"A Heritage in Stone: Characters and Conservation in North-East Scotland" by Ian Mitchell Davidson is a beautiful book, and an enthralling one. The fact that it's not actually the book we expected it to be is neither here nor there: it is one of those all too rare books that engage their readers in a way that you can tell will live on in the memory. This is a book to be enjoyed, then revisited. Our confusion arose from the title, "A Heritage in Stone". The true nature of the book is made much clearer by the subtitle: "Characters and Conservation in North-East Scotland." Yes, at one level this is a book about the many, varied and often magnificent properties of the National Trust for Scotland in Aberdeenshire, Angus, Perthshire and the Cairngorms. But it's actually much more a book about some of the amazing people who over the years have been involved in ensuring these properties are maintained for our benefit, and for the benefit of generations to come.
In essence the book is a collection of stories told by Ian M Davidson, a specialist in heritage conservation who has worked for the National Trust for Scotland for over three decades, and who is also a visiting professor at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and a heritage consultant. The dust jacket tells prospective readers that "This book pays tribute to the craftspeople, gardeners, foresters, managers, guides, surveyors, architects, archeologists, conservators, planners and more, who have made the Trust's properties so very special to so many people."
What you find between the covers is a collection of twenty-seven stories about the author's time with the NTS, about the properties he worked on, and especially about the people he worked with. Each is nicely and engagingly written, and each is attractively and copiously illustrated, mainly with images from the archives of the NTS, and often showing restoration work under way. Stories of restoration of properties are interspersed with others of the need to respond to particular problems: a flood at Haddo House, a bulging tower at Fyvie Castle, or a fire at Castle Fraser. We also learn about the international aspects of historic conservation, with accounts of the author's visits to Estonia in 1991, and Australia in 2009.
This really is a lovely book, and one that we would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone with an interest in Scotland's historic buildings. All royalties from its sale will go to the National Trust for Scotland, which, with Christmas approaching, is another reason to go and buy a copy for the heritage nut in your life.