Scotland: travel books to read before you go

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This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Scotland guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Journey to the Western IslesTwo of the greatest Scottish travelogues date from the 18th century. A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland (1759) and Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) by James Boswell are vivid accounts of two journeys made by the author in the company of the famous lexicographer Samuel Johnson. Boswell writes engagingly of their travails and encounters with the local people, from lairds to crofters, and paints a vivid picture of Highland life in the late 18th century.

Raw SpiritA much more recent travelogue is Raw Spirit (2004) by novelist Iain Banks, an immensely enjoyable jaunt around Scotland supposedly in search of the perfect single malt whisky. Although half the book has nothing to do with whisky, and reads more like an extended pub conversation, Banks makes an entertaining companion as he regales you with his opinions on cars (he owns several), tales of driving on Scottish roads and hilarious anecdotes from his youth.

Adrift in CaledoniaAnother travel tale with a twist is recounted in Adrift in Caledonia (2006) by Nick Thorpe, an entertaining and insightful tale of travelling around Scotland by hitching rides on a variety of vessels, from canal barge and rowing boat to steam puffer and square-rigged sailing ship.

Stone VoicesStone Voices: The Search for Scotland (2002), by respected Scots journalist Neal Ascherson, is a highly readable and very personal exploration of Scottish history and culture, filled with fascinating insights and some contentious conclusions that will provide the starting point for some lively bar-room conversations.

Mountaineering in ScotlandAnyone with an interest in the Scottish hills should seek out Always A Little Further (1939) by Alastair Borthwick and Mountaineering in Scotland (1947) by WH Murray. Both are classic accounts, beautifully written, of camping, hiking and rock climbing in Scotland in the 1930s, when just getting to Glen Coe was an adventure in itself and the most advanced ice-climbing equipment was a slater’s pick.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found on lonelyplanet.com.