NATURALIST, scholar, and historian Seton Gordon wrote over 30 books and many articles and died in 1977 when he was almost 91. He was a very special person and it is good to see that one of his most delightful books, Hebridean Memories, a series of essays first published in 1923, has now been re-issued. He had an intimate knowledge of Scotland's hills, glens, moors, islands, coasts, legends and wildlife and he possessed what the old Gaels called “the Seeing Eye.” He explored and chronicled the life of the Highlands and the islands at a time when social patterns were changing. It is also salutary to see his comments on bird species which are under threat in our own day.
This sensitively-written book of 131 pages is divided into four parts: spring, summer, autumn, winter plus “other” memories and it concludes with a disturbing chapter on the state of health of the birds of the Hebrides. Seton Gordon had a perceptive eye for detail as is particularly shown in a chapter on emigration. His passages are nearly all relatively short, not unlike personal chats in an informal style and this format lends itself to relaxed reading. There is an immense richness about his work.
Everywhere he went he studied, noted and reflected and drew on his great love for the Scottish outdoor scene. His chapters include the peregrine, hill lochs, passes, corries, snowfall, swans, deer, ptarmigan, shielings, hills and coastline, crofting life and fables. He was a true man of the hills, and his talents included playing the pipes. He was a regular kilt wearer.
This book of memories was produced after Seton had moved to Skye with his wife Audrey, a move which intensified his love of the islands. He was both a man-of-the-people and a near aristo, and his courtly manners gave him a deserved reputation as a true gentleman.
A modern foreword has been provided by Arthur W Ferguson and the original introduction has been wisely retained. Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Seton and of reading some of his articles in proof form and I’ve always cherished this memory. His writings have had some well meaning imitators, but he was truly unique. Seton had a great liking for a pibroch tune called “The Glen Is Mine.” Thanks to his writings, the glens and their wild life can belong to all of us in a very evocative way.
Rennie McOwan, The Scots Magazine, November 2011