Every so often a book comes along that is so good that it has to be considered essential reading for anyone interested in its subject. "Hebridean Journey: The Magic of Scotland’s Outer Isles" by Brigid Benson is just such a book. No one should consider visiting the Western Isles without reading it first: and (if not having to physically carry it everywhere in a backpack) taking it with them. It's hardly a pocket guide and might even challenge some car gloveboxes: but that's hardly a negative comment given the sheer beauty and value of what lies between the covers.
You only need to read the book's subtitle, "The Magic of Scotland’s Outer Isles" to realise that the author has really got under the skin of her subject. The Western Isles have a magic that simply can't be experienced elsewhere. In many ways the differences between the islands and communities making up the archipelago contribute to that magic as much as the factors that unify them, especially the ever present Atlantic Ocean and a common heritage of Gaelic and crofting.
Brigid Benson succeeds admirably in communicating the magic of Scotland's outer isles to her readers; and she is equally successful in conveying her own love for the islands. The result is a book that is both practical and inspirational. It tells you what you need to know about the journeys she takes through the book - in a generally north to south direction along the length of the archipelago - but it does so in a way that makes you want to book a ferry ticket and acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with the islands.
We've already noted that this is a large format book, perhaps what you'd normally call "coffee table" size. The well researched and beautifully written text is accompanied by a large number of excellent colour photographs taken by the author. These show the islands in many different moods and do much to explain why she believes the islands to be so special.
The book is divided into geographical sections, starting with Lewis and Harris and moving south to Barra and Vatersay. Each section has a nicely produced and informative map, as does each subsection, typically covering two or three distinct journeys within, for example, northern Lewis or southern Harris. Add in an excellent introduction covering topics as diverse as single-track roads and Sunday observance - and an appendix with useful resources - and you end up with a simply outstanding book.