‘Isles of the West’ by Ian Mitchell

‘Isles of the West’ is an interesting book, not least because it predates a number of historical events so I was reading knowing what happened a few years later. In the summer of 1996 the author set sail from his home of Islay and sailed round the Hebridean islands for 3 months, and this book chronicles his encounters with the places and people. It is never sentimental but it is clear he really loves the islands and has a lot of time for their more colourful characters. The book is also really scathing about the conservation ‘industry’ and the impact that different conservation groups have had in their dealings with the local communities – some of the encounters with organisational representatives had me cringeing as I read.

It was also interesting as he encounters a number of the same people who were interviewed for ‘Island Voices’ (see review a few posts down), and also talks about the Eigg community buy-out (a few years ago our book group read ‘Soil and Soul’ by Alastair Mackintosh which detailed his involvement in the eventually successful buy-out). At the time of the trip the island was still up for sale and the islanders were applying for funds to undertake the buy-out, and he is clearly sceptical about the benefits of that, which was a really interesting alternative viewpoint from the very ‘pro’ ‘Soil and Soul’ account.

Since the book was published all sorts of things have changed, not least the creation of the Scottish Parliament. So this was interesting as a historical account, yes, but I think there is plenty here that stands the test of time. It was always a controversial book (particularly on account of its treatment of the conservation industry); 16 years after the trip that inspired it, it hasn’t lost its sting.

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