Early Guide Books, part II.

In 1818, an unusual guide by Thomas Walford, called The Scientific Tourist through England, Wales and Scotland, in which the traveller is directed to the principal objects of Antiquity, Art, Science, & the Picturesque, including the Minerals, Fossils, Plants, &c. in each country. It was issued in two volumes, the second of which covered Scotland county by county. The map provided gave a fair assessment of the roads as they were at the time, though as we have seen, those along the north coast were not easy to follow, or not there at all.

Detail from the map of Scotland, found in Walford's guide, 1818.

Detail from the map of Scotland, found in Walford's guide, 1818.

The book was an attempt to provide a guide for the serious tourist, keen to seek out not just the obvious sights, but rather to explore the new sciences like geology and botany that were making much progress and offering opportunities to the amateur enthusiast. The first 76 pages of volume I are devoted to a variety of subjects - antiquarian, architectural, as well as geological, mineralogical, and botanical. The pages on geology were prepared by the Geological Society. They number 19 pages, including those on minerals, and suggest a large range of details for which the visitor might look out. In 'Concerning Veins' (geology), for example, they ask "Are they of the same material as the rock in which they occur...Do they terminate in a wedge....Do they ramify...Do the branches re-unite...In what order are the minerals arranged of which the vein is composed?" and many more - serious stuff, and of course the findings of amateurs at that time could provide crucial information for the science. 

For the botanist, there was a seven-page list of Rare Plants, and for the antiquarian, details ranging from Druidical Monuments to Cromlechs and Tolmens.

Each county was then presented, with a general introduction, followed by a gazetteer listing the principal sights in each area. Many of the English counties receive a full account numbering several pages: Cornwall has 12 pages, for example. The Scottish counties rarely exceed 4 pages, and as one might expect, Sutherland is given just over 1 page.

Walford begins "...none but the most determined tourist and the most determined sportsmen ever think of penetrating its wooded wilds." He continues " To those who cannot pass a short winter's night without routs, drums, and hurricanes, I recommend not Sutherlandshire as a hyemal residence; but in the short summer, a few weeks may be agreeably spent, partly in the interior, where forests filled with deer and mountains abounding with game offer strong temptations to exercise; and partly on its coast, where every variety of romantic grandeur meets the picturesque eye midst sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, winding bays, the foaming ocean, and the howling storm."

So far as science is concerned, no mention is made of the geology of the region, and regarding botany: "In this mountainous county, there are certainly a great variety of rare plants, although they are not mentioned in Lightfoot's Flora Scotica, or any other botanical work in my possession". Lightfoot had travelled to Scotland on Pennant's second tour in 1772, but they had been able to travel only as far north as Ledbeg. Clearly, in 1818, not much was known generally about the county, though Walford does say encouragingly "it will afford a rich harvest for some future botanist." Knowledge of James Robertson's 'rich harvest' which he collected in the middle of the 18th century was obviously not generally available.

The section on Ross-shire, on the other hand, has a list of some 13 wild plants, starting with Veronica Alpina (Alpine Speedwell) which could be found on "Badenoch and Lochaber mountains." Walford also suggests that the county offers for the mineralogist "subjects of research in the chaleybeate and sulphur wells in different parts, especially at Strathpeffer", whilst the antiquary can delight in a "variety of Druidical temples and vitrifed forts amidst its lofty mountains." Again, it is clear that only the eastern part of the county is well explored, and elsewhere he warns that "the travelling accommodations are not such as will tempt the luxurious or the effeminate" and laments the "constant and heavy rians that inundate the western district...[which] preclude picturesque travelling during a great portion of the year."

In the first part of this piece on Early Guide Books, I mentioned Thomson's Travellers Guide through Scotland, the 1829 edition of which has an account of a journey deep into Sutherland: a helpful addition by the editor of the guide, who obviously had not been there himself. In 1834, the first edition of a Guide Book the Highlands deserved, and needed, was published by George and Peter Anderson: Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Including Orkney and Zetland, descriptive of their Scenery, Statistics, Antiquities, and Natural History; with numerous Historical Notices.

This is not a glossy publication full of engravings and vignettes. There isn't a single illustration in all the 759 pages, just two maps, of the Orkney Islands, and the Zetland Islands. A "very complete map of Scotland" is mentioned on the title page, but as far as I can tell, this seems never to have been bound into these early editions. If you want to know what the Highlands really were like in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign, this is the book to which you should turn. The brothers were based in Inverness, where George describes himself as "General Secretary of the Northern Institution for the Promotion of Science and Literature, while Peter is "Secretary to the Inverness Society for the Education of the Poor in Scotland." In the short preface, they emphasise that "they have purposely and personally visited almost all the scenes described by them", and shown the manuscript to £friends intimately acquainted with the various districts of which it treats."

