Books for Scotland–Suggested by A Reader

Hello, and welcome to A Traveler’s Library. If you “stumbled” in to the site, I hope you’ll stick around and find more of your favorite travel destination and the literature or movies that help enhance the traveler’s experience. Please consider subscribing by the RSS or e-mail buttons in the right-hand column. Happy Travels! Added Note: Don’t miss the comment below the post by Alisdair Pettigrew. He came back to tell us more about George Blake. Thanks, Alisdair!

Destination: Scotland


The Scottish Flower, Thistle

Books by: H. V. Morton, George Blake, Edwin Muir, Kathleen Jamie, and others.

When I asked for suggestions for books for travelers to ten specific destinations, I put Scotland on the list. Alasdair Pettinger, who edits the valuable Studies in Travel Writing web site, had some definite ideas about Scottish travel literature, and literature about Scotland for travelers.

“I find the most engaging travel books were written in the 1920s and 30s: H. V. Morton, In Search of Scotland (1929) and In Scotland Again (1933); George Blake, The Heart of Scotland (1934); and Edwin Muir, Scottish Journey (1935).” He goes on to explain,  “They proceed from an imaginative documentary impulse that is missing from recent travelogues which tend to be more introspective and inclined to dwell on cultural identity.”

I learned that H. V. Morton was one of the most popular (or THE most popular, according to the speaker) travel writers of the twentieth century in the British Isles.  He traveled around the world and wrote 50 books, many of them titled “In Search of….” He gave practical information along with descriptions of the country or city he was visiting, and appealed to the middle class reader. Perhaps it is not fair, but I picture him as kind of an early Rick Steves, encouraging people to travel, in an age when Scotland was practically unknown to the average Englishman.

Muir, on the other hand, was known as a novelist and poet. According to reviewers of his only travel book, he  writes beautifully but politically about his subject. I could find very little about Blake, and my local library does not have his books, so it will be some time before I can read him. Perhaps Mr. Pettinger or another reader can enlighten me.

Despite his predilection for the earlier writers, Pettinger  lists some more recent books by Scotsmen either returning to their country, or rediscovering Scotland.

Invisible Country (1984) by James Campbell

A Search for Scotland (1989) by R. F. MacKenzie

Four Scottish Journeys (1991) by Andrew Eames

Native Stranger (1995) by Alistair Scott

In Waiting (1998) by Michael W. Rusell

He also mentions an Englishman, Charles Jennings, whose Faintheart: An Englishman Ventures North of the Border (2002) is a Bill Bryson-type book. “(the book)hides some perceptive observations behind its self-deprecating humour. And I would rate it more highly than the Scottish sections of round-Britain accounts by Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux,” says our Scotland contributor.

Pettinger saves his highest praise for a contemporary Scottish writer, Kathleen Jamie. “But no one captures the intensity of the lived moment indoors or outdoors better than Kathleen Jamie in Findings, 2005A new edition of the book, whose subtitle is “Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World” came out in 2007.

I have found some quotes from this book, “Once, on a flawless sandy beach in Donegal, I found five silver fishes, freshly abandoned by a wave, glittering and bright as knives presented in a canteen,” that make me most eager to read it. She is a poet, even when writing prose, and her sharp observations remind me of Ann Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea.

See more about Scotland in Music of Scotland and Mystery books in Scotland. If you like Scotland, you may also want to look at the posts on Ireland. I have written about McCarthy’s Bar, the Beara Peninsula, and the Blasket Islands. And don’t miss R. Todd Felton’s book on Literary Ireland.

Well, there you have it, from a between-the-wars perspective, through home-coming books, and humor, to the observations of a poet.  Do you agree with Alasdair’s leaning to the writers from early 20th century? Can you add to my very sketchy research about them? Let’s talk.

Photograph courtesy of John Haslem of Scotland,  “foxypar4” via flicker.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

5 thoughts on “Books for Scotland–Suggested by A Reader

  1. About Blake ….

    George Blake (1893-1961) was a journalist and novelist who took his inspiration from Glasgow and Clydeside where he lived most of his life. He is best known for his novels, especially The Shipbuilders (1935). Some find his dialogue and characterization a little clumsy. But his talent for social commentary and strong sense of place are indisputed.

    His non-fiction has been long out of print and is hard to get hold of. There are histories of shipping and shipping-related businesses, which may be of only specialist interest, but The Heart of Scotland (1934, revised 1938 and 1951) is well worth tracking down.

    The book is, he says, an attempt ‘to discover … “the idiom” of the national life’. I like its directness. Edinburgh is described as ‘a little complacent, a trifle haughty, considerably snobbish; regarding itself on the whole as being a cut above the Scotland of which it is the administrative centre.’ On Highland Games: ‘What Scottish reality could there possibly be in a highly organised affair, staged almost entirely for the benefit of alien landowners, who offer to Scotland the last insult of the assumption of the kilt and are in Scotland only to have so many acres of it all to themselves?’

    He also has a fine eye that unpatronisingly draws comedy and tragedy from a portrait of a village shop, where easy-going traditions struggle against a rural economic decline that means most of its produce is imported from Glasgow, England or further afield. ‘The litter of cans along high-water mark tells the story.’

    There is a nice tribute to Blake’s The Firth of Clyde (1954) by the editor of Granta, Ian Jack, in a Guardian piece that recalls his childhood holidays in the area:

  2. Kerry:
    Thanks for all the suggestions and the music link is quite welcome.
    Jessie and Colleen: I promise a post on mystery writers in the British Isles (could be a whole blog subject) some time soon, so I can include your suggestions.

  3. I’ve read Jamie’s books — came across Findings while on a trip to Glasgow back when in came out in fact. I like her style, but not always her substance; however, that’s as much an individual taste as style, I guess. She can certainly write — reminds me a bit of Annie Dillard.

    other books to suggest
    On the Crofter’s Trail by David Craig — a novelist tells of his research about memories of the clearances in the Hebrides and the connections between Canada and Scotland. David Yeadon’s Seasons on Harris might be of interest too. Alistair Moffat’s Sea Kingdoms deals with the history of whole range of sea bordering lands from Cape Wrath to Penzance, so there’s more than Scotland in there, but it’s a thoughtful and not so usual take on looking at the connections among those lands across time.

    and if you like Scottish music or think you might come on over Music Road. recent stories including Jim Malcolm, Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Emily Smith, more to come.

    Thanks for the interesting article, Vera Marie.

  4. i LOVE scotland. alexander mccall smith also has 2 series set in edinburgh, for more recent work. i can’t wait to dig in to these (new to me) writers! thanks.

  5. Kathleen Jamie’s book sounds wonderful! And I’m not even planning a trip to Scotland. 🙂 My friend @paulinek recommended Ian Rankin’s mysteries to me – they’re set in Edinburgh. (I’ve not read any yet.) Thanks for an intriguing post!

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