are not confined only to Snowdonia and, as the author points out in the early chapters, are aptly covered by Roy Clayton and Ronald Turnbull’s meritorious “The Welsh Three Thousand Foot Challenges”. In any case, you will find several parts of the Paddy Buckley as separate routes among the total twenty-five on offer (such as the afore-mentioned Nantlle Ridge Run). I gladly place A Mountain Runner’s Guide to Snowdonia next to its older cousin on my bookshelf and while lighter on exposition, it is certainly the easier of the two books to bring with you and apply in the field, thanks in no small part to the sturdy binding and durable cover.
If you’re interested in Snowdonia already, you should buy this book, if you’re looking for ideas for a running holiday, you should buy this book and if you are merely curious or a collector of mountain running books, the advice still stands.
[rating: 4/5] (A niche book that does exactly what it sets out to do: opening up Snowdonia to fell runners)
A version of this review first appeared at Mud, Sweat and Tears.