Alistair Deayton has long been established as an authority - or perhaps that should be THE authority - on the history of Scottish shipping, steamers and ferries. He is a prolific and highly respected author on the subject and we have had the pleasure of reviewing a number of his books in the past. Against this background it is high praise to suggest that "Steamers and Ferries of the Northern Isles" is the best of his books we have seen to date. It takes a very clear and distinct subject and covers it with what to our mind is the perfect balance of informative and readable text on the one hand, and excellent photographs, plus some drawings, posters and postcards, on the other. The images date back as far as the first half of the 1800s, but also include modern colour images as a reminder that this a subject which continues to evolve and develop today.
The author's introduction says that the "services from mainland Scotland to the islands were, from before the dawn of steam navigation right up to until 2002, in the hands of the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Shipping Company." The body of the book is divided into a series of chapters. The first three look at the North Company pre-1914; from 1914 until 1945; and from 1945 until 1973. We then look at the era of P&O Ferries from 1975 to 2002; at Northlink from 2002 to the present day; and at competitors and chartered vessels. Having given a comprehensive account of links between the islands and the mainland, the author then moves on to "Orkney Inter-Island Steamers and Ferries"; and "Shetland Inter-Island Steamers and Ferries".
The result is a thoroughly comprehensive book that will prove an important point of reference for a considerable time to come. This reviewer was particularly fascinated to read about the history of the "Good Shepherd" series of Fair Isle ferries, not one of my favourite crossings. Not noted in the book is that the Good Shepherd IV comes complete with aircraft style passenger seat belts, to help counter the white knuckle ride that the journey can all too often become. But then, as the photograph in the book of the North Company ship "St Clair" surfing into the entrance of Aberdeen harbour in 1950 on a huge breaking wave reveals, things used to be done differently. Perhaps we've simply become too used to large and comfortable ships with stabilisers!