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Useful books


I try to follow C C Lynam’s practice described in ‘The Log of the Blue Dragon’: "For my part, I buy and read every record of actual cruising that I hear of or see advertised. The interest of such publications (which are astonishingly few in number) very largely depends on their simplicity and good temper ... constant grumbling, generally at the weather or the natives is another characteristic that spoils them".  More than a hundred years later, many more books have appeared, some are very useful and even wonderful, and worth having on the boat if you have the space. They have certainly been a great resource for writing this website. Here then is my recommended reading list. Many are out of print but do not despair, look at the AbeBooks website.


Logs and cruises:


‘The Voyage of the Pharos’. Sir Walter Scott, Scottish Library Association,1968. An account of his 1814 cruise around Scotland as a guest of the Commissioners of the Northern Lights, on the Lighthouse Yacht, Pharos. It is rather more readable than his novels.


‘The Land of Lorne including the cruise of the Tern to the Outer Hebrides’. Robert Buchanan, Chapman and Hall, London, 1879. This is possibly the first account of west coast of Scotland sailing, written  by a quite well known Scottish poet, novelist and dramatist. This was his only book about sailing, and in large part it is a panegyric for the area.


‘A Yachtsman's Holidays or Cruising in the Hebrides’. John Inglis, Pickering and Co, London, 1879. Another early account of cruises in the Hebrides, with fairly posh chaps, a skipper and paid hands. Much drinking and eating, but also interesting verbatim conversations, and good accounts of the sailing.


‘Down Channel’. R T McMullen, Grafton Books, London, 1986 (a reproduction of the original 1893 edition). A classic book. Logs of his many cruises between 1850 and 1891, including to the east and west coasts of Scotland, Orkney, Ireland and round the British Isles. Very little description of the places he landed, or who he spoke to, but excellent accounts of the sea and of sailing before anyone much else was attempting to go cruising, at least for pleasure.


'By Ocean, Firth and Channel. Amateur Cruising on the West Coast of Scotland and North of Ireland'. 1994. By ‘Diagonal White’ (aka Rev C Wilkinson). Late 19th century quite matter-of-fact description of cruises from Northern Ireland to the Clyde and up to Skye.

‘Summer Sailings, by an old yachtsman’. A Young, David Douglas, Edinburgh, 1898. More like a late 19th century tour-guide than a book about sailing, but includes excellent illustrations by the author, an Edinburgh Advocate, and descriptions of well-known places like the Falls of Lora.


‘The Log of the Blue Dragon 1892-1904’. C C Lynam, AH Bullen, London, 1907. Amazing and amusing account of cruises in the Hebrides, often in winter and sometimes single-handed, with many groundings, cock-ups and near misses. The 25ft centre-plate engineless yawl was built in land-locked Oxford, sailed down the Thames, round Lands End and up to Scotland, and the author "never had a paid hand on board, and never but once signalled for a pilot"! He was an unconventional and no doubt inspirational headmaster of the Dragon School in Oxford, which is why his cruises were all in the school holidays, including at New Year (these days I like to think he would have taught in a comprehensive school). He didn't like Cowper's Sailing Tours (see below) at all: "His knowledge of the west coast and its people is gathered from two hurried cruises and merits rather the name of ignorance....contains nothing useful that is not taken from the official Sailing Directions."!


‘Coastwise Cross-seas, the tribulations and triumphs of a casual cruiser’. Henry Reynolds, J D Potter, London, 1921. Although based on the Deben in Suffolk, the schoolmaster author spent his summer holidays cruising — with no engine — all round the UK, including up to Orkney and Shetland, and round the west coast, taking in Ireland too. Not much description of the few places he had time to call in on, but excellent feeling of what sailing was like 100 years ago.


‘Isle, Ben and Loch, from the Clyde to Skye’. S Heckstall Smith, Edward Arnold, London, 1932. An account of gentlemen's yachting where the skipper and pilot were hired, and the Owner ruled the roost. It is very much about our patch of sea, albeit with little information about what there was to see ashore, and written in purple prose, too often along with much romantic twaddle about Skye.


