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Highland Reading: Classic Books about the Scottish Highlands

Posted on Feb 13, 2015 by Jonathan Willet

Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish Highlands

Assynt, the North West Highlands


We can all picture the wild soaring beauty of the Highlands, but what are the books that can inspire the imagination further?

Wilderness Guide, Jonathan Willet shares his favourite Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish Highlands.

The have been a huge number of books written about the Highlands and covering all manner of subjects. The following four are some of my favourites, and ones I constantly refer to.

Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish HighlandsSong of the Rolling Earth, Sir John Lister-Kaye. 2004.

I have to admit I have a personal interest here as I worked at Aigas twenty years ago and it is where I started as a guide. I have a huge personal affection for the place and this book does a really good job of capturing the magic of it (and by extension the Highlands). It also is an atypical story of a (very small) Highland Estate. It also does highlight just what you can see just by sitting and being patient.


Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish HighlandsThe Drove Roads of Scotland. ARB Haldane. 1952.

If you wondered about the various drove roads and thieves roads in The Highlands then this is the book to read. Cattle were the major commodity traded internationally (with England) and the major source of money in the Highland economy. Many of the drove roads became the roads we travel on today. This is a fascinating social history; tales of cattle rustling, clan battles, swimming cattle from Skye to the mainland and much more. Read it and see some of the deserted tracks of the Highlands in a new light.


Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish HighlandsIsland Going. Robert Atkinson. 1949.

This book is a magical evocation of the Highlands and Island of a different time, just before and after the Second World War. The crofting way of life had not changed for hundreds of years, electricity, the tractor and even the radio were not common yet. It is also a bit bonkers and amusing, highlighting a can do attitude and the folly of youth the author and a friend took their car to some very remote places, sometimes balanced precariously on a small boat! All in search of the elusive Leach’s Fork-tailed Petrel.


Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish HighlandsCrowdie and Cream. Finlay J MacDonald. 1982.

I have a particular affection for the Western Isles and Gaidhlig culture mainly from my first two Gaidhlig teachers and their stories, one was from Lewis and the other Harris. This book captures life between the World Wars in Harris, short, funny and a really easy read, it effortless evokes what life was like there. My second teacher Roddy Maclellan even appears in this book, he is the child hiding under the table at the hen night. If you want to find out what a hen night really was about and when the pagan new year was then read this book.


Highland Reading; Classic Books about the Scottish HighlandsNatural History in the Highlands and Islands. Frank Fraser Darling 1947.

This book is an amazing synopsis of the nature of the Highlands and Islands. Some things have changed greatly┬ásince it was first published, but quite a lot hasn’t. If you have heard the term “wet desert” used to describe the west highlands this is were the term was first coined. If you want to read about what the landscape was like before wind farms and large-scale commercial afforestation then it is all here. On the west coast and on the islands the biggest change since the book was written is the almost complete loss of growing crops on croftland. It is difficult to imagine how different the landscape looked then.

Articles about The Scottish Highlands

The first four books are in print and the last is readily available second hand.

Do you have any favourite books that capture that Highland spirit?

Reading about the Highlands of Scotland is great, but nothing beats actually visiting for real.

You can witness the stunning scenery and immerse yourself with the vibrant culture on a Wilderness tour. We offer a variety of activities such as walking, road cycling, canoeing, sea kayaking and mountain biking.

About the author

Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

Read more articles by Jonathan

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