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Mountain Writing Competition 2020

Report by Tommy McManmon

2020 was an unusual year by anyone's estimation. In the effort to combat the effects of the COVID-19 virus, many outdoor aficionados found themselves without work or furloughed. Furthermore, they were limited in the mountain activities they could partake in, with travel restrictions coming into effect early in the crisis. People had more time on their hands, and many discovered new creative passions.

This led to a bumper year for entries to the Mountain Writing Competition. Last year, we had 11 poetry and 19 prose entries. This year, we received 98 poetry and 73 prose entries: and those were just the legitimate ones! The competition is only open to UK entries, but we had several from Nigeria following publicity there. We also had to reject some entries because the writer's name was in the file document, or because they exceeded the word count for the relevant category. With the increase in entries came some gems, and all the judges are in agreement that the winning entries are representative of the quality that can be found in this field. If you took the time to enter, please don't be discouraged if you weren't placed - there was a huge amount of competition. Many thanks to the judges who all donated their time gratis to reading the many entries, and commenting on the winners.

Winner of the poetry category was the short but tantalisingly sweet Fox Track, Sugar Road, penned by Jennifer A McGowan. With "extraordinary weight and depth", it was "overflowing with the sights and sounds and memories that a landscape can call up," according to our judges. In second place came Beneath Beinn Tharsuinn by Urias Hughes: "real place, real people, real love," and a "beautifully crafted poem of remembrance." In third was Beinn Mor Coigach dawn, by Karen Macfarlane: "how creative and how amusing!" commented one judge, with another asserting that "the 'Majesty of the Mountains' [was] wonderfully expressed through literal and metaphorical language." Placed fourth and fifth, not winning prizes, but worthy of mention, were Cairnsmore by Anne Dunford, and Rhapsody at 17000+ feet above sea level by Su Brown: please consider entering again, Anne and Su. One judge also thought Sarah Jessen's Up deserved special mention as a "perfect covid statement."

Our hardy prose judges had a LOT of reading! In first place was Steve Ashton's evocative The Cove, which according to one judge "harks back to an era in British rock climbing when hard men smoked roll-ups instead of sipping protein shakes." Another commented "a tense piece of finely-wrought dramatic writing that flits between present and past." Second-placed was Saudamini Sigdel's Onwards and Upwards: "touching reminiscences of a Himalayan trek, in the context of ageing and empty-nest feelings". Another judge commented that it was a "tender and reflective tale, crafted with a light touch, beyond which lies real precision." Third-placed was Jacqueline Bain's Stag: "best turn the central heating on before settling in for this read, which places you deep in the teeth-chattering midst of a troubling day out in the Scottish winter."

Thank you to all those who poured their heart and soul into the competition; we appreciate your efforts. Please keep using the outdoors to inspire your creativity, and if you weren't a winner this year please consider entering the 2021 competition, due to be launched this summer.


1st - Foxtrack, Sugar Road, by Jennifer McGowan

2nd - Beneath Beinn Tharsuinn, by Urias Hughes

3rd - Ben Mor Coigach dawn, by Karen Macfarlane


1st - The Cove, by Steve Ashton

2nd - Onwards and Upwards, by Saudamini Sigdel

3rd - Stag, by Jacqueline Bain

Tommy McManmon is a former winner of the prose section, with People of These Glens in 2012. He lived on Knoydart for over 12 years, during which time he won the Scotsman/Orange Communicator Award for Scottish journalistic writing. He now lives and works in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh.

Prose judges:

Jim Manthorpe is a wildlife cameraman and guidebook author, based in Morvern. He has worked on a number of BBC series including Springwatch, and is the author of five Trailblazer guidebooks. www.jimmanthorpe.com

Abby Boultbee lives in Fife, and works with the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust promoting engagement with the outdoors in urban settings. She enjoys hillwalking, wild swimming, bothying, and cycle touring.

Eric Hildrew is an Edinburgh-based climber and mountaineer, and began writing short stories to while away the long evenings in his camper van. He won the prose category in 2018.

Nigel Ward lives in Ayrshire, and was the prose winner in 2019. Nigel's articles, short stories and reviews have won various competitions. He enjoys writing outside his comfort zone.


Poetry judges:

Mike Merchant used to run the Mountain Writing Competition and edit the John Muir Trust Journal. He's still trying to adjust to not having Munros to complete.

John Donohoe is a past president of Mountaineering Scotland.

Pippa Little is a Scots poet, whose favourite mountain is Suilven. She is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University, and she won the poetry category in 2018.

Mike Richards was our 2019 poetry winner. Mike is a poet, photographer, and professional ski instructor based in Wales and the island of Hokkaido, northern Japan.