Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby

Island of Dreams

Island of Dreams by Dan Boothby is subtitled A Personal History of a Remarkable Place. The place is the Kyleakin Lighthouse Island (Eilean Ban) which is now used as a base for some of the stanchions that hold up the Skye Road Bridge, so it’s now very different from the remote unspoiled place that was home to the nature writer Gavin Maxwell for years. He was of course most famous for writing books on otters that he had tamed (supposedly) Ring of Bright Water being the first and most popular one in the series, more than a million copies of it were sold. Some fans of the book seem to become quite obsessive and the author appears to have been one of them.

Dan Boothby had always wanted to visit the island and sort of worship at the place where Maxwell had lived and written his books. After years of wandering around the world he jumped at the opportunity to work as a warden there, clearing the island of the worst of the weeds engulfing the paths and such and showing visitors around the place. It must have been a very different experience from Maxwell’s with the Skye bridge looming above and the noise of the cars thumping across it.

Apparently Boothby has always wanted to emulate his hero and become a writer, and this is his first publication. For me it wasn’t a huge success, there are some interesting observations in it, but at times the author seemed to be going out of his way to make himself quite unlikeable. One bit particularly irked me.

Over the summer and autumn I’d remained remote, and had been a rare visitor to the pubs in the villages. I shared the paranoia that many English feel when they move to Celtic lands. We know we’re not really wanted. The English have historical ‘previous’: think of the Highland Clearances or the Welsh Not, think absentee landlords and Famine. The English have been oppressors and usurpers, loud crass and bullying; an occupying colonial force. English imperialism and heavy-handedness, the injustices of the past, still cause Celtic eyes to narrow, mouths to move, and men to bare their teeth. The Scots, the Welsh and the Irish don’t forget, unlike us English, who’ve moved on.

To which I say – it’s very easy to move on if you’ve not been the victim of injustice, or treated like a second class citizen in your own country. Boothby seems to suffer from the breathtaking arrogance that is thankfully a bit rarer nowadays, but as an English friend of mine who has lived in Scotland for many years said to me. The only English people who have a problem in Scotland are those who do the English thing – by which he meant throw their weight around and assume that they are right about everything and expect Scots to change their culture to suit them.

So as could be expected, Dan Boothby moved on at the end of his Scotland stint, no doubt thinking he knows it all now, despite the fact that he thinks we’re all Celts, he has ‘done Scotland’.

I enjoyed Gavin Maxwell’s writing as a youngster, but I was never happy about him keeping what should have been wild animals as pets and remember thinking how stupid he was when one of them gave him a very nasty bite and he was absolutely furious with it for being so ungrateful!! But anyway, if you were keen on the Maxwell books it might be better not to read this one, they do say that you should never go back and it might be better if you keep your memories of this island as it was back in the 1960s before there were cars thundering overhead.

If you’re interested in viewing the 1969 film of Ring of Bright Water starring Virginia McKenna you can see it below.

Recent Book Purchases

Yet again, I had banned myself from the library to concentrate on my own books, but a visit to the adjoining museum shop to buy a card ended up with me sloping into the library and of course I was seduced by some new books, but it was the unplanned book buying which was quite spectacular. In January it seems that every time I went out of the house I came back with books which I wasn’t even looking for – honest!

A visit to an antiques centre ended up with me buying the lovely Folio editions of the Mapp and Lucia books by E.F. Benson. I have them all but just in paperback so I couldn’t resist these, especially as they were so incredibly cheap. I’m not going to tell you exactly how cheap, I don’t wish to cause pain!

A mooch around some Edinburgh charity shops ended up with me buying the Penguin crimes.
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth
Cork on the Water by McDonald Hastings

I also bought It Ends with Revelations by Dodie Smith. Has anyone read this one? I’ve only read I Capture the Castle, which I really enjoyed. Then when I saw a pristine hardback of All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky I had to buy that too.

In the Scottish bookshop in Dunfermline I couldn’t pass up on
Children of the Tempest by Neil Munro and
The Selected Travel Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson called Dreams of Elsewhere.

Taking my library books back I swore I wasn’t going to borrow any more books, well I stuck to that but I couldn’t help just glancing at the bookshelves which hold the books for sale, Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym jumped out at me – really it did!

A trip to St Andrews saw me bringing back:
The Angel in the Corner by Monica Dickens, I haven’t read anything by her for getting on for 40 years, hard to belive it but true.
I also bought The McFlannels See It Through which is the second book in a humorous Scottish wartime series, but I don’t have the first one yet.

A trip to Linlithgow saw me buying:
The Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. It’s a children’s classic which I’ve never got around to reading. Of course it’s set in the English Civil War, which historians now recognise involved the whole of Britain, some of them are now calling it the War of the Three Kingdoms.

Also Nan of Northcote by Doris A Pocock, which is set in a girls school and was published in 1929. It cost me all of £1 and it could be absolute garbage but I love the cover.

My favourite and most expensive purchase was:
Scottish Gardens by Sir Herbert Maxwell, published in 1908 and it has lovely illustrations of some gardens which I’ve visited. I’m sure some of them don’t exist any more but I’m going to track them down and visit the ones I can, to see how they have changed over the years. The book is a beauty and was still a bargain, it’s for sale on the internet for much more than I paid for it. I’ve also discovered that the author was Gavin Maxwell’s grandfather. When I was a teenager I loved his nature books which are set in Scotland.

As you can see, I’ve got to get on with my reading!