Author Interview: Iain Cameron, The Vanishing Ice

August 26, 2021 3 min read

Iain Cameron sits under a remarkable snow tunnel at Beinn Bhrotain in the Cairngorms

Iain Cameron is a citizen scientist and has written more than twenty scientific papers for the Royal Meteorological Society’s Weather journal; and he is the co-author of Cool Britannia (2010), a book examining the history of snow patches in Britain during the Little Ice Age. Iain discovered his passion for snow patches at the age of nine when he looked out of his living room window and caught a glimpse of a shining patch of brilliant white on the distant Ben Lomond. Since then, he has made it his life's work and has had work featured in the Guardian, the Independent and the Sunday Times, and is a regular contributor to the Times and the BBC. In this interview, Iain tells us about his love of snow patches and offers advice for anyone wanting to learn more about them.

Iain Cameron exploring inside a snow patch

Iain exploring inside a snow patch © Iain Cameron

In the book you describe seeing a familiar snow patch as like visiting an elderly relative, is it this emotional attachment that draws you back to the hills time and again?

Partly, yes. Because patches of snow tend to sit in the same place every year, and even take the same shape, there's a level of familiarity to the observer. Over time an almost irrational attachment to it arises. It's a hard thing to explain!

Has the surge in media reporting of snow patches corresponded with a greater awareness of climate change or do you think more and more people are becoming fascinated with them too? Just browsing Twitter, conversations about snow patches seem to be happening on an almost daily basis.

I think it's a combination of both these things. Many people were unaware of how beautiful these patches are when in close proximity to them, and so when photos appear showing some of them with snow tunnels it fascinates them. This is a relatively recent thing. When allied to increased awareness of climate change, it makes for an elevated level of interest.

Can you recall a particularly memorable day out in the hills, or what would the ideal day look like?

There have been so many memorable days that it's hard to pick one that really stands out. The trip to Garbh Choire Mor with Ed Byrne was fascinating, for a variety of reasons. Equally, the trip to Ben Nevis in September 2016, to see the huge tunnels there with photographer Murdo MacLeod, was exceptional.

If somebody wanted to go on their own snow patch hunt, where in Scotland and the rest of the UK are they likely to be able to see them in the summer months?

The Cairngorms are the most reliable place to see snow in summer. A trip to the top of Ben Macdui will almost always be rewarded with a view of patches at some point. The same is true for Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg arete. 

Marching towards the snow, high on a Cairngorms hill

Marching towards the snow, high on a Cairngorms hill © Murdo MacLeod

You mention in the book that you browse social media for photos of snow patches that people might have taken and then you can use that information to record how long a snow patch has lasted in a particular area. If somebody wanted to help record information about a snow patch, where should they send their findings?

To my Twitter feed at @theiaincameron, or at the Snow Patches in Scotland Facebook page.

What do our hills and mountains mean to you?

Everything. From the Quantock Hills in Somerset to Torridon on the west coast of Scotland, all of our hill ranges have helped define who we are as a country, and give huge scope for exploration and contemplation.

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