2018 Winter news letter

    Here’s the blog version of my 2018 winter Newsletter

Journey to Glendubh Bothy
Download the first 2 Chapters of my Best Selling book The Last Hillwalker
Climb Ben Wyvis a mountain in the Scottish Highlands
Check out Keith Foskett’s Thru Hiking Classic The Journey in Between
Gear review Thermarest’s best lightweight sleeping mat

Plus check out a great new magazine, Wild Camping


Glendubh Bothy

So, you’d like to visit a wild Highland bothy but don’t know which one to start with. Over the next few months I’m going to write about the bothies I love and give you some tips on which bothies might suit you and some hints on how to get there and what you should take.

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I’m starting out with a remote but easy to get to bothy, Glendubh (Pronounced Glendoo). This bothy is in a fantastic setting right on the west coast of Scotland near the village of Kylesku. The scenery is magnificent as it sits nestling on the side of a spectacular sea loch. It’s not unusual to see otters fishing in the loch and there are many sea birds to watch and there’s even a sporting chance you’ll see a Golden Eagle.

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This is one of my favourite bothies, it has a great atmosphere and, even though it is relatively accessible, it has that wonderful remote and other worldly feel that I really enjoy. It has four rooms, so there is plenty of space, and most important of all, a great fire. Take about 10kgs of good house coal and you are sure of a cosy night.
Kylesku is about three hours drive from the Highland capital of Inverness. Shops are scarce in this remote area so it’s a good idea to buy your provisions in Inverness or in the fishing village of Ullapool on the way. Ullapool makes a good lunch stop or there is a good hotel at Kylesku who serve great food.

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The walk in to Glendubh is pretty easy but remember to allow plenty of time as you’ll be carrying a heavy pack and will probably want to stop along the way to take photos and look at the sights. It’s about a three mile walk to the bothy, the track is very good and follows the northern shore of the sea loch. Only basic navigational skills are required and, if you are reasonably fit, this shouldn’t be a challenging walk. Do remember that the weather here often changes very quickly so you need to be properly equipped with water proofs and warm outdoor clothing.


In common with all bothies Glendubh is a basic open shelter. There is no electricity, or running water and you’ll be sleeping on the floor.
Bothies are special places and it is a great privilege to visit them, please respect them and the people you meet.
Always follow the Bothy Code

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This bothy is maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association, who are volunteers. If you enjoy a night at a bothy why not show your appreciation for their work and help them maintain more of these fantastic places by making a small donation.


The Last Hillwalker

My book is selling incredibly well and I’ve had some amazing feedback.  Now you can download the first 2 chapters free.  Download Chapters

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Ben Wyvis

If you want to start hillwalking in the Scottish Highlands but are not sure where to start Ben Wyvis (Pronounced Wivis) is a good introduction to the Scottish hills.  This mountain is less than an hour’s drive north from the Highland capital of Inverness. There is a good car park, situated on the A835 Ullapool road, and the path is well marked.  You come down the hill the same way you go up so, if you are not that confident of your navigation, it is a good hill to choose.  Here are some pictures from my recent ascent

Find out more here Ben Wyvis Walk Highlands


The Journey in Between

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Keith Foskett is an outdoor writer I really admire and someone who as taken the art of self-publishing the accounts of his incredible journeys to a new level.

 

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Keith Foskett

Thousands attempt to hike El Camino in its entirety each year: some succeed, many fail.
Keith Foskett found himself at a crossroads, sensing his life was about to change. But, until a chance meeting with a stranger in a Greek bar, he didn’t know which path to take.
A week later, he found himself at the start of El Camino, and began a journey that would change him. Along the way he made friends with fellow pilgrims from all over the world, all travelling for their own different reasons.
From the pain of blisters and extremes of temperature to encountering kleptomaniacs, fake faith healers and being threatened with arrest in Spain for ‘not sleeping’, his hike was far from normal.
This is the story of one man’s walk, but it speaks to all who see life itself as a journey and are alive to the revelations that an escape to nature can bring. Written with insight, observation and a healthy dose of humour.
As this book shows, it is rarely the start and the finish that count, but the journey in between.
Read the reviews
“A thoroughly entertaining modern take on a well worn Spanish Trail.”
Download the first 2 chapters of Keith’s book here.


Gear Review

Thermarest-NeoAir-Xtherm

mats

For the best part of 40 years I spent every night in the outdoors with my faithful Karrimat the old traditional foam mat.   I’d taken it up Mount Kenya, to the Alps and the Canadian Rockies as well as many less glamorous trips to bothies the length and breadth of Scotland.  I’ve had my mat for over 30 years and regard it as an old and faithful friend.  It had seemed such luxury when I bought it and no longer had to sleep on the cold, hard ground.  I’d looked at inflatable mats but had always been put off by their price.  One night, in a remote Northern bothy, I met a couple of keen bothy patrons who told me how far superior their inflatable mattresses were.

