The full title of this volume, "To Western Scottish Waters, by Rail and Steamer to the Isles," is a fair description of the content, but does very little to prepare you for the treasure chest of nostalgia you find between the covers.
It is impossible to travel Scotland's magnificent western seaboard today without wondering how people got around before motor cars were commonplace and the considerably more recent network of roads on which you can drive them in relative comfort and ease was built. Robert N. Forsythe's superb book means that you need wonder no longer. It allows a modern generation of travellers beguiled by their experience of the highlands and islands to learn more about how their predecessors travelled in what for many was, and still is, the most beautiful corner of the globe. And as you delve deeper into the book it is difficult not to wonder whether sometimes "progress" might have diminished the experience we enjoy today, though not always: travellers no longer face the possibility of sharing their passage to the isles on a small steamer with a flock of sheep.
The author was for a number of years in the 1980s the curator of the Scottish Maritime Museum, and has amassed a large personal collection of transport publicity literature. This is effectively deployed to copiously illustrate the book, alongside early postcard views and the author's own photography since the 1970s. The book commences with the story of steamer services. It then moves on to an account of the development of MacBraynes after 1939, with a particular focus on the 1964 Columba, which with her sister ships launched a new era of car ferries. Today the Columba can still be seen sailing these waters, as the luxury cruise ship Hebridean Princess.
In some ways the most fascinating aspects of the book are those dealing with the least known aspects of its subject. Operators such as Western Ferries are covered in detail, alongside cruises offered on Loch Awe, and the "Puffers" which provided a lifeline to many remote coastal communities until fairly recent times. The story then moves to the development of the railways in the highlands, and the way their services often linked to those of loch or island steamers. Other chapters focus on the development of car ferry services; and passenger services on Loch Lomond. This is a book to browse at your leisure, confident in the knowledge that every page is going to deliver unexpected insights and large doses of nostalgia.