Alistair Deayton is a prolific author of books about steamships and, in particular, about Scottish steamships. A look at his titles on Amazon reveals some 30 books that between them exhibit a remarkable depth of expertise on this most evocative of subjects. "MacBrayne Ships" by Alistair Deayton brings the author's expertise to bear on a name that was synonymous with shipping services in the West Highlands and in the islands of Scotland for nearly a century. As such, this book is likely to make a significant contribution to the understanding of a wide audience, many of whom will be able to remember the end of the era in 1973, when David MacBrayne Ltd was merged with the Caledonian Steam Packet Co Ltd to form Caledonian MacBrayne. Indeed, as you read this book, what really emerges is a sense that this is the story of the most significant predecessor of Caledonian MacBrayne, and as such it has a relevance that remains very immediate to a modern ferry-travelling public.
The book is divided into five chronologically arranged chapters, each covering a particular period of the company's operations, plus a sixth chapter showing timetables and publicity material from the era, and a seventh setting out data on every significant vessel operated by the company. Each chapter starts with an introduction, and this is followed by a collection of images. Chapter 5, for example, looks at "David MacBrayne Ltd: 1948-73" and has four pages of introduction followed by 14 of photographs, mainly with two, three or four images to a page.
As you would expect from Alistair Deayton, the introductory sections are well written, accessible and authoritative, while the images are simply superb. The format of the images depends to an extent on the period covered. Those for the chapter covering 1948-73 are mainly in colour, while the earlier chapters move back through black and white and sepia, albeit with a good number of colour or tinted pictures included in the mix. As you browse through the pictures, one thing comes forcibly home to mind: that travelling at the start of the era was a considerably riskier endeavour than it is today. An early picture shows "Mountaineer" aground and completely out of the water on Lady Rock near Lismore in 1889, while others also show the aftermath of groundings or fires. This is a book you can browse time and again with great pleasure, seeing something new every time.