James’ passion for wild places and ‘getting high’ stemmed from several family hill-walks in Wales and Scotland where he remembers surviving midges, rain and being dragged uphill in unsuitable footwear. Scouts and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award camping trips followed and pretty soon it was off to Oxford University and further-flung expeditions to places like Svalbard. An unlikely ascent of Kilimanjaro followed by Aconcagua seamlessly ‘morphed’ into his quest to climb the seven summits.
James’ day time job has always been forestry. A chartered forester with a keen interest in trees, woods and forests, he has worked for the Forestry Commission for 35 years in many roles, including managing England’s largest upland and lowland forests and overseeing grants and regulations in Scotland. He spent two years with the Lesotho woodlot project in southern Africa. Before retiring, he headed up social and planning policy for Forestry Commission Scotland, managing a team of advisors dealing with planning, communities, access, recreation, health, learning and skills. As the owner of small woodland he knows the hands-on challenges – and priceless rewards – of looking after trees.
James’ other books include 'Heritage Trees of Scotland' (a celebration of Scotland’s amazing trees); 'Staring Down on Stars' (an account of his Everest ascent); and 'Adventure Holidays Worldwide' (dedicated to his late Uncle James who died in a climbing accident on the Matterhorn whilst an undergraduate at Balliol College).
After finishing the seven summits James is consoling himself by completing Scotland’s Munros (282 mountains over 3,000ft high) with hill-loving friends. Only 15 to go now (but who’s counting!).
"We were very impressed. The talk was part of a programme of activities after the pupils’ public exams were over. This means that it was a bit of a graveyard slot, since the pupils all wanted to be away from school as soon as possible. Yet James held their attention, and the questions at the end of the formal talk proved that he had engaged the young people’s interest. I talked to James before he gave his presentation. I suggested that the focus might be on the how he made the ascents of all seven peaks happen. The outstanding feature of his story is the determination to see the whole project of seven expeditions through, across a time span of 20 years. It is a lifestyle. I was impressed by the way in which James took this on board and tailored his talk to address this. The talk was more than just an account of some climbing. In particular, his advice about how he dealt with the tensions of living with alpha males and his explanation of how to keep safe were very thought-provoking. He certainly made some of our young people think about living their adult lives more adventurously."– Iain Loudon, Master in Charge of the Post-Exam Programme, Fettes College
"In ‘staring down on stars’ James has captured some of that beauty, some of those wonders. He has helped a deserving charity along the way. And I have no doubt that he has learned much from his experience. I commend his account to you."– Chris Bonington, Celebrity Climber
"...thank you very much indeed for a most interesting, clearly structured and well illustrated presentation yesterday evening. This was our best attended RSGS talk so far this session. You managed to attract several from the local climbing fraternity in addition to at least four students as well as our regulars. I hope you had a safe journey home and that things go well in Helensburgh tonight."– John Blease, Secretary, RSGS Ayr Centre
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