Books can do many things. Usually they are intended primarily to inform or to entertain. "The Hebrides" by Paul Murton does both of those things. More important, however, is the way it excites and enthuses. There are books out there that cover the Hebrides in more detail, but that's not really the point. What Paul Murton succeeds in doing is conveying his love for the islands off Scotland's west coast, and he does so in a way that is both moving and infectious. Many will be familiar with Paul Murton. He's the presenter of BBC TV's "Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands", as it says in the book's subtitle, and you can think of this book as in some ways being the written embodiment of the TV programmes. Though only up to a point: this is a book that stands on its own merits, and you certainly don't need to have seen Paul Murton on your TV to be caught up in the sheer magic of the Hebrides.
The author lays out his credentials in the introduction: "The Hebrides are in my blood." He goes on to recount a childhood experience from the 1960s of camping with his parents and brother on the Argyll coast. He then talks of moving to the Isle of Mull after graduating from university, to live with his girlfriend and future mother-in-law. He discusses of the many changes that have taken place across the islands over recent decades, but concludes: "However, the landscape remains a constant, and the beauty of the Hebrides is, for me, unparalleled. I hope this book gives a flavour of the places and the people that have inspired me to continue exploring these wonderful and endlessly fascinating islands." It does, and it does it inspiringly. What you get is an alluring blend of factual and historical background combined with human stories and the author's own experiences.
The book itself is a hefty paperback, beautifully produced, knowledgeably and entertainingly written, and nicely illustrated, largely with the author's own photographs, plus an overview map and a map at the beginning of each chapter. It takes a geographical approach to the Hebrides, with chapters looking at groups of islands as it moves generally from south to north. The first chapter looks at "Gigha to the Garvellachs", and from there we are taken to "The Firth of Lorn and Mull", and so on, all the way to concluding chapters that look at "South Uist to the Monach Islands" and "Harris to St Kilda". What we found especially nice was the inclusion of many islands or island groups that are well off the beaten path, or at least the established ferry routes. As a result it offers something for everyone. For the first-time visitor to the Hebrides it should be considered essential reading for the superb overview it offers of its subject. For the more experienced Hebridean traveller it gives an insight into places they (and we) still need to visit. A lovely book.