‘Sailing Orders. Practical instruction to yachtsman, illustrated by the author's cruises on the West Coast of Scotland’. Capt J R Harvey, Alexander Maclehose, London, 1935. What it says on the cover. It is a well-written description of summer holidays on not much money, and even without a 'paid hand': "my young family and I have always managed somehow". There is also a lot of technical stuff on charts and how to make them, navigation, compass deviation, how to organise a boat — most of which is not that interesting. But the information about many of the anchorages is still relevant. As was so common in those days, the engine was unreliable and a lot of time was spent towing the boat with the dinghy, and by horse, or even manpower along the Crinan canal.


‘West Coast Cruising’. John McLintock, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, 1938. Another between-the-wars account of not so much cruises in chronological order, but of the author's experiences on the West Coast. However, there is too much history, fairy tales and misty Celtic legends for my taste, all dressed up in purple prose. Nonetheless, it gives a good idea of what the anchorages were like, along with some pilotage information. Curiously we are told nothing of what sort of boat he sailed, or with whom, and nor did he tell us anything about the people he met along the way. Or himself.


‘Leaves from Rowan's logs; cruises on the west coast of Scotland’. R.B.Carslaw, Robert Ross and Co Ltd, London, 1944. An account by a Glasgow surgeon of how in the 1930s he introduced his wife and five children to sailing on the Clyde and then up sometimes to as far as Torridon. He also had a dog aboard. While he doesn't tell us all that much about the places he visited, or the family dynamics, it is certainly interesting to read about cruising in what were then empty seas. He anchored in Ardfern, Craobh Haven and Dunstaffnage long before there were any marinas. Puilladobhrain was clearly a great favourite but he didn't seem to walk over the hill to the pub. And so was the Brandy Stone, a large lump of rock on the shore just south of Oban Sailing Club, an area now occupied by moorings. He seems to have had far worse weather than we have today, or maybe he was just exaggerating as the book was written from his logs ten or more years after the cruises.


‘We who adventure; cruises in British Waters’. L B Winter, Oxford University Press, 1956. Another doctor author, this time sailing from Essex in the 1930s, and cruising off the west and north coasts of Scotland.


‘Halcyon in the Hebrides’. Bob Orrell, Birlinn, 2012. This will probably become a classic of how sailing was in the early 2000s. The author rather lovingly describes a solo voyage from the Clyde up to Stornoway and back, possibly his last cruise as he was over 70 at the time.


General guide books:


‘Cruising Scotland, the Clyde to Cape Wrath: a companion to the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions’. Mike Balmforth and Edward Mason, Clyde Cruising Club Publications, Glasgow, 2010. This lavishly illustrated book celebrates the centenary of the Clyde Cruising Club with a description of many of the places on this website, and more — the whole of the west coast in fact. For the coffee table as well as the boat library.


'Pevsner' is my generic term for all those wonderfully detailed books about the buildings of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, which were started by Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian, and first published between 1951 and 1974. The two volumes you need for this area are ‘Argyll and Bute’ by Frank Arneil Walker, Penguin Books 1992, and ‘Highlands and Islands’ by John Gifford, Yale University press, 2003.


‘The Scottish Islands’. Hamish Haswell-Smith, Canongate, Edinburgh, revised and updated 2015, is the bible for these parts, albeit not by definition for the mainland of Scotland. The drawings, by the architect author, are charming and the information encyclopaedic. It has to be on the boat really. Alas there will be no more updates as the author died in 2019.


‘Scotland the Best’. Peter Irvine, Collins, Glasgow, 2024, now in its 14th edition, is quite simply the best guide to Scotland — beaches, walks, pubs, hotels, everything. It is specific rather than sensitive as we say in the medical trade. In other words there are some good places missing but those that are included are almost invariably excellent. I have mentioned nearly everywhere that is listed in the guide if it is within reach of an anchorage.


Some quirky and other books about the area:


‘Tea with Chrissie, the story of Burg and Ardmeanach on the Isle of Mull’. Rosalind Jones, Craigmore Publications, Isle of Mull, 2007. A wonderful account of the old lady who outlived all her siblings and hung on alone in her cottage in a remote part of Mull until she died. In her later years she became well known to the hundreds of people who visited the fossil tree in southwest Mull because it was de rigueur on the way to call in to see her and have a cup of tea and a scone. This book gives a very good idea of what Mull was like through the 20th century.


