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The Thursday Post: Burn After Reading, or This Book Might Save Your Life

The makers of a new book, Shelter Stone –The Artist and The Mountain, must be among the few publishers ever to recommend burning the book - if your safety is endangered, anyway. Delivered to each of the 103 bothies in Great Britain that are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA), Shelter Stone –The Artist and The Mountain features contributions by many poets. In our new blog, the publishers discuss the book's genesis.

If you chance upon one of the 103 bothies in Great Britain that are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association  you might also become the first person to find a new book delivered to these remote shelters - a 66-page limited edition publication, that might just save a life – even if it means setting fire to it.                                                                 

Shelter Stone –The Artist and The Mountain features contributions by forty-six artists and writers. Each offering this newsprint publication to the visitor, not only an informative cultural reference of our understanding of the mountain landscape, but as importantly, as a survivalist tool for the walker or climber holed up in a bothy or shelter in bad weather. As a fire lighter, boot drier, draught excluder or toilet paper. Fire, water, wind, earth.

Launched at mid-summer in the heart of the Cairngorms under the Shelter Stone, a massive boulder weighing over 1,300 tons and regarded as the most iconic mountain refuge in the UK. It has been in use since 1794 where the Statistical Account mentions it as a sanctuary for ‘freebooters’. The oldest surviving climbing club in Scotland, The Cairngorm Club, was formed under the stone in 1887 for ‘the admission of men and women of heroic spirit and possessed souls open to the influences of nature pure and simple amongst our loftiest mountains’. There is even records of Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald spending a night there.

The project is led by Edward Summerton, artist and part time lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Dundee, who is working in partnership with the MBA and volunteers, delivering the publications between mid-summer 2017 and mid-summer 2018. The MBA, who must have the toughest paper round in the UK, is a fifty-year-old voluntary organisation who maintain simple unlocked shelters in remote locations across rural Britain for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places. Neil Stewart, their Publicity Coordinator said ‘A night spent in a bothy is a wonderful experience and can greatly enhance appreciation of our mountain heritage. Shelter Stone will add to that experience and I am sure that those who come across a copy will be both fascinated and delighted with its contents.’

Although the publication boasts an incredible range of contributors, not all invited artists and writers were so keen in having their work represented in such a lo-fi format as newsprint, especially offered as possible toilet paper. The writer and poet John Glenday, currently residing in the Scottish Highlands on the north shore of Loch Ness and involved with selecting the writers for the project states “This is art and literature being useful, for once. Shelter Stone was conceived not just as a work of art, but also as a ‘survivalist tool’, that’s why it was published as a newsprint publication. As a writer, I’m weary of folk asking me what use poetry has in the modern world. Now I can tell them it’s for scrunching up and lighting the fire; or stuffing into sodden walking boots at the end of the day, or cramming under the door to keep out the rain. Best of all, it’s for reading the stories, relishing the artwork and then sitting back and enjoying the most exclusive and tasteful toilet tissue in the British Isles.”

The publication predominantly features artists and writers spanning the past five decades, but interestingly includes an early drawing by another Loch Ness resident, Aleister Crowley. One of the most notorious figures of twentieth century counter-culture, he was one of the earliest members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and would have held council with the likes of Sir Hugh Munro, the clubs’ founding member and compiler of lists of Scottish mountains over 3000 feet. Crowley pioneered several Alpine and South American routes, was involved in the first (failed) attempt of K2, yet reached the highest recorded altitude of a European climber, and with his climbing partner of the day Oscar Eckenstein, helped design what is considered to be the modern crampon.

Marcel Duchamp, stated in 1964 that “the great man of tomorrow in the way of art cannot be seen, should not be seen, and should go underground.”  What then could be more underground than Shelter Stone –The Artist and The Mountain? An almost invisible, ephemeral public art work, launched under a 1,364-ton boulder, a day’s walk from anywhere in the highlands of Scotland, offering to be burnt after reading.

List of writers:
Alec Finlay 
Bill Duncan
Helen Mort 
Jen Cooper
Jen Hadfield
John Glenday
Kenneth White
Linda Cracknell
Lindsay Macgregor
Phoebe Smith
Fergus Walker

Artists include:
Aleister Crowley   
Graeme Todd
Hanna Tuulikki
Hannah Imlach
Ilana Halperin
Jasmine Summerton
Jessica Ramm
John Maclean
Julius Koller
Kevin Henderson
Lara Orman
Mark Hunter
Mick Peter
Museum of Loss and Renewal
Norman Shaw
Paul Fleming
Rabiya Choudhry
Seton and Audrey Gordon
The Armchair Mountaineering Club
Tim Knowles
Timothy Neat
Will Maclean
Georgia Rose Murray

Category: poems, poets, travels