Still unconvinced, and reluctant to part with the huge amount of cash required, I spoke to my friend, outdoor expert and author Chris Townsend.  Chris was unequivocal, ‘Go and get yourself a Thermarest-NeoAir-Xtherm, you can sleep on snow with one of those.’

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I shopped around but the cheapest I could get that mat was £135, so I braced myself and ordered one. I’ve had the mat now for almost two years and I can honestly say that the thought of having to go back to my old foam mat now fills me with dread.  At fist I found sleeping on the wobbly inflatable mat disconcerting and I feel off it quite a bit in the first few nights.  After a couple of nights, I mastered the art of sleeping on the cushion of air and it’s now second nature, even when I am asleep.

The Thermarest is far more comfortable than the old foam mat I used to use.  I like to sleep on my side, something that was very uncomfortable on the karrimat, the new mat lets me do that and I get a much better night’s sleep, an important factor on multi-day trips. Another great advantage of the Thermarest is that it packs away in to a 1 litre stuff sack which means I can easily stow it inside my rucksack.  This is a major advantage as it means I can now put a rain cover over my sack. In the past the bulky Karrimat had to be strapped to the outside of the rucksack which meant I couldn’t fit a rain cover.  I could never find a satisfactory way of strapping the rolled up mat to the outside and it always annoyed me by snagging on tree branches every time I walked through a forest track.

There is always a trade off between weight and warmth with any insulating equipment from sleeping bags to jackets.  There are much warmer mats available the Thermarest-NeoAir-Xtherm but they are a lot heavier and I think that the balance between comfort and weight is about right with this mat.  Overall I give it 5 stars and I have retired my poor old Karrimat for a well-earned rest.

For more information on selecting your inflatable sleeping mat click here

More information on the different types of mat available HERE


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Coming on the 16th of march 2018, my sequel to The Last Hillwalker


Finally, don’t miss this new magazine Wild Camping it’s free to download and packed with great features.

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The Night is dark and full of fear

The night is dark and full of fear

Not if you’ve got a bloody great head torch it isn’t.

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It’s pitch dark as I walk along the side of the loch towards Glas Allt Sheil bothy. As I walk I can hear a familiar sound. Crunch, crunch, crunch. It’s the sound of ice crunching beneath my feet at every step. I can’t work out where I have heard that sound before and then I remember. That’s exactly the sound Jon Snow makes as he and his men march North looking for the Night Walkers.

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I’m a big Game of Thrones fan and walking alone into a bothy at night, through this frozen landscape is a little too close to going beyond the wall than I like to imagine. My head torch beam illuminates the trunks of trees, and I can’t help feeling as though the forest is closing in around me. The torch light picks out the path, a line of gleaming snow, and catches the trunks of huge tree as that line the edge of the path.

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Something moves in the torch beam. I freeze, searching the depths of the forest with my beam. I decide that there’s nothing there and I’m just about to move on when something moves again, like a figure moving out there in the darkness. At this point I start talking to myself, trying to impose the will of my rational mind on the terrifying flights of fancy my mind wants to take.
‘It’s nothing.’
‘There are no wolves in the UK.’
‘There is nothing to be afraid of.’
‘I’m not being stalked by anything.’
‘Dead men can’t walk.’
But it’s pitch dark, the only sounds I can hear are the waves of the nearby lake lapping on the shore and the cries of the geese as they settle down for the night on the loch. My imagination takes flight and I can’t help scouring the woods for movement. Then I see it.
A pair of yellow eyes glowing in my torch light. I am being watched. Then another pair of eyes appear and then more. There is a rustle in the undergrowth and a deer steps out into the path quickly followed by the rest of the herd. I relax, glad that the spectre I had conjured in my mind is now more real than then Jon Snow’s dire wolf. For some reason deer seem to lose their fear of men at night. I often pass so close to them in darkness that I can smell their wet fur and walk through where the mist from their breath still lingers.

Fain fire

By the bothy fire at last.

The bothy fire flickers into life and then roars into the chimney. I am surrounded by candle light and eating my dinner off a wooden table. It wouldn’t be too surprising if the bothy door opened and Jon Snow entered, brushing the snow from his furs.
He looks at me with that dark stare of his. ‘What you doing out here all alone? Don’t you know what’s out there?’

