Isles at the Edge of the Sea by Jonny Muir is a wonderful, inspiring book about a journey undertaken by the author to a series of Hebridean islands. His journey is as much about self discovery as it is about the actual exploration of the islands themselves, and the author's "one man and his tent" approach to travel strips the experience back to the barest of essentials, bringing the reader face to face with the author's hopes and fears. No-one who has ever travelled alone, or camped wild, or in wild weather, will fail to empathise with many of the author's experiences.
Johnny Muir spent time as a journalist in Inverness before deciding to retrain to become a teacher in London. In the summer of 2010 he left home, hearth and loved ones behind and set out on his three month island-hopping journey. The aim was to undertake a single long trip finding out what the places he wrote about as a journalist were really like; living as simply as possible; undertaking a series of challenging mountain runs; and if possible reaching the remote archipelago of St Kilda.
We first encounter him at the start line of the Goatfell Hill Race on Arran. A few chapters, and islands, later, and he is taking part in the remarkably challenging Isle of Jura Fell Race. Later on he encounters the ferocious midges of Rum, an event that will have readers itching in sympathy. This is no "rose coloured spectacles" travelogue: the author does not shy away from telling us about the negatives of his trip as well as the positives. So we meet the smelly residents of a hostel in the Western Isles and the appalling weather that almost blows him off Barra (and, later, nearly washes him away at Sligachan on Skye.) We also enjoy the celebrations of the anniversary of the community ownership of Eigg, the spontaneous party in a hostel on Berneray, and a series of sublime beaches, mountains and islands.
But much of the book is a prelude to the authors effort's to reach St Kilda despite cancelled sailings caused by adverse weather. He makes it in the end, and after discussing the misuse of the word "incredible", concludes that "St Kilda was incredible - incredible without the quotation marks."