‘The Green Ray’. Jules Verne, Luath Press, Edinburgh, 2009. A 19th century romantic novel based on the author's journeys in Scotland, culminating in derring-do on Staffa. Also reads like a travel book, and as such is extremely accurate.


‘When the years were young’. Mary Sandeman, Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Mid-Argyll (publication date uncertain).  A charming account of her early childhood, by the daughter of the local doctor on Jura in the 1920s.


‘Island on the Edge, a life on Soay’. Anne Cholawo, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2016. The story of Soay, the small island off the south coast of Skye, whose population has dwindled to less than 10, including interesting material on Tex Geddes who partnered with Gavin Maxwell in their post-war shark fishing enterprise.


Around the west coast of Scotland books. There are a number of useful and informative books about this area, ranging from the antiquarian to the present day:


‘A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland called Hybrides’. Sir Donald Monro High Dean of the Isles, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1994. The first description, albeit brief and in places difficult to follow, of 209 islands in the 16th century. The first ‘Haswell-Smith’ perhaps.


‘A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland circa 1695’. Martin Martin, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1994. The first good account of the Hebrides, and other islands. Written by a local ('a gentleman of Skye') in his 30s, who clearly travelled round all the places he wrote about, describing everything from the people, their religion, what they ate, farming, anchorages and lots more.


‘A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides 1772’. Thomas Pennant FRS, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1998, is a surprisingly easy read, far from pompous, and less dated than one might have imagined. The author, a Welshman, had real sympathy and an interest in everything he saw from what people farmed and ate, to a bit of history, to the flora and fauna, and more. It probably had a significant effect on the development of tourism to the more far flung parts of Scotland (although due to bad weather, he missed what was soon to become the 'must see' tourist attraction —  Staffa).


‘A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.’ Samuel Johnson, 1775, Ed RW Chapman, Oxford University Press, 1970 is another easy read, a real classic, and like Tennant full of interest about the people, posh and not so posh, and on the nature of the Scottish as seen from the view of a Londoner in his 60s.


‘The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D’. James Boswell, 1785, Ed RW Chapman, Oxford University Press, 1970. This is just what it says. Longer than Johnson’s account, it focuses much more on Johnson than on Scotland. It is a fairly easy read and adds to Johnson’s description of Scotland and the Scots, with the advantage of being written by a Scotsman rather than a literary intellectual from London.


‘A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebride Isles in 1786’. John Knox, James Thin, Edinburgh 1975 is what it says on the tin. This was not the John Knox, but a Scottish philanthropist who was eager to set up fishing stations to exploit the untapped — at the time — potential for fishing. He clearly had huge sympathies with the impoverished local people, constantly thinking of ways to improve their lives.


 ‘A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, and the Hebrides … to which is now added An Account of the New Roads in Scotland, and of a beautiful cavern lately discovered in the Isle of Skye’.  The Hon. Mrs Sarah Murray. London. Third edition, 1810. This is maybe the first guide-book to Scotland. It was written by an indomitable lady from Kensington who made several tours up north when travelling in Scotland was still extremely difficult, particularly for a woman.


‘The Highlands and Islands of Scotland, containing descriptions of their scenery and antiquities’. Dr John MacCulloch, Longman, 1824. The author was a doctor and a chemist, but mostly a geologist’ He himself was not a sailor but he certainly got around in OPBs (other people's boats). It is quite hard to read  because it is very long and somewhat portentous. There are four volumes that can downloaded:


My favourite sailing-round-Britain book has to be ‘One Summer's Grace, a family voyage round Britain’, Hodder and Stoughton 1990, by Libby Purves, particularly for her observations about small children on boats.


'Phoenix from the ashes, the boat that rebuilt our lives'. Justin Ruthven-Tyers, Adlard Coles, 2012. The author forsook the West Country to come to rest on Islay. It is a very witty addition to any West Coast library.


‘The Voyages of the Princess Matilda’ and ‘The Princess Matilda Comes Home’ Shane Spall, Ebury Press, 2013. Along with her husband Timothy, she sailed a sea-going barge around Britain over a few years. It is charming and funny — a delightful read.


And don't forget to have on board books about the birds, flowers, whales and dolphins, trees, and the seashore.

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