Andrew, tell me a bit about yourself to start us off.
I was born and raised in County Down and I went to school here too. Like many of my school friends, I went to England after leaving school where I trained to be a lawyer. After spells in London, Italy and Singapore, I returned to County Down and have lived here ever since. I met my wife in Belfast and we have two kids who love Northern Ireland.
And where did you grow up?
In the glorious countryside of the Ards peninsula. Today we live a stone’s throw from my childhood home and the area has changed very little. Perhaps a few more houses than before but it is still a fabulous place to bring up children. We can see the Mournes from our kitchen window so our kids learnt to recognise the peaks from a young age.
Over the past decade or so, we have holidayed each year in the Briançonnais which is a stunning region of the French Alps, right next to the Écrins National Park. It is almost entirely unknown to the English speaking world: the French are clever, keeping the best of the country for themselves! I got to know the region extremely well from the point of view of the hiker. In 2014, I got talking to a French couple in a remote mountain hut in the Écrins. They did not know the area well and so I told them some of what I knew. After an hour of this conversation, I realised that I knew quite a lot about the area and it occurred to me that I should write the first English walking guide to the area. I pitched the idea to a UK publisher of walking guidebooks and they liked the idea. And so it was that I wrote my first book: ‘Walking in the Briançonnais’.
I did it as a hobby really. At the time, I gave little thought to whether it would sell or not. I just wanted to write a book. I loved doing it. My training as a lawyer helped massively with the writing aspect of the book. And I was always pretty keen on taking landscape photographs. However, when the book was published I felt that we could have made a better book with bigger pictures and better maps. I pondered this for a few years and in 2018 I started to wonder if maybe I could make better guidebooks myself. So I quit working as a lawyer to set up Knife Edge Outdoor Guidebooks. Our slogan is ‘Mountains are beautiful so guidebooks should be too’. Unlike many existing publishers, we have embraced modern graphic design and technology in the making of our books. All the books have real maps with the routes marked upon them. And they are more colourful than many other books: edge to edge photographs and modern graphics.
How many books have you written and what are they about?
I would not be telling the truth if I did not admit that the trekking itself is part of the motivation. I am an outdoor person but I spent 22 years working indoors. A writer of walking guidebooks is fortunate enough to spend some of the year walking in the mountains. But really that is only a small part of my time: the writing of the books is much more time consuming than the walking of the routes. So the thrill of writing and love for mountains needs to motivate the writer too. The writer’s enthusiasm and passion needs to come across in the books. For me, the delight of holding the finished book, filled with my photos, is something to be savoured.
Tell us about your newest book. What makes it different?
My latest book is ‘The Mourne Mountains’. Unlike previous books, my book has all the real OSNI 1:25,000 maps inside. We have marked the routes on these real maps. Furthermore, we have added numbered waypoint to the maps which link to the text: this makes it easy for you to find out where you are. The book also has edge to edge colour which we think is a big departure from previous books. I am very proud of the photos in the book which are the product of many years of work.
Where do you most enjoy getting outdoors in Northern Ireland yourself? Do you have a favourite spot?
Without a doubt, the Mourne region is my favourite part of this amazing little country. However, there are other places I love too. My wife is from Tyrone so we enjoy walking in the Sperrins. I am also a passionate mountain biker and in recent years we have been spoilt with the investment which has gone into this sport in Northern Ireland. I love the biking parks that have been created in Davagh and Castlewellan Forest Parks.
In your opinion, what sets Northern Ireland apart from other places in the world in terms of its landscape?
I have hiked and trekked all over the world and yet I still return to the Mournes time and time again. It is exceptional. And there is nothing quite like the Mourne Wall. This structure was painstakingly built by hand and it completely circumnavigates the range. Although it is a man-made structure, it somehow fits perfectly. It helps make the range an unforgettable place to hike.
How can people buy your new book?
It is available at Knifeedgeoutdoor.com which offers free UK delivery. International delivery is also available and this is very reasonably priced. Alternatively, it is available from Amazon and the other online retailers. Over the coming months, it will find its way into shops all over the UK and Ireland.