Posted by & filed under Books, Mountains & hills, Science, February 24 2011.

Cool Britannia

Cool Britannia

Iain Cameron (with whom I visited a long-lasting snowpatch on Aonach Mr last October, see the blog posting ‘Autumn snowfields in Lochaber‘) and Adam Watson have just written a book together, called ‘Cool Britannia‘.

This book is a welcome guide for anyone interested in the little-known area (although now coming to more public prominence after the last two cold and snowy winters in the UK and the current hot topic of climate change) of meteorological and environmental research concerning extreme snow events in Britain and in particular the topic of long-lasting snow in upland areas in Britain.

This is a valuable and up-to-date contemporary reference that is a long-awaited addition to the scarce literature on this esoteric but important subject. Cool Britannia for the first time collects together historical references to long-lasting (or perennial) snow in various places throughout the Scottish mountains (as well as more surprising areas in England and Wales) that have previously been hidden away in hard-to-find academic papers, the SMC journal and long out-of-date publications. As well as historical accounts dating back many hundreds of years, Cool Britannia also contains many contemporary accounts of long-lasting snow in the upland areas of Britain, especially the mountains of Scotland that contain the largest and most prominent snowfields.

Using these accounts, Cool Britannia makes the case that long-lasting snow was much more prevalent in Britain in the centuries before the 20th century, supporting the theory of the existence of the ‘Little Ice-Age‘ climate period that affected north-western Europe between the years 1300 to 1850 (and to which current global warming trends can be dated to the end of).

Adam Watson is an acknowledged expert on the environment of the Cairngorm mountains and is the current leading figure in the collation and collection of field data pertaining to research on the long-lasting snowfields in the Scottish mountains, with a long history (over 60 years) of recording snowpatches in the Scottish mountains, and many published peer-reviewed academic publications and also popular books. In the last few years Iain Cameron has joined forces with Adam Watson and has devoted considerable energy to coordinating a group of amateur volunteers to continue this data collection on field trips to sometimes inaccessible locations in the mountains, using the tools of the Internet to aid in the communication and dissemination of this data collection exercise through photographs and field reports. It is to their and their collaborators’ credit that they continue this valuable field data collection despite a lack of tangible support from academic and government institutions (SNH, pay heed).

Cool Britannia represents the culmination of this research work and as such it is clearly now the authoritative (and sorely-needed) contemporary reference on this subject. One of the most valuable sections of the book is the excellent bibliography of historical and academic references relating to the subject of snow in Britain that represents the academic research lineage of Cool Britannia. These references are now the best available guide to anyone wishing to explore this area in greater detail.

The book has some excellent large colour photographs of some of the main perennial snow sites in the Scottish mountains, although it would have been great to have had a few more of these (and also some from the extensive archive of unpublished photographs from Adam Watson’s collection stretching back to the early years of the twentieth century). A couple of maps with the locations of the sites marked on them would also have been great, although publishing maps and colour photos always pushes the production price up a bit of course.

The book has the feel and style of a fleshed-out academic paper and as such is not perhaps as accessible to a wider audience as it might have been. Perhaps an idea for any future second edition would be to give it the style and format of a more conventional mountain guidebook whilst also retaining the valuable detail. ‘Cool Britannia’ is a really cheesy and unfortunate title and doesn’t reflect the sober academic contents contained within the book. I also feel that the sub-title is a little grammatically clumsy and hard to make sense of.

6 Responses to “Cool Britannia”

  1. Neil Reid

    Thanks for the info. Title may have required a wee bit more thought, but finding out more about that book led me to Watson’s autobiography, which I didn’t know existed. A bit pricey, but I’ll not be able to resist.

  2. Eddie

    I finally got around to buying and reading Adam’s autobiographical book, ‘It’s a fine day for the hill’, you can see my review of the book on a blog posting here.

  3. Eddie

    Adam watson has recently published a new book, ‘A snow Book, northern Scotland‘, which contains an enormous amount of snowpatch data collected by him since the late 1930s, this new book is set to become the standard reference for long-lasting snowpatches in the Scottish mountains.

    See my review of this book on a blog posting here.


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