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ArtyNess columnist Barbara Henderson finds comfort in books after finding herself on a slippery slope...

By Barbara Henderson

Barbara Henderson.
Barbara Henderson.

I write this during the latest blast of arctic weather to slice through Scotland. I made sure I allowed plenty of time for my school visit to the central belt, staying overnight with a friend less than three miles from where I had to be the next morning.

The last mile proved to be the greatest challenge. It turns out that the Highlands isn’t the only place where lesser roads remain ungritted.

I approached the final hill to North Queensferry with trepidation as it glistened in the morning sun in all its frozen glory. At the halfway point, my wheels began to spin helplessly, and the dreaded backwards descent began.

How I managed to avoid the tooting vehicles behind me is a mystery to me still. I managed to slide into a drive to let others pass, waited for my heartrate to reach survivable levels again, drove back for a speedier run-up and tried once more, foot to the floor.

Alas! I got a little further than the time before, but there were more cars behind me this time. I tried everything: zigzagging, pump action, stop-start, all the gears. At one point I got out and apologised to the slipping convoy behind me. Inch by inch, I clawed forwards and upwards, until, unbelievably, I had done it.

Five minutes later I stood before three year groups of a primary school, enthusing about books and reading, still shaking a little.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the road recently, both behind the wheel and staring out through train windows. While travelling can be draining, it just reinforces, time after time, how lucky I am to live in the Highlands – the majestic mountains draped in silvery white, birds of prey soaring, crisp blue water mirroring the sky.

Therefore, I thought I’d give a little plug to some new releases focusing on the natural word this week.

For adults: Now that it’s out I am going to say that The Hidden Fires has lived up to my high expectations! Guided by Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain , Merryn Glover gives herself over to the Cairngorms wholeheartedly. Her book is a wonderful example of the power of pages to take you to places you may never experience otherwise. Magical.

As a self-confessed squirrel-lover, I have also been enjoying Polly Pullar’s A Scurry of Squirrels – part memoir, part conservation call to action, part love letter to nature, this is a warm and involving book I would wholeheartedly recommend.

A Scurry of Squirrels.
A Scurry of Squirrels.

For children: I have a couple of new books to recommend here too. First up, Hello Scottish Birds! by Kate McLelland. Bold and bright illustrations introduce young nature-spotters to puffins, capercaillies and grouse among others – putting even rare species like the Scottish Crossbill on the picture book radar. Gorgeous.

Maisie the Mountain Hare.
Maisie the Mountain Hare.

I was equally impressed with Maisie the Mountain Hare, written by Lynne Rickards and stunningly illustrated by Abigail Hookham. The gentle rhyming text introduces youngsters to this fascinating animal while echoing games, sibling dynamics and the comfort of family they will recognise from their own lives.

And there you have it, some new nature-inspired reading for the whole family. Enjoy the wild places, ideally on foot. Cars are overrated, take it from me!

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