TAC 30 Index
by Hamish Haswell-Smith Canongate, 1996, #25,
xxiii+423pp, ISBN 0 86241 579 9
After reading a rave review of this book I reserved it from the library, which was a complete waste of 50p because as soon as I opened the book I knew that I had to possess it. Twenty-five quid might seem quite expensive but this book lists 165 islands and a quick calculation shows the price to be little more than 15p per island, which is less than the cost of a pee at Buchanan bus station (a particularly sore point with this reviewer).
The preface contains the provocative words "'Collecting' islands isn't easy anywhere but Scottish islands present a particularly difficult, but exciting challenge - much harder than the collection of mere mountains". Nevertheless there will be many mountain lovers who relish this volume although it is perhaps aimed primarily at sailors.
Marilyn-baggers in particular, of which elite (?) company this reviewer admits membership, will find it invaluable since no less than 45 of these islands have at least one Marilyn. The discrepancy between this figure and Alan Dawson's 53 is explained as follows:
The author admits that his original intention was to produce an island list to rival Munro's mountain list. Since the number of rocks around the Scottish coast must run into thousands, some arbitrary lower limit had to be set on size, and an area of 40 hectares was chosen. A few particularly significant smaller isles such as Staffa and Bass Rock feature in appendices, along with a few other well known islands which are disqualified because they can be walked to dryshod, including Skye of course! Although it might seem perverse to exclude Skye from a list of Scottish islands, in the context of this book it is perhaps quite sensible. The large islands cannot really be covered comprehensively and are anyway well documented elsewhere.
The delight of this volume is its coverage of obscure places like Muldonaich, an island with the distinction of comprising the lowest summit in Alan Blanco's list. There is a wealth of information about the history, geology and wildlife of each island together with a map, suggested anchorages and, perhaps most valuable of all, access information. Only occasionally is a specific walk suggested but this will be no hardship to TAC readers all of whom are known to be skilled route finders and accomplished map readers (a few one suspects more interested in cartographical pedantry than in actually climbing anything).
Being unfamiliar with most of these islands I cannot comment on the accuracy of the bulk of the information. The quality and layout of the book inspire confidence although one weird misprint has crept into what may well be the first port of call for TAC readers. The list of islands in descending height order is in fact headed "area in feet"! Moreover this table contains another far more serious error, perpetuating the fallacy in all the tourist literature that Ward Hill is the highest summit on Orkney Mainland. Well, talking of tables, this book is a must for the well equipped coffee table, along with the latest issue of TAC of course. In lieu of glossy pictures, of which there are zero, it is illustrated by the author's delightful sketches. Certainly, weighing in at more than 1.6kg, it is inappropriate for the rucksack, except for those fanatics who train by running up hills with boulders in their packs.
A draft copy of this review provoked a "politics of envy" type reaction from your Editor, ranting on about the non-egalitarian nature of sailing as opposed to walking. Well personally, as someone who feels queasy on the Derwentwater launch and considers the Skye bridge and the Channel tunnel to be among the greatest advances of the decade, I have no problems with people owning boats; though owning islands is another matter!
TAC 30 Index