This year we reached a real milestone for the company when we passed the sale of our one millionth walking guide.
A huge thank you goes out to all of you who have bought and enjoyed the guides over the years, and to those who have come back and bought more. Over the years we have been lucky enough to hear from a good number of you, and this has led to many useful tips about routes and interesting and memorable conversations.
The series started in 1994, with Walks Deeside, and the success of that book (No 1 in the Press & Journal best-seller list) encouraged us to start work on a series covering the whole of Scotland, plus the best walking areas in England. We haven’t quite finished the series yet, but then I doubt if we would have expected to get as far as we have – or to have sold so many books – when we started out.
A lot has changed over the years. When we produced Deeside we were split between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, then for a long time we worked from our HQ by Loch Tummel, in Perthshire, until the office and warehouse finally migrated to Argyll, where they are today.
The way the books are sold has changed dramatically over the years, too. The guides were originally designed to be sold primarily through the large network of local Tourist Information Centres and bookshops, and online selling was in its infancy. The rise of online selling in part contributed to the sad loss of the vast majority of local TICs in Scotland. Small independent bookshops seemed to be going the same way, though – in part as a result of Covid – that trend seems to have reversed. Waterstones have always been a great supporter of our series, and remain one of our main sales outlets alongside the Visitor Information Centres, Amazon (inevitably!) and our own website. Once again, we are really grateful to the buyers who have consistently stocked the guides over the years, and to the regional and national wholesalers – many of whom we have been working with for well over 20 years – who keep the guides in the public eye.
Producing the guides has provided a wonderful opportunity to explore the country, and to visit corners we would never otherwise have reached. And where we haven’t been able to do the work ourselves, we have been lucky to work with a number of writers who have put their own style on the books they produced.
One of the main features of the guides is that we aim to keep them as up-to-date as possible, and to achieve that we have a small team of checkers who have undertaken regular rewalks over the years. They brave rain, snow and occasionally blistering sun to undertake the checks – usually in well-orchestrated walking weeks. A great thank you to all of the writers and checkers we have worked with over the years.
Like everything else, the writing and research has changed through the years. Richard started taking hand-written notes, then tape cassette voice recordings, and now uses digital dictaphones. This system has been faultless until one episode this year, on a rewalk of the Stirling book, when a spectacularly heavy shower when descending Dumyat soaked the recorder and resulted in the loss of the whole week’s notes. A second rewalk of the entire book resulted in a change of policy and a new recorder!
Computers were not commonplace when we started, and, being from design and publishing backgrounds, we put the early books together with hand-drawn maps and covers, and with the routes added carefully using a 3.0 Rotring pen to give the right size of dot! Contour shading and water were painstakingly cut out of Letratone with a swivel knife. All text and map lettering arrived from the printer on a roll of bromide paper and had to be cut out and pasted in place on the page and maps. The clear memory of finishing a job and finding one ‘0’ from a scale bar lying on the floor is still painful. Where DID it come from? In those days it was a bit of a leap of faith, especially with the covers, as we had no idea what the finished book would look like until they arrived from the printers.
All that has changed now, of course, and the books are put together on computer – though, as a trained artist, I have always looked to retain a high degree of artwork in the books. The maps all start life as a pen drawing which is then scanned and developed on the computer. The covers too start with a pen and ink outline (rather than the torn cartridge paper which we used in the early days). The pen and ink line illustrations, which have been a feature of the books since we started, are still carried out in exactly the same way, drawn with a Rotring pen on drafting film.
And then there are the printers. We have worked with quite a number over the years, and apart from one brief (and entirely unsuccessful) excursion abroad, we have proudly always printed the books in the UK. Predominately we have worked with Scottish printers and they have invariably done a great job. Sadly, the print trade, like many others, suffered from cheap foreign competition and many businesses went to the wayside over the years. But the technology has moved on rapidly, and UK printers are now extremely capable and competitive. For a number of years we have been working with the excellent Barr Printers in Glenrothes, and all of the books are printed on FSC papers.
We have thoroughly enjoyed the last 26 years producing the series and look forward to the keeping the series relevant as times change – and maybe even reaching the elusive goal of finishing the coverage of Scotland…
Photos: Top right: No 1 in the Press & Journal charts in 1994; Right: The books at the recent St Duthac Festival in Tain.