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Cols and Passes of the British Isles
Cols and Passes of the British Isles
The one and only guide to every col and pass in the British Isles, for cyclists, walkers and armchair travellers. A col is the lowest point on the saddle between two mountains. Graham Robb has spent years uncovering and cataloguing the 2,002 cols and 105 passes scattered across the British Isles. Some of these obscure and magical sites are virgin cols that have never been crossed. Dozens were lost by the Ordnance Survey and are recorded only in ballads or monastic charters. The eleven cols of Hadrian's Wall are practically unknown and have never been properly identified. These under-appreciated slices of natural beauty provide a new way of looking at British history, and a challenge for cyclists and walkers.
"A wonderful writer ...No one else so relishes the odd corners of history". (Sunday Times). "He is such a warm, gentle and generous writer, with no faux scholarly tosh or solitary ecstasy riffs". (Evening Standard) Graham Robb is an acclaimed historian and biographer, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.He has won the Whitbread Biography Prize and the Heinemann Award forVictor Hugo, as well as the Ondaatje Prize and Duff Cooper Prize for The Discovery of France. He lives on the English-Scottish border (and within a day's ride of one hundred and seventy cols).
Hardback; 234 x 136mm
Some black and white illustrations
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Some people bag Munros - they aim to climb every Scottish summit over 3000 feet. There are 282 of them. Or else they want to walk every footpath in Wainwright's Guides. Graham Robb has set them a new challenge - to ride or walk over every col in Britain.
Cols and passes have become invisible. We might drive over Carter Bar on the road between England and Scotland and apart from the burger van and the Scottish piper we might not even notice that we were crossing a dividing line - before us spreads the landscape of Scotland, behind us stretches a vista to the south across England. These were the markers, the boundaries, when the Picts ventured towards Hadrian's Wall, when the Reivers raided across that permeable border, when the conquering Jacobites marched south and when the Highland drovers herded their cattle down to the great market at Barnet Fair.
Cyclists notice the cols - the slow, steady struggle up one side - and then the rapid descent down the other, sacrificing the expense of energy to the exhilaration of speed. There is a pass in the Berwyn Mountains which caries a memorial to a cyclist, Wayfarer of The Rough Staff Fellowship, the grandfather of all mountain bikers who pioneered this grassy route almost a century ago.
And lorry drivers used to notice the cols, the climb over Beattock or the long slow grind over Shap in winter. "In the days before cars became virtually infallible," writes Graham, "the word 'Shap' evoked the same heroic images as 'Khyber' or 'Karakoram'". A memorial on the pass records a tribute to "the generations of local people who gave freely of food and shelter to stranded travellers in bad weather". Today, Shap Summit is forgotten and the M6 sweeps the motorist northwards to Carlisle and Scotland. The most famous col in England has, for all practical purposes, disappeared.
Graham Robb has scoured old maps going back to Elizabethan times and meticulously searched the first editions of the six-inch Ordnance Survey maps seeking out the passes over the mountains. He has compiled a glossary of the old words for a col. He found almost two hundred from the unpronounceable Welsh 'bwlch' and 'cwm' and Gaelic 'bearradh' to simple, descriptive English words like 'saddle' and 'nick'. And searching through lists of old names he has compiled his catalogue of British cols and passes.
He finds "precisely 101 cols and three passes in the Lake District National Park". The Hardknott Pass is said to be the steepest. Only fourteen of them are on metalled road surfaces. They can all be bagged in a walk of 150 miles without all the excessive climbing required if you insist on ascending the mountain summits.
Graham identifies eleven cols in the Hadrian's Wall country between Sewingshields and Haltwhistle Common. "The easternmost col known as Busy Gap, was notorious for centuries as the portal through which cattle rustlers came from the region of Newcastle." He suggests that "many cols are best enjoyed at a distance and in a meditative rather than a triumphalist frame of mind".
In his long catalogue, Cumbria has pride of place. The cols run from Bad Step near Mickledore to the nearby Wrynose Pass (or 'Hawse' which was the old name). There's Saddle, and The Saddle, Saddle Gate and Saddle of Fells near Whernside. And there's Hause, Hause Head, Hause Gap, Hause Gate and Hause Mouth, Flag Pots, Floutern Pass, Flue Scarth, Fothergill Head and Froswick. It's a totally new country to explore - passes a-plenty to climb and to cross.
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