"Kayaking the Sea Roads: Exploring the Scottish Highlands" by Ed Ley-Wilson is an inspirational book: a book that is a joy to read yet which at the same time brings its readers face to face with many of the challenges and difficult realities of the world around us. For anyone who has ever dreamed of enjoying the splendour of the western seaboard of Scotland - and there are millions around the world who include a visit to this small country of ours on their bucket lists - then this might just be the book that spurs them into action. For those of us who think we know the coasts and islands of the west of our country, this is a beautiful read that reminds us that there is scope to know it much better than we do.
What really makes this book shine is the author's superb written style. At once personable and authoritative, he is someone we get to know very well, and like, during his journey up the west coast of Scotland, taking in many of its islands. In the prologue he says that "...in June 2022 I found myself standing on the rough beach at Gourock... kayak packed to the gunnels and ready for the off... And what follows is that journey. Two months of solitude, of living outside and sea kayaking the west coast of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, from Gourock in the south to Kinlochbervie in the north. Just shy of 1,000 kilometres of solo paddling in what was to be the worst June/July weather the Highlands had experienced for many years. All the adventure anyone could want packed into an intense fifty-six days. Nerves frayed by seas too big for comfort, body hardened by the daily graft of paddling... mind opened by bedding into nature's rhythms, and soul enriched by encounters with life beyond out daily ken."
As well as the author's account of his journey and wide-ranging musings, there are also clear and helpful maps, plenty of photographs and some very nice drawings. This is a book we would wholeheartedly recommend.
You get a fuller sense of the breadth of the book from the publisher's description: "Kayaking the Sea Roads is a personal journey by sea kayak into the heart of the sea roads that make up our Scottish Highlands and islands. Blending the intensity of the journey with a careful observation of the natural world and first-hand knowledge of the challenges of living and working in this place, the author reminds us that mother nature, vast and resilient, is still out there beyond our mobile phones and urban lives. For those with the eyes to see, its natural rhythms can awaken a deep sense of wonder and give us cause to become part of the environmental recovery so sorely needed.
"With Ed, we travel low in the water with the restless sea ever present and we camp with him on remote rough shores. We share his feelings of wonder at the natural world, his fear at the exposure to rough seas and we encounter with him not just the myriad animals and birds that share his every day but also the people, their communities and the often gnarly rural issues impacting on human and animal alike. Alongside a deeply felt appreciation of the natural environment is a first-hand insight into the environmental and land-management issues pertinent to the Highland coast. By exploring, for instance, the impact of native versus non-native species, of community land ownership, of tourism, hunting and the varied other uses and indeed non-uses of coastal lands and seas, the readers' eyes are opened to a Scottish Highlands that is so much more than just a pretty view.
"At the surface, this is an adventure story, but at its heart, it is a tale about belonging and a deep sense of place; and it is a journey home, home in the end to where the author's Highland love affair began."