Robin Lloyd-Jones, Argonauts of the Western Isles: Sea kayaking off Scotland's
Whittles Publishing, £16.99 ISBN 978-1904445-49-4
"When I was five years old, my aunt, recently returned from Canada, assured me that Red Indians parted their hair down the middle in order to balance their canoes. From that day on I had been quite convinced canoes were tippy, unreliable things." From this unpromising introduction, Robin Lloyd-Jones went on as an adult to become hooked on sea kayaking. The book, first published in 1989, describes his paddling experiences from the early sixties on. The title accurately reflects the scope of the original edition as the author expanded the range of his activities further afield from his Helensburgh home between the 1960s and 1988. The Firth of Lorn, Ardnamurchan, lona, Lewis and the Uists are all encountered by his exploring paddle. The new edition contains five additional chapters covering more recent trips, includingvisitsto Skye, Orkney and Shetland.
I should say at this point that I am approaching this book as a complete non-paddler whose only hands-on experience of kayaks has been moving my son's boat about the garage. But I didn't find a lack of personal knowledge and experience was an obstacle to enjoying it.
Robin Lloyd-Jones was a mountaineer before he discovered the joys of kayaking and he points out the common ground shared by the two activities - "the challenges posed by rugged terrain or difficult natural conditions, of being self-reliant, the joys of exploration, the magnificence of wild and lonely places, the fulfilment and refreshment of spirit that a day in such an environment can bring." and then there are the survival and navigation issues. In addition, the altered perspective which a small-scale, sea-borne approach gives to the paddler allows him to present otherwise familiar landscapes to us in a new guise.
Most importantly, though, this is a very readable book. The author has the ability to describe landscapes, seascapes and situations in away that makes them vivid to us, most dramatically, perhaps, in his description of battling a force nine gale off the Garvellachs. He also demonstrates a fine sense of humour. More than once I was reminded of that classic of watery comic writing, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. The book is also enhanced by a number of illustrations, some black and white, some coloured and there are outline maps covering the various expeditions. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!
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