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Mountains by moonlight: meet moonwalker Alan Rowan

Mountains by moonlight: meet moonwalker Alan Rowan

It's 4am and journalist Alan Rowan is sitting flat on his backside, slightly stunned, in a pitch dark forest.

He has just been head-butted by a tree.

Only a few hours earlier he had been comfortably seated at his sports desk in the offices of the Daily Record in Glasgow, his mind tuned in to the cacophony of ringing phones and caffeinated sleep-depravaton that usually haunt a national newsroom.

Now, he is laid out on a peaty forest floor under a star-strewn sky, gazing blankly up at the mound of rock and stone he has travelled through the midnight hour to climb.

"I set off up the mountain, and as you rise - the dawn rises as well,” recalls Alan.

"It’s very hard to explain. There’s nobody else around. Nature’s different. Sounds are different. You hear the water running on stone. It’s the sound of silence but with loads of noises - but they’re the right noises.

“It was just light and it was absolutely stunning. It was just a beautiful, beautiful morning. I sat up there and had my breakfast and watched the day come up. And that was me."

Several thousand feet above Loch Lochy, beneath a moon still resting in the fragile morning light, Alan Rowan found himself. And the Midnight Mountaineer was born.

BackPage Press

Moonwalker: Adventures of a Midnight Mountaineer, is Alan’s story, complete with foliage attacks, wrought from ten years of notes and diaries he has kept while traversing the hills and mountains of Scotland in the dark.

“I think I’ve done around 300 mountains across Britain,” Alan admits modestly. "I’d done some mountains before when I was kid, when I was in the boy scouts and we were forced to do it, but when I went to the the Daily Record I was often working the backshift, sometimes working right up until midnight from 9am.”

Never much of a gym person, Alan’s solution was not to go to sleep after his shift - but to head to the nearest mountain instead and greet the dawn.

Seeing the sun rise at 3,000 feet while the rest of the world slept on became an obsession for the talented sports writer, but his book is about far more than the geography of mountains.

"It’s about the journeys as much as the actual climbing,” explains Alan. “It’s supposed to be fun.”

Alan’s journeys would include rabid sheepdogs, charging deer, superstitious Germans, Victorian ghosts and talking trees, which perhaps goes someway to explaining why this debut author’s novel barely warmed the shelves of bookshops before selling out at its Dundee launch last week.

But while adventurous and funny, there’s a touchingly personal and beautiful element to Alan’s writing brought in through the people who joined him on his journey.

“Mountains hold memories. Buachaille holds such a lot of them for me,” said Alan.

"I’ve been up about 20 times now. It used to be that we went up on my birthday. It’s one of these mountains which are iconic. You see it all over the world on calendars and you recognise it before you even know its name.

"When you get up to the top there’s a platform which sticks out so you can’t see the ground. When you stand on it, it’s like you can see forever into space. It’s just stunning.

"Ten years ago, ahead of my 50th birthday climb, my mate Trevor went up the day before to place a bottle of champagne at the summit, so it would be there waiting for me when our group got there the next day.

"He was a bit gung-ho and went up a different route than usual - one he’d always wanted to try.

"He would have managed the one he was on but he tried something more difficult.”

Trevor tragically slipped and fell to his death. Since then, and every year since, Alan and the rest of Trevor’s friends take a pilgrimage each year to lay flowers in his memory on the bridge below the mountain.

“There are memories there, some sad, most good,” said Alan. "My friend Fergus died earlier this year after a ten month battle with lung cancer. His wife and daughter want to take his place on our journey up to the Buachaille this year."

This July, Alan turns 60, and the proud and sprightly grandfather who looks 20 years younger than he should, has every intention of making the annual pilgrimage to his beloved mountain.

"My ashes will be scattered from that mountain too one day,” he said.

"The first time you do it you do it as adventure. The second time you do it with friends and explore different ways. But by the time you’ve been back a third time the mountains themselves become old friends.”

Alan’s book captures all the joyful hilarity and touching moments that humanity can bring to a story filled with adventure and good people.

Told simply and beautifully, this is the inspirational tale of one normal Scottish man who had one crazy idea, and is filled with the wonderful nonsense and delight that comes after an idea becomes a dream.

As Alan writes: “It’s 3am. I’m halfway up a mountain in total darkness. I climb higher, through the clouds, bursting into a beautiful dawn. It feels like I’m the only man on earth.”

To follow Alan’s midnight adventures and find out more about his book, you can join him on his Facebook page Munro Moonwalker.

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