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Mountain Writing Competition 2013

Report by Mike Merchant

Nearly seventy entries came in. We think it’s a record. The numbers were swelled when we put news of the competition out to local and national media – so it’s helped to grow awareness of the McofS too.

In both prose and poetry the results couldn’t have been closer. Joint second place in poetry went to ‘Words and Mountains’ by Graham Ball, a ‘carefully argued and well crafted’ sonnet on the theme of conservation, inspired by the Lake District. Sharing this spot was Hugh Stewart’s ‘Lochaber so Sore’. Using Gaelic, English and the Doric, this is a reflection on Ben Nevis with a casualty thrown in. Judges praised ‘the twinkle in its eye’ and ‘caustic, laconic wit and learning’. Another said: ‘I’d love to hear this read aloud!’

The winning poem, ‘Shabbat in the Rockies’ by Tracey Rosenberg, was something completely different. From the Carpathians to the Rockies, a Jewish family flees persecution and finds peace when ‘the mountains lean forward ... and nod heavy greetings’. ‘A rich and complex story, well told.’

Another close finish came in the prose category. Joint third were Keri Wallace with ‘The tale of the mountain goat’ and Alan Laing’s ‘glencoe.co.uk’. The mountain goat provided a parable ‘with a simple, powerful moral’ according to one judge.

‘glencoe.co.uk’ was one of several father-son tales, with a sci-fi look at hillgoing in the not too distant future. ‘Mixes hope through the dystopia’ was one verdict.

Reviresco – ‘I will flourish again’ – is the motto of Clan McEwen and the title of Peter Ewing’s second-placed entry. From Arctic Lapland to Glen Affric, the author recalls journeys through ‘the great northern tree-belt’ and our own sometimes sterile hills, with some hope that the ‘jewel missing from the boreal necklace’ will be restored in Scotland.

The winning prose piece is ‘Inherited’ by Fraser Bell. Another father-son encounter, this time a leave-taking that shifts disturbingly between a deathbed and a desperate winter climb. ‘Strong stuff’ was one comment; also ‘emotional yet tightly-constructed’ and ‘goes beyond the cliché’.

Sincere thanks to all those who entered, and to our judges (listed below) who coped with the unexpected workload! Winning prose and poems will appear in forthcoming issues of the Scottish Mountaineer. Watch this space for details of the 2014 competition.


1st - Shabbat in the Rockies, by Tracey Rosenberg

2nd = Words and Mountains, by Graham Ball

2nd = Lochaber So Sore, by Hugh Stewart


1st - Inherited, by Fraser Bell

2nd - Reviresco, by Peter Ewing

3rd = The Tale of the Mountain Goat, by Keri Wallace

3rd = glenco.co.uk, by Alan Laing

John Donohoe is a past president of the MCofS.

Rachel McCrum is an Edinburgh poet and promoter, active in the literary cabaret Rally & Broad, the Inky Fingers Collective, and Stewed Rhubarb Press. Her first pamphlet ‘The Glassblower Dances’ won the 2013 Callum MacDonald Award.

Tommy McManmon won last year’s prose section. He is a ranger for the Knoydart Foundation (as well as the local postie), and was 2002 Orange/Scotsman Young Communicator of the Year foran article about Knoydart’s hydroelectric infrastructure.

Helen Needham is a senior producer on BBC Radio Scotland, looking after the Out of Doors programme, which she sometimes presents. She also oversees history and science programmes, and Radio Scotland’s Take the Floor and Travelling Folk. In her spare time she explores the Cairngorms by bike or foot.

Tom Povey won the prose prize in 2010.

Margaret Squires ran The Quarto Bookshop in St. Andrews for many years, has climbed all the Munros and Corbetts and most of the Grahams and is working her way through the Marilyns. Abroad, she has climbed higher in a taxi than she has on foot (Kardong La versus Kalapathar).

Mike Merchant was coordinator for this year’s competition, which he won in the prose category in 2009.