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Book reviews: Three different views of Scotland

Written by Fiona May 15 2012

I have been sent a few books, and they fit an outdoorsy theme. Here I give my reviews of the books.

Halcyon in the Hebrides

by Bob Orrell

After 60 years of sailing in Scotland, Bob Orrell decided to single handedly sail his boat Halcyon 1000 miles around stunning islands and seas lochs of Western Scotland. He set sail, from Fairlie on the Clyde, around the Mull of Kintyre via numerous inner islands to Barra in the Outer Hebrides and to the Atlantic side of the islands. In total he anchored at 50 different places.

Along the way, the author rejoiced and grimaced through Scotland’s changeable weather; met fascinating people and visited places with fabulous stories, enjoyed adventures and described Scotland’s amazing western coastline through a sailor’s eyes.

Bob is a lovely writer and brings to life the atmosphere and sights of his intrepid expedition around one of the most stunning coastal areas of Scotland. Part descriptive and part informative, the book offers as much to the armchair reader as to the sailor who fancies setting off to follow his route.

I would have loved to have seen more photographs and to have had the pictures dispersed liberally through the book but  it is still easy enough to find yourself lost in Bob’s words and descriptions, so little is lost in so many pages of text.

The Halcyon in the Hebrides is published by Whittles Publishing, priced £16.99.


by Peter Friend

This is an enlightening book looking at many of the famous landscapes of Scotland. As Peter writes: “The pleasure of enjoying a landscape is greatly increased and deepened by developing some feeling for the events in the history of the Earth that may have caused it.”

Don’t worry, as you do not have to be a qualified geologist or an expert on landscape and nature to understand this book. This is a revealing guide that offers a wealth of insight for the average person, who IS interested in Scotland’s landscapes. Equally, it would offer a huge amount of info for the expert, or perhaps even a geography student.

The book is logically split in different areas of Scotland and explains why, for example, Glencoe has its magnificent mountains, while the Scottish Borders are rolling. And why the islands in the north west differ from those in the south west of Scotland.

Famous landmark landscapes are also explored. For example, there is the columnar jointing on the isle of Staffa (Fingal’s Cave) has long fascinated all those who visit. If you haven’t been to Staffa, then perhaps you have seen a similar rock formation at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.  But do you know why the rocks are formed as they are or why the same formations are seen at Staff and in Northern Ireland? Peter describes how this rock formation has been created here, and in other places, and making it simple to understand the forces of nature on the land.

Photographs, digital displays and graphics greatly enhance the book and make it easier to show how the landscape has changed over many millions of years.

I am not sure I would pick up this book and read it from start to finish but I have been interested enough to dip into it and find out more about some of my favourite areas of Scotland, and also to discover why some places look as they do.

This would be a recommended coffee table book, especially as so many of us turn to reading books on Kindle and iPads.

Scotland is Published by Collins, priced £65 for the signed hardback version and £30 for paperback.

The Natural Explorer: Understanding Your Landscape

by Tristan Gooley

Although this book might sound similar to Peter Friend’s Scotland it isn’t! Tristan’s is a more contemplative book and his approach sees the reader exploring the landscape as people would from generations ago,  by sun, moon, stars and natural phenomena. Inspiration is also taken from past travellers and there are entertaining anecdotes thrown in among Tristan’s own travels.

He aims to reveal why “some travel experiences thrill us while others leave us cold”. Tristan reckons that it’s possible to enrich every journey through the landscape simply by increased awareness of our surroundings and understanding the “subtle connections between the land, sky and landscape”.

Tristan has organised the book, not in regions (it covers the whole of the UK) but Senses, Plants, Mountains, Coast, Valleys of ice, Animals, Light, Sky, Weather, Colour etc.

Readers will easily lose themselves in the reverie, but I might have liked a few more pictures. Perhaps I’m a bit shallow but I always enjoy a few pictures to accompany a book that talks so vividly about nature and the landscape.

The Natural Explorer  is published by Hodder, priced £16.99

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