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back to Book Reviews

The Riddle of Sphinx Rock: The Life and Times of Great Gable by Ronald Turnbull
Millrace Books – ISBN 1-902173-19-8 -

The Riddle of Sphynx RockAW wrote in his introductory note to Great Gable in Book 7, The Western Fells: ‘If Great Gable were known only as Wasdale Fell fewer persons would climb it.’ He also said, ‘The name has status, and confers status’. And without doubt, Great Gable is one of the best known and most climbed of the fells in the Lake District. It stands proudly at the head of Wasdale in that picture postcard view, looking northwards up the lake, flanked by Kirk Fell on the left and Lingmell on the right.

This book, written by Ronald Turnbull, well known for his Long Days in Lakeland, which was highly commended in the 1999 Lakeland Book of the year awards, is an exploration of the mountain that AW put amongst his finest half-dozen fells in his concluding notes to Book7. It contains eleven main routes for walkers, as opposed to the six given by AW, plus its scrambles and its climbs. It also is a study of what it means to be a mountain in today’s world. There are details of Wordsworth’s Wheel of Fells, and Fanny Mercer and her alpenstock technique since one of the routes crosses the slopes of Fleetwith Pike on its way to Gable’s summit (see the article ‘A Peculiar Death’ on page 00 of this issue). The book gives a fascinating insight to the Westmorland Cairn, the Wadd Holes and Great Hell Gate Pillar; here also are two sorts of stones, the landscape experience called the Sublime, and the blood chemistry of an ascent of Aaron Slack.

Life, death and fellwalking: the great questions all ask themselves on Great Gable. And the first amongst those questions is the Riddle of Sphinx Rock: what did we come up here for anyway?

This is a cracking read for anyone who loves Gable and the area between Wasdale and Borrowdale. At 184 pages long and about the same size as the Pictorial Guides, it will snuggle up nicely next to them for an evening’s read when you are really longing to be on the slopes of Gable itself.

reviewed by John Burland - Member No. 2