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Best of Scotland's Islands

By SPP Reporter

Inverness Book Festival

YACHTSMAN Hamish Haswell-Smith’s beautifully illustrated guide to Scotland’s islands large and small has been described as "the acknowledged Rosetta Stone of island hopping".

Featuring not only Haswell-Smith’s own paintings, but maps, guides and stories, it is a book that is referred to time and again by sailors, trekkers and armchair travellers.

With the publication of a brand new edition, Haswell-Smith comes to the Inverness Courier sponsored Inverness Book Festival at Eden Court on Friday 9th August to talk about what Scotland’s islands mean to him.

First, however, he agreed to share some of his favourite island locations with our readers.

"I’m glad you asked for favourite locations and not favourite islands," he commented.

"I have no favourite island because they are all so marvellously different."

1) In the outer Hebrides there are two small islands lying side by side — Gighay and Hellisay. Between them, and hidden from view, is a small sea with access from the east through a narrow, shallow, twisted channel and from the west through a maze of rocks. It is a lovely, quiet secret place of wild irises and marshmallows, friendly seals and soaring raptors.

2) Between the two lochs, Harray and Stenness, on mainland Orkney is the Ness of Brodgar where the most amazing structures are being uncovered at present by archaeologists. They are unlike anything else from Neolithic times, large stone-slate-roofed buildings, a massive wall of unknown purpose and traces of paint on the masonry.

3) When the new Danish owner took over Rona, just north of Raasay, she removed all the grazing sheep for several years. This had the marvellous effect of regenerating the original Scottish island plant life. Barren hills are now sprouting birch and alder, wildflowers are profuse and wildlife is returning. She has a friendly resident caretaker and has repaired some of the original village buildings and made the island a welcome spot for the occasional visitor.

4) Lunga in the Treshnish Isles is the perfect place for birdwatching apart from the fact that it is a lovely island. There is a mini-skyscraper rock packed with seabirds and, in the genteel areas, the puffins are such friendly little birds that if you ask them nicely they are pleased to stop gossiping with their friends and pose for a photo or a sketch.

5) West Loch Tarbert on Jura is difficult to reach except by sea but it has some of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery and fantastic raised beaches. Not as awe-inspiring as Lock Coruisk on Skye, but with greater variety.

• Hamish Haswell-Smith will be in conversation with John Allen — the "Cairngorm John" of mountain rescue fame — at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, at 6.30pm on Friday 9th August as part of Inverness Book Festival.

The Scottish Islands is published by Canongate books.

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