Posted by: billpurdue | August 25, 2014

Books in the far north west of Scotland

It’s been summer holiday time and that’s why I’ve made no postings recently. Like many people I’ve been away and my destination this year was the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, a truly magical place and one I would definitely recommend people to visit. As it’s a mainly sparsely populated area, you wouldn’t expect to find a bookshop or indeed many places that actually sell books. Well that’s mainly true, but if it’s local books you’re after, then you’ll find a selection at a tourist information centre, gift shop or even a humble post office. In Stornoway, the medium sized town and sea port there is a good bookshop: Baltic Books in the centre of town, right opposite the well stocked public library, which happens to have a very nice café.


Lewis and HarrisThere’s no shortage of books about the local area as well as local history publications. I came back with three books, the first one being “Lewis and Harris” by Francis Thompson, one of a series of David and Charles colourful guide books (they used to be called Pevensey Guides). It’s full of colour photos and plenty of accompanying text about the history and geography of the islands. I bought this title as a souvenir rather than a guide to what to see since it was first published back in 1999, and reprinted, but not revised, several times. There are several other titles in the series on different areas of Scotland, all using the same format.



cm cover duncansby.qxdPossibly one of the best guide books with reasonably up to date information is “The Outer Hebrides Guide Book” by Charles Tait. Again this is one of a series, which are all, according to the blurb on the back cover, “photographed, designed and written by the author”. This is a mine of information about the islands. In its pages are numerous maps, short chapters about the geology, culture, history and natural history of the Outer Hebrides, plus other chapters on each of the islands and the outlying islands including St. Kilda and the Flannan Isles. There are also sections on shopping and eating out, accommodation, walks and several itineraries


Charles Tait has also produced guide books for Shetland, Orkney, Skye, the North Highlands and Dorset (!!). I can thoroughly recommend the Outer Hebrides Guide Book- very good value at £12.99.


VatersayThe third book I bought is “The Vatersay Raiders”by Ben Buxton. Vatersay (Bhatarsaigh in Gaelic) is the southernmost inhabited island of the Hebrides. At the beginning of the 20th century the island was owned by Lady Cathcart, who lived in Aberdeenshire and employed a farmer and his workers to manage the island. The ‘raiders’ (or invaders) were desperate for some land on which to grow crops and had built huts and planted potatoes on Vatersay without permission. Ten of them were hauled before the court in Edinburgh to face charges. These events had enormous significance in the history of crofting and this book tells the story of these men and explains the background and the earlier history of the island.


image.phpI did consider a fourth book: “The Soap Man: Lewis, Harris and Lord Leverhulme” by Roger Hutchinson. In 1918, Lord Leverhulme decided to purchase the whole of the Isle of Lewis and shortly after the Isle of Harris. His intention was to revolutionise the lives of the islands’ 30,000 inhabitants, but he didn’t reckon on the opposition of the islanders. I’ll see if my local library can get that one for me.


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