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Mountain Writing Competition 2011

Report by Jayne Glass

The Mountain Article Competition continues to go from strength to strength, this year receiving 19 prose and 21 poetry entries of a high standard. Both competitions included a variety of stories, styles and settings, ranging from romantic and thrilling to quietly informative.

In the prose category, Chris Thorndycroft’s Shadows on the Snow told a tale of “love and supernatural horror in the Himalaya”. The judges described it as a “very readable story with real tension and fine scene-setting on the mountain”, which “captured the feeling of doom” well. Similarly, Peter Biggar’s Away with the Birds recounted “a rather dramatic account of a near miss on Meall nan Eun that reminds us that no ascent in winter is without danger”. Peter’s “narrative drive” and “real feel for describing the hills” were commended by the judges.

Helen Watson shared third place with her “poetic, romantic and subtle” Knoydart Heartbeat, a “romantic account of a shared love of mountains and each other”. Also in third place, Liz Cleere’s Trekking in the Shadow of Kanchenjunga was enjoyed for its “interesting, alternative-to-travel-writing approach”, which was “filled with names, people, families and workplaces”.

Second place went to Lorn Macintyre for Will ye no come back again?, a “beautifully written” and “wistful, almost romantic account of a brother’s exploits in the mountains”. Lorn was praised for writing a “technically professional” and “well-rounded story”, which “grips the reader with every paragraph”.

In first place, and this year’s Mountain Article prose category winner, was John Burns’ Cheating the Reaper. “A dramatic account of being avalanched whilst ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies”, John’s piece was described as a “solid story”, which was “well told, with vivid and emotive natural imagery”. With a “skillful handling of time (from flashbacks to the present)”, it was a “joy to read”.

In the poetry competition, Susan Richardson’s Angels Whisper to a man when he goes for a walk was highly commended for its “mastery of image” and “highly-achieved sequence of four poems which intrigue and excite with imagination, brio and verve”. Susan’s poem used “stunning images, telling details, fresh descriptions and a confident voice” and she was described as “a writer who really understands this environment and has the ability to communicate it to others through poetry”.

Sharing second place in the poetry entries, were Specks of Dirt by Sarah Rest and High Atlas by Abbie Garrington. Specks of Dirt was “a poetic picture of the atmosphere on a winter’s day”, which used “splendid images” and impressed judges “with its economy, communicating several ideas in a few well-chosen words”. High Atlas was a “sad poem” with “lovely imagery” and “emotional honesty”. “The narrative and the poignancy both worked well” and the “central imagery of ‘lines’ – both as climbing ropes and written lines of communication” was applauded.

This year’s winner of the poetry competition was Whymper on the Matterhorn by Alice Herve. A “technical tour de force with strong, sustained rhythms and language”, the poem is a “very vivid and beautiful description” of Edward Whymper’s ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865, in which four of his companions were killed. Comments were “full of admiration for the poetic expressions and powerful feelings”, and the language of the poem was described as “authentic for the 19th Century voice”.

Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to this year’s judges (listed below), who put a lot of effort into reading and commenting on the entries.


1st - Whymper on the Matterhorn, by Alice Herve

2nd = High Atlas, by Abbie Garrington

2nd = Specks of Dirt, by Sarah Rest


1st - Cheating the Reaper, by John Burns

2nd - Will Ye No Come Back Again?, by Lorn Macintyre

3rd = Trekking in the Shadow of Kanchenjunga, by Liz Cleere

3rd = Knoydart Heart, by Helen Watson

Tom Povey (winner of Mountain Article Prose Competition 2010)

Rachel Humphries and Cynthia Rogerson (Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s National Writing Centre; www.arvonfoundation.org)

Patricia Ace (award-winning poet; www.soutarwriters.co.uk/patriciaace/)

Helen Needham (Out of Doors, BBC Radio Scotland)

Mike Merchant (editor, writer and designer, ex-editor of John Muir Trust Journal; www.merchant.uk.net/)

Ingrid Parker (former MCofS Vice President and member of ‘Women of Scotland’ for services to mountaineering)