One of the more anticipated new books this summer was the Cicerone guide The Book of the Bothy, by Phoebe Smith. As soon as it was announced the old guard bothy ‘guardians’ were up in arms: not only was this going to be a book about bothies – and probably giving their locations – but, perhaps even a worse sin, it was being written by someone who was not one of us.
On that basis alone I was inclined to stick up for Ms Smith. I’ve always been of the view that we look after bothies for everyone, and not just a small clique of those deemed worthy.
But, sad to say, despite being a book whose time had come, despite being well produced and published by one of the most respected guide book publishers, this is not the success it should have been.
Given that this blog is about the Cairngorms, I’m going to restrict my comments to the Cairngorm bothies included in the book but, sadly, here alone there are too many points where proper checking and proofing have been lacking, resulting in a number of inaccuracies.
Some are glaring but relatively harmless, such as referring to the Gelder Shiel as Glendar Shiel, Derry Cairngorm as Derry Hill, and Loch Avon as Loch A’an. There’s an unfortunate piece of timing, with Gelder Shiel (or Glendar?) being referred to as a bit of a cold hole: the gap between writing and printing has meant that the book does not take account of the substantial renovation that took place earlier this year.
However it’s a bit concerning that the author actively encourages people visiting Bob Scott’s Bothy to go out and cut up deadwood for the stove. As explained elsewhere on this site and in a notice within the bothy, Mar Lodge Estate, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, has specifically asked people NOT to burn deadwood, which is a valuable habitat for insects and birds. The message should be to carry in coal – don’t burn wood. Encouraging people to do exactly what the estate has asked them not to is hardly responsible and could lead to trouble for the future of the bothy.
There are a a fair few more errors in the Cairngorm chapters, leading one to assume that entries for other bothies are similarly fallible, which does rather damage any authority the book may wish to claim.
I also wonder at the absence of Corrour Bothy from these pages. Given the importance, position and popularity of Corrour, I would have thought it would be a definite inclusion. To be fair, Phoebe Smith does say her choice is a personal one but, as the book is presented in a guidebook format rather than as a personal memoir, I think more should be expected than just a personal hodge podge. Perhaps including the full complement of MBA bothies (all the bothies included here are MBA apart from Scottie’s) is a bit much to ask but surely more effort should have been made to include the principal bothies.
So far so unremittingly negative.
As I said, I was looking forward to this book and have no argument with its existence or with an ‘outsider’ writing it. So it’s only fair to say there’s also a lot to like about The Book of the Bothy. The format is a good one, with each bothy having a main piece of text complemented by bite-sized snippets and information panels. Each bothy also has a ‘diary entry’ section too, where the author records her own memories of finding and or staying in the bothy, which adds a personal touch. The photos are good too, and the whole spirit of the book is good: this is a book written by someone who, if not as experienced as some, has enjoyed her bothy nights and understands and supports what bothies are about.
But the devil is in the detail – guidebooks are built on attention detail – and it’s just such a damned shame that she didn’t do more checking and get her book more rigorously proofed.
So to buy or not to buy? A difficult one for, as I say, it’s a likable book, and maybe many of the errors I’ve spotted aren’t major but… on the whole I’d probably hang fire until the revised edition.
Since posting this and sending a full list of suggested amendments to Cicerone, I’ve been contacted by the author, Phoebe Smith, who contests some of my points – fair enough, we’ll just have to disagree – but does sound genuinely contrite about suggesting people collect wood at Bob Scott’s, underlining a commitment to make appropriate changes for the next print run of the book.
She also made the point that she did inform the MBA of her intentions and received no objection, although, in a way, I’d hold that immaterial. The MBA has no monopoly or veto on people writing about bothies and, in any case, some foreign guide books already mention bothies and their locations. From the comments below there still seem to be plenty who don’t believe the book should have been written or – if it must – that it should have been written by the MBA rather than an ‘outsider’ – a view I find totally insupportable. This is a book with good intention and, as I said above, good spirit – and, as with bothy users, who also may never have hammered a nail, that’s what counts.