Adam has continued to write prolifically and below I review his next five books. You will see from the publication dates that I'm finally starting to catch up with his prodigious output.
As promised in the last issue, I start with his book on place names.
1) Place names in much of north-east Scotland (2013)
The book is fundamentally a long list of local place names covering the north-east of Scotland, with a side chapter based on an interview with a native speaker of the west Sutherland Gaelic dialect. It is based on a long-held interest in the subject, the results of many interviews with people who had lived in the area for a long time, and other research into old plans and maps. Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of this book is that it helps to preserve local place names that are very much in danger of getting lost. Local place names are rapidly getting anglicized and the influx of in-comers such as myself are diluting local knowledge. The book includes the results of an interview with the last fluent speaker of the Strathspey dialect of Gaelic.
However, almost all of us who chose to go into the hills will be interested in both the correct pronunciation of the local names and in their derivation and meaning. I, for one, am embarrassed far too often when telling a local where I've been only to discover that the name I've been saying all day has been hopelessly mangled. It is very much a local thing; somebody from the Central Belt is no better than me in both this area and the West Coast, the same with somebody from Aberdeenshire in Sutherland. I think, though, that you would all agree that the hills and country places deserve sufficient respect to take some effort to pronounce the names correctly.
The book is not as much for reading as for dipping into after a trip in to the hills or rural areas. For example, a trip up to Corgarff will take you through Roughpark and past the beautifully proportioned Skellater House. Adam tells us that Skellater signifies spread or forked hills or maybe spread or forked stream and also that a large house at the east end of Roughpark sold ale and porter and was known as the Candacraig Arms. I had thought of Wakefield as a very English name but now learn that" wake" means weak and that hence a "wakefield" is an area of poor-quality land.
The book includes some superb photographs to illustrate the names. These photographs are a delight in themselves.
The book is an absolute mine of information and well worth buying if only to save those all too often moments of embarrassment when talking with local people.
2) Mammals in north-east Highlands (2013)
As with much of Adam's writings, this is essentially a collection of observations. Again, as is normal for Adam's books, it is a mixture of serious scientific analysis and the sort of observation that appeals to the layman, such as myself. The scientific analysis will be of interest to the scientific community and it is precisely this sort of anecdotal observation that makes the book so interesting to people such as myself and, probably, most of you.
It is comparatively short and an easy read, with some excellent photographs. There are some "coffee table" photographs and a high proportion of gory but revealing shots of both natural fatalities and the results of gamekeepers' gruesome work. It essentially consists of three sections; red deer, a chapter on the range of mammals, fish and reptiles found in the local highlands and, finally, mountain hare.
There are six fairly short chapters on red deer, covering a range of topics, with associated causes, such as timing of antler shedding and winter death rates. I found the few pages on deer beds, a subject I knew nothing about before, particularly interesting.
The single chapter on mammals, fish and reptiles is a fascinating compendium of information. Who would have guessed that there were/are pike in Loch Callater or slow worms at Coilacreich? The piece on wild cats is, unsurprisingly, engrossing.
The three chapters on mountain hare would alone justify buying this book. The indiscriminate extermination of mountain hare in the cause of grouse shooting is slowly and belatedly becoming high profile. It is a subject we all need to know more about and these three chapters form an excellent introduction to the subject. In this section, Adam becomes very critical of SNH, rightly so, for their role in allowing this scandal to continue.
So, I see it as essential reading and I recommend it.
3) Hill birds in north-east Highlands (2013)
This book follows a similar theme to the book on mammals reviewed above. It gives detailed observational records on red grouse, ptarmigan, golden plover and dotterel. A final chapter gives information on counts for other birds, while the author was out in the hills rather than for specific research purposes. As in the above book, the text and tables are accompanied by some excellent photographs. It will undoubtedly appeal to serious ornithologists and represents a useful source of reference material for the non-specialist reader. There are fewer anecdotal observations in this book and, consequently, it is less of an easy read.
However, it still contains much of interest to amateur hill-goers such as ourselves. Reading a chapter after a day on the hills when you spotted, say, a dotterel helps to understand both a bit more about dotterels themselves and also about bird population dynamics in general. Comments on, e.g. predation by gulls, effect of heather height, soil type can give insight into factors affecting other birds and other locations. There are also interesting discussions on the effects of food source, covering both blueberries and craneflies, and also excessive muirburn destroying the optimum balance between new heather shoots and adequate cover. Discussed in terms of getting accurate counts, there is interesting information on both the best times of day and best times of year to see upland birds.