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‘I only saw some deer,’ I stammer.
Snow shakes his head and strokes the carved wolf’s head of his sword. ‘Deer, is that what you think is out there? Winter’s coming my friend.’
‘Is it?’
Snow points at me, his eyes glaring, ‘Aye, a winter so cold it will freeze the hearts of men. You take care, for the night is dark and full of fear.’
With that he storms out of the door, leaving it swinging and I am left staring into the black night.
It’s probably not a good idea to have too vivid an imagination when you are alone in a bothy. I suppose I do live beyond the wall, Hadrian’s wall that is. A wall that was once built by the Romans to keep something dark and fierce out. That might be a great walk , perhaps one day I’ll take a stroll along that wall.
Perhaps it’s me the Nightwalkers fear.

For more of my walking adventures check out my best selling book.

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Ten tips for self-published authors

So, you have a burning ambition to write a book.  The idea gnaws a way at you but you keep it secret in case people will think you’re are being foolish or perhaps you’ve already told people and they’ve put you off the idea by saying no one would want to read your book.

I’m no expert but I can tell you about my experience in the world of self-publishing and what that journey has been like.  I have successfully self-published my book, The Last Hillwalker, and I am about to produce two more.  Bothy Tales comes out early next year and a plan for further book at the end of 2018.  I am an Amazon best seller, I’ve been shortlisted for two awards.

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Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.
Know who you are writing for.

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Typical Bothy interior and home to many of my readers.
I know my audience. I talk to them on Twitter and Facebook and they contact me through this blog.  I meet them in bothies and have walked and climbed with them most of my life.  I write for people like me, I’m a middle-aged man, interested in mountains and feel comfortable in nature.  Ask yourself a question.
Who is my audience?
If you don’t know do some research, find out who reads adult fantasy for example.  Join forums start talking to people about what they read and why they read it.

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Typical bothy dweller and reader of my books, well me actually.

Get an editor
My sister won first prize for English at school, so she can edit my book, right?
Wrong. You need a to produce a professional product. Nothing puts a reader off more than picking up a book and finding it full of typos.  A good editor will do a lot more than correct your spelling, he or she will give you important feedback on your book.  Tell you what works and equally importantly what doesn’t.
If you don’t know how to find an editor Reedsy is a good place to start.  A good editor will spend a lot of time on your book and use expertise that they have developed over years, to help you produce a great book.  For all this work they will expect, and deserve, to get paid a decent fee.  You don’t work for free so neither do they.  A lot of authors are reluctant to pay for editing. I take this attitude.  You will invest hours, days and weeks writing your book so it’s worth spending some cash to get it presented in the best way you can.

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Alex Roddie

Here’s my editor, Alex Roddie, Pinnacle Editorial, he specialises in the outdoor genre I write in but also edits fiction.  Alex is half my age.  I like to work with young people because they bring a different perspective. I always think if I can get it past Alex, then it must be good.

Don’t write alone
The image we all have of a writer is someone sitting alone, late at night, tapping away at a keyboard.  That’s right in part but it is also very important that you share your work with other people and get feedback. You could join a writer’s group, post excerpts on the net in forums.  If you have a manuscript that’s spent years sitting unseen in the bottom draw of your wardrobe, it’s dead in the water.

Other self-published authors have been incredibly helpful to me. Keith Foskett is an Indie author with vast experience not only of hiking but also self publishing. He has produced a fantastic catalogue of books based on his travels.  His book Balancing on Blue is currently an Amazon best seller and is a great read for anyone interested in the outdoors.  Keith’s series of books demonstrates the importance of having a number of books out there that draw readers in to your work.B.O.B-frontback.PNG-651x434

I’m not sure if Keith Foskett knows it but he has penned a hiking classic. I just wanted to pack up my bags and head off into the wilderness.’
– Spencer Vignes (The Observer).

Balancing on Blue:
Accept criticism
I welcome criticism of my work and I listen to it; that’s in contrast to a lot of writers who seem to be frightened of it.  I used to work as a joiner, making doors, cabinets etc. I regard writing as very similar process. If someone told me that a joint wasn’t tight enough or my door wasn’t straight, I fixed it.  I didn’t as a condemnation of my soul as some folk seem to.  We can all write better.  It’s a process and you learn all the time. I still cringe at things I wrote only a few months ago, which is good because it means I’m still learning, I hope I always am.
The good critic will be able to say what’s wrong with something and tell you how to fix it.  A bad critic will only tell you what’s wrong, it takes years to tell the difference.
Write a blog
I found writing a blog to be really helpful for several reasons.  It forces you to write regularly and writing, like any craft, requires practice.  Through my blog I found out what people enjoyed about my work.  Found out what aspects of the things I write about were of interest to them.  It also helped me to build a following.  Publishers love writers who come to them and say they have so many thousands of people read their blogs. It means they already have an audience and that is music to any publisher’s ears.
Making money

