The ‘agony and ‘ecstasy’ of the Scottish islands

Below is the text of a very recent review for Isles at the Edge of the Sea, written by Lee Allen, the man behind – a neatly-presented website packed with enthusiastic information on the islands of Scotland.

Having been to many of the islands that Jonny has visited, I approached this book with a certain amount of interest. The book involves a mammoth 3 month journey travelling around 18 Scottish Islands from Arran in the south to St Kilda in the far north of the Hebrides.

Visiting islands is a very personal experience. Some islands you will instantly fall in love with, some islands may take a little longer to show their charms. Jonny tries his best to embellish each islands uniqueness, but his prose underlies a favouritism for certain islands.

For example, the chapters on Berneray and St Kilda are full of love for the subject. Conversely, he does not seem to have much time for Barra, although this seems entirley weather-related! Some chapters are long and descriptive, such as the chapters on Berneray/St Kilda, whereas the chapter on Canna is relatively small and light. This seems to echo the amount of time that Jonny spends on each island.

The book is written in a reverential way, with the islands of the Hebrides as the star of the show. Jonny’s scatter-gun approach to visiting islands extolls travel as travel was intended to be. Namely, without planning every step in finite detail. Interspersed with musings on each island are details, often painfully described, of Jonny’s efforts when competing in several races such as the Isle of Jura Fell Race.

By completing these arduous feats of physical endurance, Jonny seemed to discover himself and his environment by trying to make life as difficult for himself as possible. Not for him the cosiness of a power shower or the comfiness of a memory foam mattress. Jonny’s luxuries consisted of a tent, a sleeping bag and whatever is closest to hand to fight the midges off with.

Indeed, one of the highlights of the book is Jonny’s ‘fight to the death’ with the midges on Rum, or as Jonny remarks, “Goliath versus countless Davids”. Jonny makes the cardinal sin of not removing all the midges from his hair as he enters his tent and his tale of the way he defeats the midges makes for bloodthirsty reading.

All in all this is an excellent book and comes highly recommended from myself. The book gives a snapshot of the agony, but more often the ecstasy that is involved in visiting the Scottish Islands. It is one man’s physical and emotional journey, laced with humour, that will have you booking your Island Rover ticket and looking for the most waterproof tent you can find.

Isles at the Edge of the Sea is available here.

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