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An Interview with Jim Perrin, author of 'Snowdon' - The Biography Of A Mountain

user image 2016-07-08
By: AmeriCymru
Posted in: Author Interviews

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From the Wikipedia :- "Born Ernest James Perrin in Manchester, he has lived in Wales, England and France on occasions, from where he contributed to the Guardian Country Diary. Before turning to writing, he worked in Cwm pennant as a shepherd.  As a writer, he has made regular contributions to a number of newspapers and climbing magazines. As a climber, he has developed new routes, as well as making solo ascents of a number of established routes."

AmeriCymru spoke to Jim about his new book Snowdon: The Story of a Welsh Mountain'



AmeriCymru:   It is evident from your book that you have visited Snowdon on many occasions. How would you describe your relationship with the mountain?

Jim: Long-standing, intimate and passionate – also a marriage of mind as well as body. There are so many dimensions to the mountain that I find fascinating. And it is, of course, extraordinarily beautiful.

AmeriCymru:  Care to describe your book ''Snowdon'' for our readers? What inspired you to write it?

Jim: In a sense it’s a biography of the mountain, in that there’s an element of recounting chronological “life” story. It’s highly discursive, certainly not a guidebook, and it tries to explain and depict as many elements relevant to the mountain as possible within the relatively short space of 240 pages – from geology, physical form and folklore through to its importance as contemporary recreational focus.

AmeriCymru:  In your book you explain that Snowdon is a special mountain for the Welsh. In what sense has it been special historically?

Jim: The highest point of any nation always has significance – mythically, oropolitically. Think of your own Mount Whitney in the contiguous states. To the Welsh, Eryri – the mountainous region around Snowdon – has long been a cultural and linguistic heartland. In earlier times it was the chief resistant region against the English colonists – think of Gwynedd, where Eryri’s to be found, as a Helmand province of its time. This is why Edward 1 made such a point of holding a feast on Snowdon summit in 1284, after the defeat of Llew Olaf and the execution of his brother Dafydd. The line of Gwynedd destroyed, or so he thought, to appropriate their most potent physical symbol was crucial to his imperial aspirations. But since you can never conquer a mountain, Snowdon (the Saxon name curiously appears to be older than any extant Welsh one) emerged from the cloud it had been put under by Edward’s militarism and somehow grew into a resistant symbol of Welsh nationhood.

 AmeriCymru:  Can you tell us a little more about the folklore surrounding the mountain?

Jim: There isn’t another mountain in Britain that has so rich and various a folklore, from abounding tales of the faery folk that perhaps have their origin in some collective-unconscious memory of encounters with an older race of inhabitants here as Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages overlapped and succeeded each other, to the wealth of association with what became known, after it had migrated to early-medieval Europe, as “The Matter of Britain”. These were the stories centring around Arthur and Merlin that Sir Thomas Malory codified in Le Morte Darthur (excuse Malory’s French!). It seems  highly likely that their early emergence had some connection with the Snowdon region, where they locate very precisely at certain sites like Dinas Emrys in Nant Gwynen (the name of which was changed by a later generation of colonialists, the English Ordnance Survey, to that tautological abomination “Nant Gwynant”, as which it remains on maps to the present day).

 AmeriCymru:  Which of the six best known paths to the summit do you prefer? Which would you recommend to the first time visitor?

Jim: My recommendation as a relatively straightforward introduction would be for a circuit, taking the Snowdon Ranger path from Cwellyn in ascent, which is long and easy and takes you over the crest of Snowdon’s finest cliff, Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, and then following the Bwlch Main ridge in descent, which leads you down to Rhyd Ddu, only a short step from your starting point, and gives you the best views out west to beautiful lesser hills along the Lleyn Peninsula, with a sea at either hand. Both routes are replete with association from the early literature of the mountain – Thomas Johnson, Pennant, Coleridge, Wordsworth and so on.

AmeriCymru:  Where in your opinion is the most satisfying rock climbing to be found on Snowdon?

Jim: No problem answering that! Clogwyn Du’r Arddu on the northern flank is by common consent the finest cliff in Britain, the rock-climbing on it magnificently characterful and varied. But high, serious, technical, and not a place where beginners are advised to try their hand too immediately!

AmeriCymru:  In your chapter ''The starting Of The Wild Idea'' there are a number of excerpts from accounts of visits to Snowdon. How prominent a role did Snowdon play in the 18th century revival of interest in the ''sublime of nature''?

Jim: It provided a perfect paradigm for Burke’s hugely influential aesthetics essay of 1757, “A  Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” , which underpinned the Romantic movement that welled up towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. All the early travellers here saw it thus – Pennant and Wordsworth, who borrowed from him in true Cambridge copyist  tradition, particularly. With the increasing difficulties involved in continental travel during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, Snowdon’s relative accessibility made the mountain very fashionable indeed.

AmeriCymru:  Where can people go online to buy ''Snowdon''?

Jim: The book’s published by one of the great Welsh institutions, Gwasg Gomer of Llandysul, and a fabulous job they’ve done too on the production and design, from the handmade Italian endpapers to the exquisite Sion Ilar cover illustration. So buying it direct from Gomer seems a good way to keep the faith    

 AmeriCymru:  What''s next for Jim Perrin? 

Jim: My next book’s already out, as of March 2013 – it’s called Shipton and Tilman: The Great Decade of Himalayan Exploration (Hutchinson, £25), and is about the quirky 1930s friendship between the two men who, venturesome eco-conscious ragamuffins that they were, became the model and ideal for ethical mountain activity thereafter. Of all my books, it’s the one I’ve most enjoyed writing! I wanted to call it “The Spies Who Invented the Yeti” (they were, and they did), but the publishers thought best to play straight. At the moment I’m working on a collection of stories – my first attempt at fiction. It’s due out from the little Welsh publishing house of Cinnamon Press in the fall of 2013 under the title of A Snow Goose and other stories . Next after that is a critical biography of the major Victorian miscellaneous prose writer George Borrow, who’ll be known to AmeriCymru followers as the author of Wild Wales – the best book of travel ever published about any part of the British Isles, and one of the strangest too.

AmeriCymru:  Any final message for the members and readers of AmeriCymru?

Jim: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters”, and get your asses over to Wales asap to see what Snowdon’s like for yourselves. Pick up on the clues in my book, though, on how to stay away from the crowds, and study the O.S. 1:25,000 map very carefully, even though it is a product of the English military establishment. See you there among the clouds! 

  Works by Jim Perrin on Amazon