Aug 112017
 

With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

Celebrate summer at The National Trust for Scotland’s Haddo House with a day packed with fun for children of all ages.
Kids can let off energy on the bouncy castles, enter Gladiator duels and be challenged on an obstacle course.

Florence The Confused Frog author Cat Taylor will lead storytelling workshops and caricaturist Lyn Elrick will be penning portraits. There will be face painting and a toddler area for soft play and ball pool. 

For grown ups there’s an adult bouncy castle or book a flea market table and sell any unwanted toys or children’s clothes.

Refreshments will be on sale in the castle shop, and visitors can bring a picnic if they wish. Haddo House is an elegant mansion house with stunning late Victorian interiors.

Noted for its fine furniture and paintings, Haddo also has a terraced garden leading to the Country Park with lakes, walks and monuments.

For more information about summer events at Haddo House – and other National Trust for Scotland properties – visit www.nts.org.uk

Event:           Haddo Summer Fair
Date:            Sunday, 13 August 2017
Time:            11am-4pm
Venue:          Haddo House, Methlick, Ellon AB41 7EQ
Price:            £3

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Jul 212017
 

By Duncan Harley.

In this comprehensive guide to Scottish mountain bothies, Edinburgh writer Geoff Allan reveals the unique network of mountain huts and bothy cabins which inhabit our wild places.
Geoff has variously hiked or biked to every known Scottish bothy and in this stunningly illustrated book he details all of the 81 Mountain Bothy Association maintained bothies and, in addition, points the way towards the lesser-known wilderness gems.

Defined in the pre-amble as “A simple shelter in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love being in wild and lonely places” remote bothies are often romanticised and Geoff’s short but concise take on the beginnings of the bothy movement cuts to the chase and advises the reader what to expect of typical bothy accommodation.

Facilities are quite rudimentary. “As a bare minimum” he cautions “bothies will have a table and a couple of chairs.” Answering calls of nature will however involve a short walk plus the use of a spade “Select a location at least 200yds from the bothie, dig a hole at least six inches deep and bury your deposit.”

It is this Spartan attention to detail which makes this outdoors guide invaluable. Not only does Geoff list those bothies which actually have loos, there are eight in the entirety of Scotland, but he takes care to inform the reader about the essentials of bothy etiquette and of the common sense philosophy of leaving the building in the condition in which you might wish to find it.

Essential equipment such as kit, food and fuel is discussed in minute detail and the Mountain Bothy Code is set-out for the benefit of those heather-crunchers intent on taking the high road to those solitary places for the first-time. Regard for surroundings and respect for fellow users head the list and a cautionary warning for the unwary suggests that all rubbish should be placed in the nearest rucksack and carted home!

The core of this book is of course a detailed description of the bothy shelters. Split into regions, the 100 or so buildings are described by size, facilities and location. A useful general history of each building follows and walking routes are detailed alongside breathtaking images emphasising the remoteness of these hidden treasures.

Superbly illustrated throughout, this clearly written travel-guide will both inform the casual coffee-table user and provide an exhaustive reference source for outdoor folk intent on extreme bothy bagging.

The Scottish Bothy Bible (304pp) by Geoff Allan is published by Wild Things Publishing Ltd at £16.99 ISBN 9781910636107

First published in the July edition of Leopard Magazine

Jul 032017
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

(L to R) Sarah Harker and Moira Gash of DeeTour and VisitScotland regional director Jo Robinson.

A pair of Aberdeenshire entrepreneurs have launched a new tourist guidebook aimed at attracting more visitors to Royal Deeside.
Moira Gash and Sarah Harker, who run tour and activities business DeeTour alongside their own separate businesses, have created the Royal Deeside PassporTour, a pocketsize guide showcasing things to see and do in the Aberdeenshire valley.

The pair previously worked for tourism body Visit Royal Deeside.

Aimed at national and international visitors and locals alike, the 128-page book highlights the diversity of the area’s tourism offering. The guide was created after local tourism businesses called for this type of publication.

With stunning scenery, a wealth of locally produced food and drink, and an array of tourist attractions, golf courses and outdoor activities to enjoy, Royal Deeside has something for visitors of all ages. The book is designed to provide a comprehensive insight for those planning a trip to the area, while also acting as a guide and money saving tool as they explore the region.

Along with highlighting key tourist attractions and profiling the amenities and activities on offer in each of the main towns, the guide features interviews with local artists, tour guides, musicians, sportspeople and tourism professionals, helping to bring the region to life. A golf trail and a tea and cake trail each present further incentives to explore Royal Deeside, with participating businesses offering discounts to customers.

The history, heritage and culture of Royal Deeside and Scotland is also outlined, and a handy summary of Doric words will help visitors to grasp some of the basics of the distinctive north-east dialect.

Priced at £9.95, the Royal Deeside PassporTour provides purchasers with over £200 worth of savings through the 23 vouchers and two trails that it features.

The guidebook is also suitable for local families looking for inspiration for things to do during the summer holidays. Vouchers include 15% off at Go Ape at Crathes Castle, 50% off at Battlegrounds Paintball, two for one entry to Braemar Castle and 20% off day rover tickets at the Deeside Railway.

Co-director of DeeTour, Moira Gash, said:

“The Royal Deeside PassporTour aims to allow travellers to make informed choices as they plan their trip to Aberdeenshire and also act as a reference tool while they are visiting. Thanks to its royal connection, Deeside draws visitors from around the world and we’ve had interest in the guide from far and wide.

