Some books are so beautiful that you just want to frame them and hang them on the wall. It's not possible, of course, but that doesn't still the urge. "The Secret Life of the Cairngorms" by Andy Howard is just such a book. For anyone interested in wildlife, and especially in Scotland's wildlife, it is a truly remarkable achievement. The author sets the scene in his introduction: "This book is a selective record of my encounters in and around Cairngorm National Park, giving special attention to the few species that have captured my heart. These encounters have all been emotionally charged and memorable. Indeed, as I selected images from the many hundreds captured over the years, I felt myself transported back to the precise location, the exact weather conditions, and the details of the subject's actions and expressions."
On first acquaintance, what draws you into the book is the amazing wealth of photography on show, with many of the pictures printed at large size. Each section also has an introductory text that could only have been written by someone who has intimately observed the Cairngorms and its residents over a prolonged period of time. It is the end result, the balance of pictures and text, that make this book stand out as something quite exceptional.
After the author's introduction, we begin our journey of discovery in the lochs and rivers of the Cairngorms. We then move on to the area's woodlands and forests; to moorlands and heaths; and then finally to the high plateaux itself. Concluding pieces talk of the legal protection of wildlife in the UK; and the safety responsibilities of the wildlife photography guide. The photography within the book covers everything from red squirrels and mountain hares to red deer and reindeer, but you get the sense that Andy Howard has a particular affinity for the Cairngorms' birdlife. He discusses some of his most memorable encounters, with a black ground lek or with a purple sandpiper, in the introduction; and the author's love of his subjects shines through from his words and his photographs.
The book begins with a foreword by Cameron McNeish. He suggests that readers should "Consider, as you wonder at the craftsmanship and beauty of Andy Howard's photographs, the days and weeks he spent in inhospitable surroundings. Muse on his patience, admire his skill and knowledge but, above all, remember this. Each image, whether mountain, tree, bird, mammal or plant is part of the infinite web of creation to which homo sapiens also belongs... There is so much we can learn from the Cairngorms."