Alastair Borthwick, The Scotsman Who Made a Literary Splash


There is a romance to the great outdoors that is popular to celebrate, whether one is a true enthusiast or not. For the latter-- that U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once called "nature fakers"--it is enough to wax eloquently over the majesty of creation. For the true believer, however, abundant time in fields and meadows; on mountains and beaches; and among flora and fauna are existential necessities for the spirit, akin to air and water for the body. Alastair Borthwick was one such advocate. What set him apart from the rest was his uncanny talent for conveying that unique spiritual refreshment.


Born on 17 February 1913, the Scotsman made a literary splash in 1939 with the release of Always a Little Further, a powerful volume recalling his time in his homeland's highlands. During the inter-war period, economic hardships were many and unemployment was widespread. Beginning in Germany, and extending through Europe, was a grassroots response first called "Wandervögel"--hiking the uninhabited terrain while drawing inspiration and comfort from the nobility of nature. It was a perfect activity for those long on time and short of funds. In fact, it was this very cultural current that gave rise to the youth hostel movement.

The rigors of his extended time in the out of doors offset the despair of joblessness and financial want, serving as an emotional tonic for Alastair Borthwick, who once observed: "One cannot sweat and worry simultaneously." This epiphany was the impetus for Always a Little Further, now a classic in rustic literature and remains in print to this day. 

Borthwick was born in Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, raised in Troon, Ayrshire and attended high school in Glasgow. As a teenager, he took a job as a copy taker with the Evening Times, later obtaining a position with the Glasgow Weekly Herald. Although he was hired as a reporter by the Daily Mirror in 1935, that organization soon terminated his employment, at which time Borthwick began a storied career in radio broadcasting. Projecting affability and casualness in a format that thrived on sober formalism, he created a niche for himself, attracting an audience impressed by his lack of presumptuousness. 

World War II was a pivotal moment in Alastair Borthwick's life. He immediately attached to 51st Highland Division’s 5th Seaforth Highlanders with whom he saw action in Egypt's Western Desert, Sicily and other parts of Europe. Promoted to the rank of captain, he operated primarily as a battalion intelligence officer, once guiding all 600 men through a web of German positions during an overnight trek. This successful troop movement gave his forces the advantage when daylight broke. Before his military service expired, Borthwick was authorized to write a history of his battalion, which was later published under the title, Sans Peur (Without Fear).

After the war, he and his wife, Anne, had one son and finally settled in South Ayrshire. His trademark humility never left him regardless of his literary and journalistic successes. Eschewing praise and celebration, he defined success as being remembered because "he never broke a deadline and was always printable."

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