Beyond the Secret Howff by Ashie Brebner (2017, Luath Press)

Review by George Allan

The late Ashie Brebner was a member of one of the many splinter groups, described with humour in Patey’s ‘Cairngorm Commentary’, operating from Deeside in the years following the Second World War. His gang were all round mountaineers with a particular enthusiasm for ski mountaineering of which they were early pioneers. With restrictions on transport, the long walk-in (now, sadly, a thing of the past) and heavy camping gear, forward bases were essential to making best use of time. Bothies and abandoned cottages were well frequented but there were no old buildings servicing the Beinn a’Bhuird/Ben Avon area, so the author’s group took things into their own hands and built the Secret Howff. These early adventures take the reader back to a time, which, while not that long ago, feels so different to today.

The title of the book is apt; the later chapters see the author abandoning a job he disliked, leaving Aberdeen and heading north to establish one of the first nature tourism businesses along with his brother-in-law, a gamble which paid off. He travelled extensively with his clients throughout the north and regularly visited the Western and Northern Isles. His enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of natural history, particularly birds, make reading about the life he made for himself a real pleasure.

The book ends with his revisiting the Howff after many years absence and delighting in the fact that it continued (and continues) to be well maintained. The whereabouts of the Secret Howff is not that secret but tradition dictates that its location never be committed to print- long may that convention remain!

Mammal Atlas of North-East Scotland and the Cairngorms by Littlewood, Chapman, Francis, Roberts and Sideris (2017, NESBRec)

Review by George Allan

With the help of volunteers and the general public, NESBReC (North East Scotland Biological Records Centre) maintains a database of biodiversity information for use by planners, researchers, land managers and conservationists. While the information is available on line, NESBReC has produced a handsome, illustrated book detailing the mammal species recorded in the North East with maps of their densities and spread. In addition, the individual chapters on each species provide useful information about habitats and ecology, along with conservation issues and details of any legal protections.

This is a scientific work but one in which the material is provided in an easily accessible form. If you want to know more about the prevalence of Leisler’s Bat (extremely rare) or the Red Squirrel (fairly common and wide spread) in the North East, the information is at your finger tips in this book.
The atlas is available from NESBReC or from various outlets.

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