Ribbon of Wildness by Peter Wright is a deeply inspiring book that achieves the far from easy task of ensuring that its readers, even those of us who believe we know our country very well, emerge viewing Scotland in a rather different light.
There have been many, many books written about walks and walking in Scotland, and among them have been some outstanding accounts. What sets "Ribbon of Wildness" apart is the sense that the walk it describes is not only an epic achievement, it is also following a route that is dictated by nature rather than by the whim of its creator. Just as a walk around Scotland's coast is defined by the presence of the sea on one side and the land on the other (albeit with a bunch of complications wrought by islands, tides and map scales) a walk along the watershed of Scotland can have only one possible route.
The Watershed of Scotland is the line which decides whether a drop of rain landing on the ground ends up flowing west into the Atlantic Ocean or east into the North Sea. The complexities of Scotland's geography dictate that this line, running from Peel Fell on the English border to Duncansby Head in the far north-east, is over 1,200km long: and the nature of a watershed means it is often at high level, running at an average elevation of over 500m, and reaching the summits of 44 Munros and 28 Corbetts. Because at each point along its length the watershed represents a natural boundary, it has also often formed the basis of later land ownership and political boundaries; and because of this it has often been left undeveloped as the most marginal - in every sense of the word - land in any particular area.
Peter Wright walked Scotland's watershed in 2005. His account of the walk does what you would expect it to, and describes the route in sufficient detail for someone with enough interest and a set of Ordnance Survey maps to follow it for themselves, either in their living room or on foot. The author also achieves a great deal more, however. His description of the walk becomes a fascinating vehicle for a series of discussions about aspects of Scotland's geography, geology, natural history and social development or, in the case of cleared areas, social regression. "Ribbon of Wildness" is a book that should be read by everyone who cares about Scotland, and that is probably just about everyone reading this review.