Alastair Borthwick was a man who was best known for being a successful writer and broadcaster. His book, Always a Little Further, has earned its place in literary history, and will is viewed as a groundbreaking mountaineering story.
Always a Little Further helped to inspire a generation of Scottish people to become enthusiastic about climbing and the mountains. Scotland is filled with beautiful mountains, and Borthwick’s book helped remind the Scottish people of their beauty. This was very helpful for Scottish Society at the time it was published (1939) because there was mass unemployment occurring in the nation.
Even further, Borthwick chronicled and described the transition of climbing from an upper class outdoor sport to something that was taken up more by the working class. In doing so, Borthwick wasn’t just chronicling the outdoor sport, but social and cultural change in Scotland at the time as well.
Borthwick himself was more in the working class camp, leaving high school to write for a local publication. Though he covered several different areas of interest in his pieces for the paper, the pieces he wrote for the outdoors section are exactly what would come together as his first book, a personal, informative account of the changes that were taking place at that time.
In documenting the movement, Alastair Borthwick didn’t simply provide a record; his stories were being published in real time, and with the publishing of his book, he reached people who would themselves take to the mountains and to enjoy the beauty of nature. Borthwick will long be remembered as a great Scotsman, not only for his contributions at the time, but also because his writing stands the test of time – his first book has never gone out of print – and helps modern readers to appreciate the simple things in life and to remember that nature is always there, to inspire, bemuse, and provide entertainment.
The mountain climbing movement became so large in Scotland that climbing clubs started forming around the country. The most famous of these clubs was called the Creagh Dhu. Creagh Dhu climbers traversed beautiful mountains in Scotland and slept in caves at night. This was one of the best ways to appreciate all of the beauty of Scotland.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Alastair Borthwick chose to not just focus on the actual climbing in his work, but to hone in on other aspects of climbing adventures, such as the personalities of the people involved, the emotions, and many other elements. To Borthwick, the entire adventure mattered, not just the actual climbing. Comparisons have been made between Borthwick’s writing and that of James Boswell, who chronicled the life of writer Samuel Johnson in a similar way – factually, but with many personal elements included as well.
In the opening chapter alone, Borthwick brings the characters of the climbing scene to life:
“Suddenly a commotion arose among the crowds on the pier. They parted and put forth a white figure which shot from the edge of the pier, poised for an instant in mid air, and began to drop gracefully towards the water.
It is strange, now, to look back and realise that I wondered who the diver could be, that in those days I did not know anyone who would cast himself from a pier at low tide for no other reason than that it was Saturday, with the city fifty miles away and the rush of warm air on downward face a joy. It is strange, too, to realise how much ‘in character’ Hamish was that first time I saw him, strange because now the incident takes its place at the end of a long perspective of incidents which give it a relevancy it did not possess at the time … Hamish on the Crowberry Ridge, with sleet whipping across the streaming hand holds, eighty feet of air below his boots and battle in his eye; Hamish hanging over a map, tracing out some fantastic route and scoffing at the doubters ‘Och, don’t be daft, man. Of course, it’s possible!’ Hamish in Dan Mackay’s barn, arguing with tramps; Hamish on his preposterous motorbike; Hamish in the Chasm; Hamish the eternal optimist, tingling with excitement in a dozen situations when a plot was afoot and enthusiasm in the air.” – Alastair Borthwick, Always a Little Further
Because Borthwick was able to aptly capture the essence of the joy of mountain climbing from both a physical and an emotional perspective, Always a Little Further is yet to go out of print. Scotland continues to love and appreciate Borthwick, despite the fact that he died in 2003, at the age of 90.
Since he was able to leave such a positive impact on the nation, it is very likely that his works will continue to be read my many generations of future Scots, as well as those outside of Scotland. The mountains of Scotland have a very distinct natural beauty, and it seems unlikely that people in the nation will ever tire of reading the work of one of the writers who has best been able to capture the appeal of venturing into them.
Bouldering is on the Climb
Part of Borthwick’s modern day appeal can likely be crediting to the growing interest in bouldering and rock climbing that is happening today. While some of the popularity may be able to be credited to Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo – a documentary chronicling the journey of climber Alex Honnold as he attempted to climb El Capitan in June 2017 without the help of any ropes or harnesses. While the documentary seems to have affected many with various height-fear while watching alone, there’s also been a rise of those engaging in the sport themselves. In fact, rock climbing was recently added to the Olympics.
It seems Borthwick and his compatriots were ahead of the curve when they took on rock climbing as they did in the mid-20th century, and as it makes its comeback, Borthwick’s timeless prose continues to ring relevant and true, capturing the essence and heart of the sport.
Despite the fact that Borthwick was a great writer, his talents were not limited to the written word. Borthwick also enjoyed a very long and successful broadcasting career, beginning with the BCC. However, when World War II erupted, Borthwick answered Scotland’s call and served his country with distinction, though he did re-enter the broadcasting world following the war.
Borthwick saw a lot of action during the war. He was part of a Seaforth division which fought in Africa, France, Holland, Italy, and Germany. All in all, his unit travelled over 3,000 miles and participated in some of the most significant battles in the entire war. Borthwick’s service in this war was incredibly courageous and significant. Without men like Alastair Borthwick, fighting in the name of freedom, justice, and human decency, the Nazis would have most likely won the war and conquered the world.
Borthwick served as an intelligence officer, and he was often responsible for the navigation component of his company’s missions. This was extremely difficult work and one mistake from Borthwick could have led his company directly into the hands of the enemy. However, Borthwick proved to be exceptional at this job and was able to help his fellow soldiers to get into the right positions to win battles.
Following his service in World War II, Borthwick was commissioned to write a history of his battalion in the war. The book that he ended up writing was called Battalion: a British infantry unit’s actions from El Alamein to the Elbe. This book was a major hit and received outstanding reviews. It is often compared to HBO’s Band of Brothers.
Alastair Borthwick and his family lived a very peaceful life following his difficult war period. He continued to broadcast and write for the rest of his life. Borthwick was a model Scottish citizen, and he is a man who made his country proud. He is a good example for every person who wants to live with integrity, passion, and courage.