Luath Press, 2003, xx+228pp. ISBN 0 9464878 5 5, £8.99.
WHEN OUR ESTEEMED Editor mentioned this book, I was keen to have a look at it. I've lived on Skye for 24 years (nearly half my life - aaargh!) and, although I know the island's coastline intimately from the sea due to 12 years of clam-diving, I don't know it all from the shore side. Then when the Ed sent the book he mentioned that he'd looked up the section of coastline where I live and found that Mr Dempster had skipped that bit. This, as I was to find, wasn't the only short cut.
For someone who has visited Skye "many times" over the last 25 years, Dempster is surprisingly ig- norant of some things. For instance, he spots a line of buoys in Loch Eishort and is astonished to hear that they are part of a mussel farm: "I had had no idea of the existence of mussel farms but there obviously was a livelihood to be made from the business." He gets quite a few things wrong, either through insufficient research or through believing tales from the wrong locals. The Pier Hotel in Portree is otherwise known as Harry Dick's, but I've never heard it called the "Harbour Bar". And the SKAT [Skye and Kyle Against Tolls] protesters were arrested for crossing the bridge without paying, not for "marching round the square in Portree".
Dempster appears to have a bit of a phobia about "new-age travellers" and "hippie types". He never passes up an opportunity to comment on anyone he meets who is unconventionally attired, and while walking out to Waternish Point he spots "a motley collection of old vans, caravans and even an ambu- lance, which were no doubt the homes of drifters and hippies". This is in fact the home of an old bloke who looks after the herd of cattle on the peninsula. And bemused by the well-known collection of cairns and Andy Goldsworthy-esque constructions at Neist, he was told by someone that Neist Point was "a gathering point and shrine for so-called New-Agers who met here at the Summer Solstice to create their Celtic cairns and no doubt indulge in other hallowed hippie activities".
As for the actual walk, I found the bits I'd done myself to be generally well described, with useful sections at the end of each chapter giving routes and accommodation available. The real reason I wanted to read the book was for the bits I hadn't done, and these are described sufficiently to make me keen to try them out. Dempster did however skip a lot of sections of coast, opting to trudge along the main road for hours. Presumably only having a month to complete the walk meant that time was at a premium.
The book's most amusing aspects are the way he complains about everyone else - his walking companions, his wife, the owners of pubs and B&Bs - and his descriptive prose. "I left the bothy before the spongy clouds had fully wrung out their ration of rain" ... "My soul was singing to the symphony that is Skye" ... and, on the Biod an Athair stretch south of Dunvegan Head, "George, who suffers from mild vertigo, stayed well back from the edge while Mike preferred to lie down on his stomach, head peering out over the void. I revelled in the exposure and sauntered along the edge foolishly without batting an eyelid."
Finally, I'm not sure I'd fancy going on a long walk with this guy. After a long day in the rain he and his two mates settle into separate tents; he brews up soup, chicken tikka masala, sweetcorn and a packet of Uncle Ben's rice, followed by a mug of sweet tea. He is then "horrified" next morning to find that his friend Mike (presumably within earshot and scent range) "had only eaten a banana".
I enjoyed reading this book, but probably for the wrong reasons. To get the best effect, it should be read out loud in the manner of the accountant in the Monty Python sketch. Anyone wanting to do some serious coastal walking in Skye would be better off with Ralph Storer's excellent 50 Best Routes on Skye and Raasay.
Ed. - I should add in mitigation that Andrew Dempster did do me a much-appreciated favour on the only occasion we have met (see Walking the Watershed, page 101). Also, in Skye 360, he deserves credit for standing up to an "arrogant, pompous, top-drawer English accent" landowner at the Point of Sleat who tries to stop him camping (page 33). Oh, and surely the best circumnavigation book of all is the wonderful Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks.
TAC 57 Index