Book review: From the Mull to the Cape. A Gentle Bike Ride on the Edge of Wilderness by Richard Guise
This book follows the cycling journey of a retired man from Leicestershire. He travels from the Mull of Kintyre to Cape Wrath in Scotland.
I read the book to see what other cyclists have written about Scotland and to see if my own travel writing is any good compared to other authors. It was also a part of the country I am familiar with and would enjoy reading about.
The journey is done at an average of 4.5mph and covering a daily average distance of 38.5 miles, so this is not extreme cycle touring by any means. This is not for readers looking for a tale of high adventure, record distances and time pressures.
Richard Guise uses his sense of humour to take the reader on this journey through a beautiful part of Scotland. He had me laughing with his descriptions of some of the things that cyclists encounter like bad weather, the search for good coffee and the habits of sheep."Now, if they couldn't even distinguish their mother (white, wooly, four legs) from a man on a bike (yellow and black, two wheels) then I didn't much rate their chances of surviving even long enough to provide a decent Sunday lunch."
I was not so keen on his descriptions of local people. Whenever he quoted their speech it was like a bad Scottish stereotype, "Och well, Hamish, a dram on the house all the same?" He describes Lochinver as being populated by "barking dogs, wailing children and overweight mothers." He encounters many Eastern Europeans working in the hotels, restaurants and cafes along the route that he describes as 'Easties.' It comes across as ignorant and racist. He has not written about any meaningful encounter with local people where he had learned something about the area and their lives..
There are little information boxes that inform the reader about the history of the area that are easy to read and not dry, with Guise using his humour to lighten up the history. There is also a nice section in the middle of the book with colour photos.
Guise does give a great impression of the freedom, empty roads and peace and quiet on this route, "For me, among all the positive attributes of most Highland settlements I passed through, this is the most endearing: that between, say, 7.30pm and 7.30am there's almost nothing on the main road through town. There's nowhere else to go, you see, and anyone who's coming is already here. Priceless."
I found his descriptions of the scenery average and not quite capturing just how special this part of Scotland is. I do sympathise- it is difficult to describe landscapes without resorting to the clichés of 'beautiful', 'spectacular' and 'magnificent'. However, all good travel writers should be able to entrance their readers.
I am not sure how many readers will be inspired to cycle in Scotland as a result of this book. I do not feel that it does justice to the landscapes and people of the area. It might encourage people of a similar age to Mr Guise to give cycle touring a try. If you have already been to these places and fancy reading about another person's journey then you will find some interest in this book, but the sense of humour is not for everyone.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.