One of the strengths of Adam' writing is the constant reference back to local sources such as gamekeepers. I'm sure that you will agree with me that one of the pleasures of a day out in the hills is coming back down and meeting a local stalker or gamekeeper and discussing what you've seen, or more normally in my case, what I've not seen. This local depth of knowledge is always impressive - Adam captures this well in his writing.
A book aimed at a specialist audience but still with enough general information in it to interest the layman. It is inexpensive and worth adding to your bookcase.
4) Points, sets and man (2013)
This book is about Adam's use of dogs to help find grouse and ptarmigan during his field research and marks a return to a much more anecdotal style. Two thirds of the book is devoted to accounts of Adam's various dogs. The second third details experiences from an international range of authors on their use of dogs for biological field research.
The full title, "Points, sets and man - Pointers and setters, stars of research on grouse, ptarmigan and other game" describes the book well enough but leaves out its wider appeal. The book will appeal to two audiences. Those interested in detailed use of dogs for biological fieldwork will find it an invaluable source of reference. There is a clear thread of an evolving understanding as both Adam and those that he worked with grew to understand more about how to work with dogs. However, not just dog lovers but those just generally interested in dogs and their relationship with man will find it fascinating. The anecdotal style, with humorous interludes is easy to read and interesting. He sets out to "sing the praises of dogs" but it is the insights to their relationship with man that is most appealing.
The accounts of his own dogs provide a range of highs and lows. These range from the high of teaching Harra to "point" out nests to the low of Breacan being killed by a car with many stories in between. Throughout, there is sense of purpose underlying the relationship; the dogs had to able to perform on the hill. This purpose made for a stronger bond than a normal domestic pet. As well as being working dogs, they obviously formed strong bonds with his children. The book is sprinkled with hints and observations on the successful training of dogs, applicable to all dog owners.
As always, the book is both well-illustrated with many superb photographs and also packed with vignettes of the people who made up the countryside at the time.
The rear cover states that "Hunters, shooters, researchers and dog enthusiasts in general will enjoy and appreciate this book". I suggest that it has a wider appeal.
5) More days from a hill diary (2014)
As in the earlier book, this is a collection of diary entries spanning the years 1951 - 1980. As before, the unadulterated diary style grows on you. Slowly, a complete picture builds in your mind formed by the details and the anecdotes, e.g. noting in a single terse entry that "the Army are camped at Lochan Buidhe, erecting a metal bothy" or quoting the speed of ice movement on a Norwegian glacier as eight feet every three days (which sounds frighteningly fast!).
The book covers ski-touring and mountaineering in Scotland, three separate trips to Norway and a brief visit to Newfoundland. The sections on skiing in Scotland make frequent reference to Adam's father or Adam Watson senior and it becomes clear just how much of an influence he has been on Adam's love of the mountains. The accounts of the two trips to Norway, with photos from a third visit, convey a sense of adventure and almost justify a book in their own right, though Tom Weir did indeed do this. The Newfoundland chapter is brief but significant as this is the first that we have heard of a crack in Adam's iron constitution. He injured his knee, admitting to a "severe pain". Although, it did clear up "astonishingly fast" after a bit of warmth! One sore knee in a lifetime of ski- touring and mountaineering isn't bad going.
There are some glorious stories of times gone by, e.g. of hitch-hiking home on a Grimsby trawler. Imagine trying to do that now! Undoubtedly, visiting Norway today for a climbing holiday would be less of an adventure. Interestingly, in this book, much more of Adam's climbing comes over than in his other books. He is well-known for having seconded Tom Patey on their route-checking for the climbing guide to the Cairngorms and some of that climbing flavour comes over throughout the book.
Given my comments on the photographs in all of the books above, the fact that the book is full of excellent photographs is almost superfluous.
If you enjoyed Adam's first "Days from a hill diary", then you will also enjoy this book; a worthy successor!
Adam's books are for sale on Deeside. Deeside Books in Ballater has copies of all of them. Hilltrek in Aboyne, Braemar Mountain Sports and Dinnet Antique Shop have various copies. They are also available from Amazon. Publication of all of these five books has been kindly sponsored by Bert McIntosh and McIntosh Plant Hire Ltd.
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