If the bureaucrats and the incomers saw this place horizontally then Bert saw it vertically. Down through the soil and deep through the generations. He saw the boundaries between his land and the next with the same us-and-them finality a Londoner might see the hidden borders of gang territories. This field here, this tree, this beast, was as intimate to him as family, but that field there belonging to his neighbour, that was foreign land, as far from him as the Arctic. This was home, that was away. For him, Rise wasn’t an income or a classification or a family or a business or a job. It was everything.
‘Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not farm from one of the works of my ancestors. The Bell Rock stands monument for my grandfather, the Skerry Vhor for my Uncle Alan, and when the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father.’ RLS, 1880
This is the biography of an extraordinary family, an impossible sea and an engineering miracle. Robert Louis Stevenson may have been the most famous of the Stevensons, but he was not the most productive. The Lighthouse Stevensons, all four generations of them, designed and built the great lights around Scotland, fighting storms, near-drownings, sickness and pressgangs along the way. They were lifesavers and pioneers, and their lives were as full of drama and adventure as anything RLS wrote. Here, for the first time, is their story.
‘Deeply accomplished… this splendid book preserves the memory of great deeds performed in a heroic era’
Frank McLynn, Sunday Times
‘Bella Bathurst has built a lamp herself: it illuminates the work of a literary hero, a family business, a habit of mind and a Scottish period… from the summit of this first terrific book she looks to become one of the best biographers of her generation’
Andrew O’Hagan, The Times
‘An enthralling story, vivaciously recounted… These were epic and scarifying adventures, indicative of an age when the taming of nature was a philosophical given, its execution a religious passion’
Alan Taylor, Observer
‘This is a grand book doing for lighthouses what Dava Sobel’s Longitude did for marine chronometers, and doing it, if comparisons are to be made, with considerably more panache’
Nicholas Bagnall, Sunday Telegraph
Winner of the Somerset Maugham Award 1999, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.
A fine shipwreck has always represented sport pleasure, treasure, and in many cases the differnce between living well and just getting by. From all around Britain, Bella Bathurst has uncovered the secret history of wrecking, from shoreline orgies so debauched that few participants survived until morning to remote crofts fitted with silver candelabra via cows hung with lanterns to lure unwary ships to ruin and the Cornish reputation for drowning survivors.
‘The beauty of this book is that Bathurst never forgets that the whole attraction of wrecking is its mystery. Rich in the lore of the sea, but steeped in the everyday experience of the people she meets.’ Observer.
‘Bathurst is a brave and talented writer. She is wry, perceptive, laconic, occasionally downright funny and uncannily skilled at recreating atmosphere … some of her most intense passages about the movement of water are breathtakingly novelistic and poetically precise.’ Daily Telegraph
‘Bathurst’s descriptions are preise and graphic, but also poignant … Striking and memorable’. Peter Ackroyd, The Times