Book review: The Grahams & The Donalds

Climbing the Munros has long been a mainstream activity for hillwalkers, and many also aim to climb the Corbetts (Scottish peaks from 2500 to 3000 feet high), either after completing the Munros, or at the same time. Whilst a too-keen obsession with bagging hills can blind us to the other joys that going to the mountains can bring, there seems little doubt that for many people having a list of hills to complete is a way of linking many brief days out into a single, bigger, satisfying adventure.

The Grahams (peaks from 2000 to 2500 feet), though, have been the poor cousins of the Munros and Corbetts. Undoubtedly the best of them rank amongst the very finest mountains Scotland has to offer – Suilven, for instance, or Ben More Coigach, give some of Scotland’s most memorable hillwalking days. But many other Grahams are little visited, often pathless, with ascents involving slogs through bog or deep heather, and few established routes. Combined with this, the only dedicated guidebook to the Grahams could not compare to the glossy guides to the higher peaks; with only sketchy maps, fairly perfunctory descriptions and just a few photos in a central section, the Grahams book from Mainstream Publishing is now also quite outdated.

Some hillwalkers in southern Scotland aim to climb the Donalds – the hills over 2000 feet high which lie in the Scottish lowlands. These have the attraction for many people of shorter drives, and less steep terrain than their Highland counterparts. The Donalds, however, had no real guidebook.


This latest publication from the Scottish Mountaineering Club aims to change all that. Very handsomely bound in hardback, with 336 pages, The Grahams & the Donalds is lavishly illustrated throughout with generally good quality photographs, and is co-written by 15 authors and photographers. The book features more than 250 routes covering all the 224 Grahams and 140 Donalds & Donald Tops (there is some overlap between the two lists); many of the routes combine several hills and sometimes include higher hills too. The schematic maps are clear and well drawn, with colours to indicate height, and enable you to quickly see the suggested route, although you obviously need to be using an Ordnance Survey or Harvey map when actually out on the hill.

The descriptions given are commendably very thorough – I found much more so than with other SMC guides – clearly written having walked the route with the writing of the book in mind rather than just from retrospective memory. Alternative routes are also given for many of the hills. In older SMC guidebooks I’ve always been frustrated by the fact that distances and times were given only for the ascent of the hills, with no mention of the times and distances for the complete routes – something which seemed a very strange quirk. I was therefore delighted that this book also gives the figures for the complete walk. The book is divided into the SMC’s historic hill area divisions (which split logical destinations and so will either please or annoy!), translations for the Gaelic names are given, an appendix provides the lists of the hills, and an introduction sets the history of the hill lists in context – although this lacks the more personal and memorable touch of Hamish Brown’s introduction to the Munros.

Overall this is a high quality publication – its format well justifying the cover price – and most hillwalkers will certainly want a copy on their bookshelf, even if the best hills were also included in the earlier Corbetts guide.

The Grahams & The Donalds – Scottish Mountaineering Club Hillwalkers Guide – will be published on 7 April and is now available to pre-order from Amazon at £20 – saving £5 on the RRP.

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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.