Book Review —Ribbon of Wildness: Discovering the Watershed of Scotland, by Peter Wright

At the end of this year’s TGO Challenge I found myself (as is my want) in the rather lovely independent Montrose bookshop belonging to the estimable Henry Hoggs. I picked up the book Walking with Wildness: Experiencing the Watershed of Scotland. Sadly, this was not quite the book I was looking for. Walking is a guidebook that has been created on the back of Ribbon of Wilderness and this book was not in stock.

The Ribbon of Wildness is the book that inspired Chris Townsend to embark on his recent non-stop walk along the length of the Scottish Wilderness and I have long intended to read it. I found it quite difficult to get hold of it. I ordered it through Amazon and had to wait almost a month for delivery but it was well worth the wait.

There is something fascinating about watersheds and this one in particular, not least n the way that Peter Wright writes about it. In the main the watershed remains wild land with only one significant development along it, the new town of Cumbernauld. The sitka forests that have plagued the Highlands over the last century tend to hang of the sides of hills rather than spoil the watershed itself. The watershed is most often a land boundary and maybe that has preserved its quietness.

I suppose — to those who don’t know Scottish hills — this book might be puzzling but for anyone who has walked the Highlands regularly and combed the Munros this is a fascinating read. As Wright progresses along the watershed he talks us through geological development and change, local and national history. He looks at the local fauna and fauna and reflects on challenges to the landscape and the environment both traditional and new. Like me Peter is naturally ambivalent about wind farms, for instance, but the sheer scope of their growth and desecration of the environment has focussed his mind.

We have a lot of information on local history and culture, on the meanings of place names and the development of language. We have some fascinating passages which describe how communities that sit only a mile or so apart, but on different sides of the watershed, experience and see the world in very different ways.

In a sense this walk — which was made in a series of various forays (six weeks in all) — has allowed peter the time and space for a rather deep meditation about Scotland, its hills and people. I can see why Chris Townsend was so fascinated about it.

You don’t have to want to walk the watershed to want to buy this book but reading it will certainly make you think about exploring large chunks of it, if not all.

There is not really much point me going into more detail about the book. It is enough to say that it is amazing how much you can get from the observation that a drop of rain that falls few centimetres on the other side of the watershed to its companion can end up in a different ocean or sea.

This is recommended reading for all of those who love walking and backpacking in Scotland.

The accompanying Walking the Wilderness is a collection of short day walks and ideas for longer expeditions. A such this is an interesting companion to Ribbon, but it is with Ribbon that you will want to start.

(At the time of writing the Amazon server that provides me with my usual book links is down, but I shall place these as soon as they are available).

Ribbon of Wildness is published by Luath Press and priced at £14.99

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