Book Review: High and Low – How I Hiked Away From Depression Across Scotland by Keith Foskett

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‘Dark clouds had formed overnight, obscuring the summit of Beinn Aird da Loch, and a fierce wind roared. Now the bothy walls screamed in surrender. Rain rattled the roof and water cascaded down.’

With all of Keith Foskett’s travel adventure books, you feel like you’re walking beside him. He’s brutally honest about the places he passes through, the people he encounters and himself. And often he achieves this with his distinct overtone of humour, often self-effacing. But as Foskett’s latest trail progresses through the wilds of Scotland we slowly discover that there’s something that he’s less aware of, or perhaps not prepared to admit to. That is, he might suffer from depression.

As ever with Foskett’s writing we’re swiftly immersed in his new world through colourful language and strong visuals. And in High and Low I was soon taken away with the rugged Highlands and its cosy towns that Foskett passes through. And throughout the book, I continually felt Scotland’s echoes. I could have chosen many passages, but this one illustrates this nicely, “it’s the rivers that have caught me by surprise. So many of them, cascading through valleys, racing towards the coast. The noise is deafening, crashing and foaming, roaring over jagged rocks.”

And as is typical of travel literature, the author will occasionally highlight the history of the places he visits. But it’s used sparingly and never as a device to fill more pages. And anecdotes from his past adventures drift into the story, but they help move it forward by giving the reader a deeper understanding of himself and why he reacts the way he does to the situations he finds himself in.

Foskett’s latest long distance walk begins on the Cape Wrath Trail (CWT) in Scotland, a hike that we soon learn is physically demanding but made tougher by relentless rain and subsequent mud trails. It’s rough but he survives its hardest stages, and if it wasn’t for that fact that Foskett had already revealed that he was diagnosed with depression after this journey, we’d sooner dismiss his mood swings to dealing with the physical challenges of the trail itself. I’m sure it would have broken many an experienced hiker.

And this is where the story ticks up another level. A chance encounter with a fellow hiker and what Foskett learns about her seems to resonate with some aspects of his own experiences. And its on the gentler final stages of the CWT and the beginnings of his second trail across Scotland, the West Highland Way, with its easier terrain that Foskett begins to make some connections about how his state of mind may have negatively impacted him not only on his present journey but may have been doing so throughout his life.

Now a new character of a kind is introduced to Foskett’s journey – his doppelgänger is pacing him in the shadows. If I say any more I’ll end up spoiling the story but from here on in, the expedition takes on another dimension.

I love adventure memoirs; good ones introduce us to real people and places and often motivate us to get into the world and explore it for ourselves. And Foskett’s latest adventure definitely succeeds in doing this. But it also addresses something that many adventurers would never have the courage to face or even consider. That they may be living with a mental illness, such as depression.

The last part of the book offers an insightful checklist of how to live with depression. But the advice is valid for anyone who wants to make improvements in their life and not be held back by things that often seem beyond their control. And it’s just as worthy as a self-help book as it is a travel book. It’s a brave story that will have you laughing, crying and may even enlighten.

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