"Hail Caledonia: The Lure of the Highlands and Islands" by Eric Simpson is a lovely book that sets out to describe the world's changing relationship with the Highland and Islands of Scotland over the two centuries from 1746 to 1946. The author takes as his starting point the deeply ill-fated Jacobite uprising of 1745/6, which reached its bloody and hopeless conclusion at the Battle of Culloden on a piece of desolate moorland east of Inverness on 16 April 1746. In the decades that followed an increasing number of visitors came to Scotland, from the Welshman Thomas Pennant to the Englishwoman Elizabeth Diggle and Bishop Richard Pococke. And not forgetting the much better-known wanderings of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell.
All these and more appear between the covers of this book; which at the same time tells the story of the slowly improving infrastructure of the more upland parts of the country. We read of the way perceptions slowly changed over time, from visitors who found Scotland's landscape frightening and threatening, to those who found it picturesque and romantic. All the while travelling became (relatively and very slowly) easier, whether over land or by sea. It was perhaps two individuals who did more than anyone else to change the perceptions of the Highlands and Islands from intimidating badlands to a collection of must-see destinations, and we read about the contribution of Sir Walter Scott and Queen Victoria. We also read of the increasing numbers who followed them.
Initially these tended to be from the upper reaches of society, in Scotland on a literary grand tour or because it became an accepted part of the annual round to spend time on one's Scottish estate hunting, shooting and fishing. Later still, more democratic means of travel became more readily available, including bicycles, steamers and railways; and a more democratic range of activities became popular, especially walking and climbing: and not forgetting health tourism. Towards the end of the book we read about the particular factors that influenced tourism in the Hebrides and in Orkney and Shetland. We conclude with the coming of the motor car and the post-war boom in tourism that it helped fuel.
"Hail Caledonia" tells a story that we have seen told in part before. There are books out there about the development of roads, or railways, or steamers in the Highlands and Islands; and there are books that explore in depth the changing views of visitors to Scotland over the centuries. What Eric Simpson succeeds in doing is drawing the strands together in a a nicely organised and highly readable way, complete with sections of black and white images. The end result is an excellent book for anyone wanting to understand Scotland's changing relationship with the world: or who has fallen under its spell themselves and wants better to understand how and why.