Sandison's Scotland by Bruce Sandison is a varied collection of sketches about places in Scotland; about Scots and others who have lived here; and about topics of interest to Scots and visitors to Scotland. The author's preface suggests that most were originally written for the US publications "Scottish Life" and "The Highlander", and it is good to see them gathered here in a format which makes them more widely available within Scotland (and beyond), and gives them a degree of durability. The only downside to this approach is a feeling that sometimes it would help to know when sketches were originally written: some have a sense of capturing a particular moment, and in those cases it would add to the experience to know when that was.
With 43 sketches, each given its own chapter within the book's 243 pages, it is obvious that no topic is covered sufficiently extensively to allow anyone to become bored. Add in Bruce Sandison's highly accessible conversational style, and the result is a book which it is possible to dip into in a very enjoyable way. Even better, it is a book which has a great deal of interest and novelty to offer even those of us who feel we know the areas covered pretty well.
There is no particular discernible pattern to the ordering of the sketches within the book, but there are patterns in what has been covered. The majority of the geographical sketches cover the northern areas of Scotland: Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness and the Northern Isles. That is a good thing, for two reasons: firstly it is clearly the area that the author knows best and loves, and secondly it is the area that many of his countrymen, and others, know least well. So we find Durness in the far north west featuring in three sketches, while Caithness and the Pentland Firth are also well covered. Further north, the sketches of the Kirkwall Ba' Game in Orkney and Up Helly Aa in Shetland are particularly enjoyable: while anyone who has ever driven the length of the island of Yell in Shetland will find resonance in the story of the prominent and decidedly creepy Windhouse. Background sketches range from the Highland clearances to the lifeboats of the Pentland Firth, via bagpipe music and the story of George Heriot.