The guide contains far too much detail for me to dwell on it in this short piece on early guides. It abounds with interesting information, such as the disclosure that "the kilt...is not to be met with in Skye, and it seems never to have been worn here. At present, the ordinary fashion of short coats and trowsers of coarse cloth, universally prevails." With regards to Sutherland, the road information is up-to-date. Thus in describing the route from 'Aultnaharrow' to Bettyhill, they mention that "towards its northern extremity the road is not quite completed, and is there as yet merely 'a bridle road'." The ferries across the rivers Naver, Hallowdale and Hope are described in some detail: "a large flat boat, which is moved from one side of the river to the other by means of a windlass and chain, attached underneath to the boat, and connected also with the banks. These boats admit a carriage, without the horses being unharnessed, and the largest is capable of conveying nearly 200 passengers, and of carrying seven or eight tons' weight at a time." They add that all these crossing points will soon have bridges.

I also have a 'New Edition' of this guide, published in 1842. It is able to report further progress in road construction in the region: "The Eddrachillis road has been but recently finished; it completes the communication round Sutherlandshire, and invites attention to an expanse of scenery singularly wild and grand, and to districts hitherto almost untrodden by the foot of the stranger." In addition, there were now regular mail gigs, offering limited passenger transport between Golspie and Tongue, and Assynt. "We trust that the means of conveyance will soon be continued between Assynt and Tongue." However, "Beyond Fort William, on the western coast ... it is impossible for the traveller as yet to penetrate by land, without interruption, to the extreme north-west point of Sutherlandshire. Nor is there much likelihood of a continuous line of road being projected along this part of the coast. Besides the numerous ferries to be crossed, there are no roads except footpaths, or at best bridle or rather break-neck roads...from Loch Torridon through Gairloch, nor from Loch Maree to Loch Broom, in Ross-shire; nor yet from Ullapool through the district of Coigach...to Loch Inver in Sutherlandshire. Some of these districts in which the communication is  cut off, are so exceedingly rough and inaccessible - so remote and so thinly peopled, that public money  cannot be expected to be laid out on them; but the proprietors and their tenants are exerting themselves to form what are styled district roads through them." Over the next ten or twenty years, many of these roads were put into place.

Sadly, the guide reports that some of the district roads that did exist were now in a poor state. That which ran from Garve Inn to Ullapool, for example had been "made about fifty years ago, at the expence of the government, and cost about £4,500, and it was then one of the best roads in the Highlands; but it has for many years been neglected, and is sadly broken down in innumerable places, so as to be passable only to foot-passengers and horsemen.... but we are glad to hear that this shocking road will not be permitted to remain long in its present condition to disgrace the county of Ross, and that the district trustees have at length fairly commenced building bridges, and improving the worst parts."

The improvement of communications down the west coast was a slow business, left very much to the energies, and to the purses of the local landowners and their tenants.

There is no doubt that Andersons' Guide to the Highlands, which ran to at least three editions, was the guide to the far north for some time. This pre-title page on the left is from a ninth edition of William Rhind's The Scottish Tourist; being a guide to the Picturesque Scenery and Antiquities of Scotland. There is no date but it seems to be c.1840. It suggests a number of tours which are described in some detail (the guide contains 414 pages), but Sutherland is dismissed in one rather vague paragraph at the evry end of the book:

"The roads are good from Thurso along the north coast of Caithness and Sutherland. Travellers may therefore visit with ease that romantic district, and return through Strathaven, the country of the Mackays [Telford's road south from Tongue]; or through Strathmore, by the singular and  celebrated Pictish town [sic] of Dundornadilla, which is very picturesquely situated towards the head of Strathmore. These lines join at the head of Loch Naver, and thence to Bonar Bridge and the mail-coach road to Edinburgh." One looks in vain in the index for places like Durness, Ullapool, and even Loch Maree.

However, the guide is not wothout merit: Rhind's interests included geology, which at that time was a comparatively young science, and he included this not inconsiderable Geological Map of Scotland which Moir, in Early Maps of Scotland, dates 1845.

At around this time, A. & C. Black began publication of their famous series of guides to Scotland. My earliest example is a slightly battered third edition dated 1843. Again, there is virtually no reference at all to the far north-west in the entire 440 pages. It was only with the coming of the railway to those districts that general guides began to include Ross-shire and Sutherland, after which destinations like Loch Maree became comparatively popular with the intrepid visitor.