The Angry Corrie 58: Jul-Sep 2003

SKATology, skipping and mussel men

Andrew Dempster responds to the recent review of his book

I DON'T OFTEN write to magazines unless thoroughly provoked. Chris Tyler's massacre (TAC57, p9) of my recent book Skye 360 - Walking the Coastline of Skye provided such provocation. Maths and science teachers appear to suffer a raw deal at TAC; firstly Richard Gilbert (chemistry) and now me (maths). The "review" was at best one-sided, at worst downright degrading and fallacious ... allow me to amplify.

Taking up his first point about skipping bits of coastline - I am sure Mr Tyler understands that walking a coastline is a fine line between literally hugging the sand and rocks to following a road which itself follows the coastline. (This was all mentioned in the book's introduction - but maybe he skipped this bit.) Yes, small chunks of coastline were omitted due to time factors and B&B bookings, but no attempt was made to hide this in the text.

His second point about me being ignorant of some local aspects is scraping the bottom of the barrel and frankly spurious. For a clam-diver of 12 years, Tyler probably knows all about mussel farms - I don't - is this really the cardinal sin he makes it out to be? He's never heard the Pier Hotel called the "Harbour Bar", but I have. Maybe he is "believing tales from the wrong locals". As for his comment about the Skye and Kyle Against the Tolls protesters, he has totally misunderstood what I have written. Anyone vaguely interested in SKAT knows they were arrested for refusing to pay the tolls and this was exactly what was said in the text. To even think for a second that I thought it was for marching round the square in Portree is absurd. (I am a member of SKAT - is Chris Tyler, I wonder?)

Thirdly, I don't have a phobia about "new-age travellers and hippie types". On the contrary, in fact - I had a foot in that camp myself in my late teens and early twenties and have always been an avid admirer of that way of life.

Fourthly, he seems to think I did nothing but complain about everyone. Was he reading the same book? In fact I had nothing but praise for my walking companions, my wife and all B&Bs bar one in Portree where the owner was reticent about allowing me to leave some gear there for a few days. Tyler's negative comments about my descriptive prose are purely subjective and he is entitled to his own opinion. I will make the point however that an English teacher colleague at school was so impressed by my descriptive passages that she reads them out in classes as examples of good practice! Say no more.

Moving on ... if three guys are camping in separate tents in a howling gale with wind and rain battering the tents, is it likely that one of them is going to stroll casually to check if the others are eating their daily quota of carbohydrates and vitamins? If my friend Mike decided a banana was all he wanted because he couldn't be bothered cooking, that is entirely his choice. My professional role as a teacher doesn't extend to nannying my mates.

And now for something completely different ... Chris Tyler's remark about reading the book "out loud in the manner of the accountant in the Monty Python sketch" is just plain crass and smacks of, dare I say it, malice and envy. Envy perhaps that he has lived on Skye for 24 years and hasn't himself managed to produce a decent walking book about the island.

Finally, to compare Skye 360 with Ralph Storer's 50 Best Routes on Skye and Raasay is akin to comparing the incomparable Hamish's Mountain Walk with the SMC guide to the Munros. My book is a personal narrative of my experiences walking round Skye and was never originally intended to be used as a guidebook. The fact that Luath Press present it as a guidebook on the back cover says more about the publisher than the author. These days publishers of outdoor books are fixated with a guidebook mentality, which is a great shame as subjective intimacy with a place can never be done justice in a book such as Storer's guide. Anyone (except obviously Chris Tyler) having read Skye 360 would have correctly concluded that the book could only be described as a guidebook in the very loosest sense. Comparison with Storer's book is frankly fatuous and narrow-minded.

I suggest Chris Tyler sticks to clam-diving and cartoon drawing rather than attempting a book review which is best described as a nitpicking hotchpotch of lightweight, desultory comments. He says "I'm not sure I'd fancy going on a long walk with this guy". I can assure him the feeling is mutual - only I'm absolutely sure. I'm quite relieved I skipped the bit of coastline where he lives - I might have had the misfortune of actually meeting him!

TAC 58 Index

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