If you started writing to make money, you are in the wrong business, go work in a supermarket, it’s a much safer bet.  You can make money from your writing as I do.  I won’t be buying a yacht any time soon, but I am just beginning to make a part time income out of my writing.  If you want to make money from your writing remember that you are starting a business and you’ll have to pay a lot of attention to marketing if you want to get anywhere. I paid someone to set up my website and develop and marketing strategy.  Twitter and Facebook are great ways to get the message out and I find paid adverts on Facebook work well.  I’m working on developing a mailing list via Mailchimp.  I’m now planning a series of books as it is very difficult to generate significant income from one book alone.
The truth is that most self-published authors don’t break even with their projects and lose money.
It’s great having a book

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One thing I hadn’t expected was how satisfying it is to have a book published. I’ve written plays and performed them in the Fringe and across the UK, which is great, but plays are very ephemeral things, once you walk off stage they are gone.  A book is something tangible that can sit on bookcases all over the world.  I’ve found it’s opened doors for me and got me known in places I’d never thought of.  Having your own book is something worthwhile even if you never make a penny.
Get a Graphic Designer
The look of your book is really important, the cover is the first thing your reader sees.  The Last Hillwalker cover is designed by Mark Thomas.  I wanted the cover to tell the reader instantly that my book is a bout hillwalking and mountains and I think it does just that.  I think it very important that it looks good, first impressions count.

 

 

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Mark Thomas

I spent around £1,300 on the design and edit of the book. The edit cost will depend on the length of your book. I think it was money well spent.
Write shorter material first
Don’t start on your great work immediately, write short stories, features, blog posts.  This will help you get feed back and dip your toe in the waters of publishing before you hold your nose and plunge in deep.
Read your competition
See what else is out there, find out who is doing well and who isn’t.  Try and work out the difference between publications, why does one book succeed and another fail?  The answer might not be in the book itself but how it is marketed.
Ask questions
Most authors are happy to help you and some of my competitors have been incredibly helpful.  Feel free to contact me if you think I can help.
I forgot the most important thing.  Write the damn book!

The disease in our hills

Old, well known paths are like familiar friends, unchanging, dependable, there for you when you need them.  I’ve walked this little path many times but as soon as I leave the road I feel uneasy, something has changed. 

There is a plague in the Highland countryside, an infection that is changing the face of the Highlands forever.  Just about everywhere I go, and I go lots of places, freshly bulldozed tracks head up our green and pleasant glens, leaving long wicked grey scars in their wake.  ‘This is progress,’ they will tell you.  The tracks, I am sure they would explain, when you protest at their random wanderings, are there for a purpose and to help the highland economy.  They can tell me all that, and perhaps they are right, but each time I see a freshly bulldozed track I feel a twinge of sadness that another quiet glen has passed into memory.

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The new highway

 

So today, when I leave the main road near Loch Carron, to head up to the little bothy, Coire Fionnaraich that nestles beneath the hills on the old way over to Torridon, my heart sinks when I notice a shinny steel gate that wasn’t there the last time I walked this way a couple of years ago.  I pass the little house, through the wee wood and then on towards the bothy.  Moments later my feet hit the hard, uncompromising gravel of a newly constructed road.  It’s not tarmac but it’s pretty close.  Half a mile later there is a new bridge across the river and beyond that a building complete with satellite dish that sits in as much sympathy with the landscape as a branch of Macdonalds. 

A newly pained sign gleams at me, telling me that the footpath does not cross the bridge but heads right.  I detest signs on the hills, my love of Scotways, the rights of way charity that peppers the landscape with useless metal indicators, is well known, (if you a reading this in America, you might need an irony alert here.) Although even I must accept that there is a point to this sign as the new path is not yet on any maps.

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The new path

I turn on to the newly made path with growing sadness.  What was here only two years ago was a delight of a path.  A path created by the feet of hillwalkers, clansmen and shepherds over hundreds of years. It took a line in sympathy with the landscape.  Here and there it had been maintained as it had to be, but the work that was done had not changed its character.  I knew this path well, have followed it on occasions for 40 years.  I’ve walked it in summer heat and in winter blizzards, been soaked on in torrential heat and tortured by midges in the summer.  It’s a right of way, part of the Cape Wrath trail and a significant path in the Highlands.

