Robin Lloyd-Jones’s Argonauts of the Scottish Isles, a first person account of his sea-kayaking adventures in the islands of Scotland is wonderful as it is unbelievable. Over decades, Lloyd-Jones has taken his kayak with different groups of people to explore the seas of Scotland. And what results is a thrilling tale of natural beauty and the survival instinct of the human spirit.
This book was first published over three decades ago in 1989. This is immediately significant as the author’s descriptions of ‘now’ refer to a very different time indeed. A time without modern navigation equipment, or fancy gear or even the rescue teams that characterise the present coastlines. In some ways, this makes the account take on a larger than life proportion, with the challenges seeming as high as the waves in a force nine storm.
To circumnavigate each group of islands, Lloyd-Jones has different companions. Sometimes they are his trainees, other times they are friends or other groups. All these different characters are united by a passion for the Scottish isles and a thirst that will only be quenched through adventure.
The account does suffer from a lack of consistency in the narration. Sometimes it is autobiographical, other times like a ship’s log book. It’s like the layers of recounting the travels and writing them down takes the stories in their own separate directions. But then, this makes a book very comfortable as a dipping into read, not to be read in one go or even in sequence. Rather, choosing to delve into the challenges of the Garvellachs episode, or the tranquil of the Monach Isles.
This book is also a wonderful tribute to Scotland’s rich natural history. Readers of Patrick Baker will enjoy the descriptions of the machair, the summer flora, the seals and otters and puffins that dot the pages. The remoteness of the geography combines with the familiarity of these marine visitors to provide a comfortable travel read. All without the perils of kayaking!