All books have a beauty and a magic about them: but some are far more beautiful and magical than others. "The Ancient Pinewoods of Scotland" by Clifton Bain is a wonderful book that stands out from the crowd in so many different ways. Pick it up and leaf through, and you realise that everything about it screams "quality", from the weight of the book itself and the paper it is printed on through to the fine colour photographs, many printed at full page size, and the excellent maps, one for each of the 38 areas of ancient pinewood covered.
But there is much more to it than that. Just occasionally you encounter a book that provides such a complete, such a comprehensive coverage of its subject that you know it will remain an essential work of reference for many years to come. Such books have been written about Scotland's islands, about its castles and (in slightly more fragmented form) about its mountains. What Clifton Bain has done here is provide an utterly definitive guide to every single remaining area of ancient pinewood in Scotland. "Ancient" is a term used to describe woodlands that had their origins before 1750, and have been free of human influences such as planting, felling or livestock grazing. Areas of ancient Scots pinewood are very few and far between, and all 38 can be found in the Scottish Highlands.
Clifton Bain took as his starting point a seminal book written about "The Native Pinewoods of Scotland" in 1959, and the current volume is based on his own work for the RSPB. The book begins with an introduction to Scotland's ancient pinewoods, covering their history, their wildlife, and their future in an era of climate change. The largest part of the book is divided into 38 sections, each covering one of the areas of ancient pinewood. In many cases an "area" is a scatter of surviving remnants, often found on the north facing slopes of a glen, though in others there are much larger areas still standing. Each section includes an excellent map, a couple of pages of background about the area itself, a section on how to travel to the area (especially useful if you wish to follow the author's low-carbon example in touring the pinewoods), and a glossary of Gaelic place names. Plus those stunning photographs. The result is a book it is impossible to recommend too highly!