Monday, February 4

A good read - Thomas Firbank

During the last few weeks I've read a couple of pieces by Chris Townsend and Weird Darren concerning some of their outdoor literature recommendations. Which reminded me of one of the lesser-known authors. Not specifically walk based reading, but an evocative slice of pre and post war living in the wilder areas of the UK.

In 1931 a young Canadian,
Thomas Firbank, bought a 2,400 acre sheep farm in Dyffryn Mymbyr near Capel Curig covering most of the land to the east of Glyder Fawr. Here he learnt his trade, while celebrating the beauty & reality of life working in Snowdonia. Along the way he married Esme Kirby and found time to be the first to record an ascent of all of the Welsh 3000s in less than 9 hours

He wrote about his experiences in "I Bought a Mountain" and the book turned out to be a huge success despite minimal publicity.

As is my usual approach after enjoying an author's work I started to track down his other writings.

The 1951 follow-up "I Bought a Star" was a real surprise as it described how he left the farm, went to war (winning the Military Star in Italy), and was divorced from Esme. Generously, for those times, he left his ex-wife the marital home, Dyffryn Mymbyr and Esme went on to use this as a base when helping to found the influential Snowdonia Society and later The Esmé Kirby Snowdonia Trust

Meanwhile, on a walking trip to North Wales in the late 1990s I managed to spot the house, that scene of so much activity, from the valley road. At that time it was still occupied by Esme who sadly died a short time afterwards. But this did lead to some related anecdotes appearing on
uk.rec.walking, reinforcing her reputation as a formidable opponent and fierce protector of the Snowdonia landscape.

Firbank's 1953 offering "A Country of Memorable Honour" was back on an UK outdoors theme describing a walking tour through Wales. Once more a remarkably observed slice of rural life at that time.

I'd read the words from the man, visited some of the places he knew, and in some way walked alongside a life reporting on events before I was even born.

And as I closed that book along with Firbank, he was about to move to Japan and a new life. Or so I thought as far as his writing output concerned. It was finished.

Then, three years ago I happened to be browsing amongst the shelves of a notable second hand bookshop, sadly now closed, in Mortonhampstead on Dartmoor.
Firbank's name leapt out as I spotted a new title. Well unknown to me at least.

"Log Hut" (aka "Log Hut, Further Adventures in Home-making") was also first printed in 1953. This described Firbank's life living and working on Dartmoor. Adapting a log cabin for his new family (where did they come from?), and his attempts to reopen and commercially mine a local quarry.

And as I paid for my new treat the bookseller casually mentioned that the Log Hut in question was a short distance away. All very karmic (And although I believe I have traced the location, its one I've yet to see in the flesh)

If you want more information there's an excellent obituary article covering the many facets of Firbank's long life here.

Thomas Joseph Firbank, writer, sheep-farmer, soldier and businessman.
A man who through the written word remains able to speak to us across the many long years since his observations; Still capable of touching others through his description of the of the natural wild areas, and an ability to live amongst it all.

Now that's writing.

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Comments:
Excellent post. Thank you for this.
 
glad to pass on the good news
 
Firbank also wrote a fictional book titled, Bride to the mountain in 1940. Although impossible to find.
 
My husband, myself & our children spent many hours in Capel Curig where Thomas Firbank 'bought his mountain'. We would always visit the region on our many holidays in North Wales. On one of our visits to Capel Curig we came across & bought I Bought a Mountain, a fascinating book reinforcing our love of Snowdonia & expecially of Capel Curig. Our children enjoyed swimming in the valley lakes mentioned in the book which was passed around the family but lost along the way. I am in the process of buying another copy to read again.
 
I am reading the book by thomas firbank i bought a mountain i have stayed in capel curig many times.
 
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