BOOK REVIEW

 

THE SCOTTISH ISLANDS
By Hamish Haswell Smith

 

‘The Scottish Islands’ is the first book to cover Scotland’s many hundreds of islands, including those which are uninhabited and those which are very difficult to reach.  The book has an easy to follow style and is split into 12 sections:

1. Solway Firth to Firth of Clyde
2. Mull of Kintyre to Firth of Lorn
3. Mull and surrounding islands
4. The Small Isles
5. Islands surrounding Skye
6. Gairloch to the North Coast
7. Outer Hebrides, South of the Sound of Harris
8. Outer Hebrides, The Sound of Harris and North
9. The Atlantic Outliers
10. The North Coast and the Orkney Islands
11. Fair Isle and the Shetland Islands
12. The East Coast

Hamish Haswell Smith’s definition of islands is very strict. An island is defined as at least 40 hectares in size, permanently surrounded by water and not perrmanently connected to land. This means that islands such as Skye and Scalpay are excluded from the list because of their bridges, even though it is quite possible to circumnavigate them with a mast up. However, Smith does cover these islands (and other special cases such as Staffa) in the Appendix.

Each of the above 12 sections is then split down into the relevant islands. There is a map for each island displaying anchorages and map references. Also covered are History of the island, Area, Height, Current and previous owners, Population, Geology, Wildlife and most importantly Access, as well as a general description of the island and any interesting features. Everything you could possibly want to know! Smith also completes beautiful hand-drawn watercolour sketches of interesting attractions on the island, whether that be a ruined church on Pabbay or a Broch on Mousa.

For people serious about island hopping or as an instrument to leisurely travel around the Scottish Islands, this book is indispensible. The book is a monumnetal labour of love that highlights the author’s own passion for island hopping with his skill as a a painter and artist (some of his sketches and paintings have been exhibited in top British and European galleries). No other book comes close to emulating the range and depth of the information contained within ‘The Scottish Islands’. If there is one book to buy to fuel your passion for island hopping then this is it! My only criticism is the size and weight of the book. At nearly A4 size and a sizeable weight, it is not the easiest book to use as a handy refernce guide. Maybe there is scope for a paperback version in the future.

One of the main ways that I use this book is when travelling on a ferry between islands. The book is great for detailing hithero unknown islands (such as in the Sound of Harris) that I would sail past without knowing anything about them. In the decade since its original publication, the book has been hailed as ‘the Rosetta Stone of island-hopping’ and has established itself as a must-read for yachtsmen in Caledonian waters. All in all, this book is highly recommended and should be one of the first books anyone buys, if they are seriously interested in the Scottish Islands.