Old path

Old Path

It’s snowing gently, on this cold November day, as the path steepens and begins to rise. All trace of the old path has gone, the new route is twice the width of the old path and ‘engineered’ with steps constructed and drainage.  There has obviously been a great deal of work done here and no little expense but why?  The old path seemed pretty solid to me and didn’t need such a drastic overhaul as to make it unrecognisable.  The old way used to cross a small stream which could be a little tricky after heavy rainfall and might have even meant you got your feet wet.  Walkers with wet feet are totally unacceptable in the 21st century so now there is a nice bridge in place.  Heaven forbid steaming socks by the bothy fire.

Dam

The dam

Enjoy more of my exploits in my book, The Last Hillwalker

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Eventually I made it in to the little bothy beside the track and spent a happy few minutes munching cheese sandwiches and reading the bothy book, safely out of the growing snowstorm.  Nobody else bothered to mention the state of the track and the bulldozed order that has been wrought.  Even some bloke called Geoff Allan, who has written some sort of Bothy Bible, had been there.  Who on earth would read that?  Perhaps I am just some elderly curmudgeon moaning, as all old men do, that things were better in my day but these tracks are spreading everywhere.  The Monadhliath mountains, just south of Inverness and straddling the national park border are riddled with them.  What used to be remote moorland is now networked with tracks running through and between wind farms and the linking shooting butts of the tweed wearing grouse haters.  The Monadhliath are now a vast desert populated only by birds awaiting slaughter, a few deer, whose number is also up and few wealthy folk who panic if more than twenty feet from there luxury all-terrain vehicles.

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Struggling to take a selfie in the blizzard.

There is precious little evidence of any attempt to impose planning restrictions on the estates who construct these motorways.  Perhaps one day, men older than me, will look back with misty eyed fondness on the tracks I revile today.  By that stage the whole of the Highlands will have been turned into a car park for access to wind turbines and shooting anything that moves.

CF Bothy

Friendly wee bothy

 

 

     

 

The White Stuff

I am four years old and fast asleep in my bed at home. Suddenly I am aware of being lifted up. Sleepily I realise I am in my father’s arms. It is winter, pitch dark and cold in my un-heated bedroom, I shiver for a moment until he wraps me in warm a blanket and carries me down stairs.

‘I’ve something to show you,’ he whispers.

My mother is waiting at the foot of the stairs and she opens the front door of our house and my father carries me out into the garden. Something magical has happened. Our small suburban garden has been transformed into a sparkling wonderland. The lawn has a carpet of white diamonds and the willow trees beyond are bowed down with ice crystals glowing in the yellow street lights.
Our home is on the Wirral peninsular, a suburb of Liverpool. The murky Mersey flows on one side of this little finger of land and the broad Dee estuary borders the other. The climate is mild and only rarely does the temperature drop below freezing. In my short life it is the first time I have seen snow, I am transfixed in wonder.

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It’s almost 60 years since I was that little boy on Merseyside, glimpsing snow for the first time, but still it’s ability to transform the landscape fascinates me. That fascination has shaped my life. In the intervening years I have wandered the frozen hills of Scotland, climbed ice in Canada and scaled Europe’s highest peak. I have shivered in Highland bothies and hacked my way up African ice, yet still I am drawn to the white stuff. I have lived in Scotland for the last forty years so I can enjoy the Highland winter.

This year, for the first time in several years, November yields our first descent snow fall and, like the snow bunny I am, I just have to get out in it and spend the day walking the hills above Loch Ness. I meet this cheeky Robin who perches near me as I put on my boots and looks accusingly at me as I have no crumbs to give him.

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The woodland trees are festooned with ice crystals. This image appears to be in black and white but it is in colour, the snow has narrowed the spectrum of light in the forest.

Tree

If you are enjoying this blog you might also like my best-selling book, The last Hillwalker, or know someone for whom it would make the perfect Christmas gift. Shortlisted for The Great Outdoors Magazine’s book of the year. Check out it’s fabulous reader’s reviews on Amazon.
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Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

Bespoke book cover art example from coverness.com

 

 

Above the tree line the wind and the falling snow above Loch Ness combine to a view of savage grandeur.

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I feel so lucky to have spent the day amongst the snow. The little boy in the blanket is inside me still.

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Get The last Hillwalker free to download

Download The Last Hillwalker free! From tomorrow until the 12th of Nov you can download my best selling book free. Click here for the book Free to download

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My book has been getting amazing reviews and is already a best seller it would be fantastic if I could win The Great Out Doors magazine book of the year especially as I’m up against some of the big guns in the publishing world.

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Here I am with Indie author Fiona MacBain

If you get the book please return the favour and vote for the book in the TGO magazine book awards, Vote for me in the Great Outdoors reader’s awards

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TGO latest issue

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The Last Hillwalker is also available in paperback
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