“Not only is it suitable for those visiting the area for the first time, but the huge savings offered by the featured businesses makes it a fantastic tool for locals. For families planning day trips during the summer holidays, the savings on offer at Go Ape at Crathes Castle and Battlegrounds’ paintballing, near Banchory, more than cover the cost of the book.”

The initiative has received the backing of VisitScotland, and was showcased at this year’s Royal Highland Show as part of the Aberdeenshire Village display, where it was given an enthusiastic reception from show visitors.

Jo Robinson, VisitScotland regional director, said:

“I think the Royal Deeside PassporTour is a great idea to inform visitors coming to beautiful Royal Deeside of the vast array of attractions, entertainment, locations and handy hints and tips, as well as locals looking for ideas for the summer holidays.

“Partnership and collaboration is at the heart of Scottish tourism and VisitScotland works with local industry to develop and deliver innovative initiatives that grow the regional visitor economy. We need to think big about Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as a tourism destination to ensure we fulfil our potential – every visitor must get a quality experience, every single time.

“The Royal Deeside PassporTour reveals some of Aberdeenshire’s best-loved places as well as its hidden gems, and is a fantastic celebration of everything that this charming corner of the world has to offer visitors.”

Copies of the Royal Deeside PassporTour can be purchased from a number of businesses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire or online at www.deetour.co.uk.

DeeTour is an Aberdeenshire-based tour and activities business that was established by business partners Moira Gash and Sarah Harker. The business provides bespoke tour and activity packages to help visitors explore Aberdeenshire. In 2017, DeeTour launched the Royal Deeside PassporTour, a new guidebook highlighting the wealth of things to see, do and sample in the region. The pocketsize book, which costs £9.95, includes over 20 vouchers that provide more than £200 of discounts at local business. 

Further information about DeeTour and the Royal Deeside PassporTour can be found at www.deetour.co.uk.

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Jun 232017
 

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in autumn colours, Scotland

With thanks to Chris Aldridge.

A new book, The Red Squirrel: A Future in the Forest, by award-winning wildlife photographer Neil McIntyre and author Polly Pullar, is helping to support the return of one of Scotland’s best loved animals to the Highlands of Scotland.

The book’s publisher, Highlands-based social enterprise SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, has pledged to donate £10 from books purchased with a special code to Trees for Life’s work to re-introduce red squirrels to the western Highlands. 

Peter Cairns of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture hopes the book will raise fresh awareness about the plight of the reds as well as cash to help save them.

He said:

“Neil’s beautiful images and Polly’s words have helped to highlight how important the wild forest is to squirrels. We love what Trees for Life is doing to bring back both the forest and the squirrels and are pleased to be able to support them in this way.”

Trees for Life is an award-winning charity working to restore the native Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife to the Highlands of Scotland. Conservation experts at the charity have been carefully relocating red squirrels from healthy populations in Inverness-shire and Moray to forests in northwest Scotland, where the species is currently absent despite suitable habitat. The Red Squirrel Reintroduction 

Project has so far established four new populations in the northwest Highlands, significantly increasing both the numbers and range of the red squirrel in the UK.

Becky Priestly, Wildlife Officer with Trees for Life, said:

“We’re hugely thankful to SCOTLAND: The Big Picture for its generous offer to donate to our Red Squirrel Appeal from sales of the book. These donations will help us continue our work to reintroduce this much-loved animal. Local communities are monitoring the introduced squirrels and are now reporting sightings of young squirrels for the second year running, so we know they’re doing well.” 

To obtain a copy of The Red Squirrel: A Future in the Forest and help support Trees for Life, order online at Scotlandbigpicture.com. Use the special code STBPTFL10 to have £10 donated to Trees for Life and to save 10 percent. Alternatively, you can donate to the appeal directly at Treesforlife.org.uk/donate  

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Mar 022017
 

Aiblins – New Scottish Political Poetry. Reviewed by Duncan Harley

Conceived on the back of the September 2015 post-referendum conference Poetic Politics: Culture and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, One Year On at the National Library of Scotland, Aiblins is an anthology of recent work by a diverse range of poets all with connections to Scotland.

Co-edited by Katie Ailes and Sarah Paterson the publication presents as a snapshot of the myriad issues concerning Scotland’s poets today.

The poems are written in many styles and address topics as diverse as Indyref and the decaying remnants of Empire.

With a foreword by Professor David Kinloch and an after-word by New Generational poet Robert Crawford, the collection is firmly book-ended. While David reflects on the contribution Scottish poets are making to the “tumultuous, rapidly evolving nature of contemporary Scottish politics” Robert presents the bard’s dilemma: No poet should be obliged to engage with politics. All poets should be free to do so.

Hugh McMillan’s September 2014 neatly summarises the pro-pre-referendum atmosphere:

‘I am the only person here,
this heady day,
And I am balancing the sun
on one finger,
holding everything at bay
for a dream.

And, in what may be post-referendum mode, The Chair by Glasgow playwright Chris Boyland, reflects on:

‘this little girl who’d sat on the chair and
gone around in it, wherever it went.
But no-one could recall her face or,
when we thought about it, who she was
or even if she’d really been there at all.

My personal favourite is by Orcadian Harry Giles: All the verbs from Glasgow City Council’s New Proposed Management Regulating Public Parks … An Elegy. Even that Glasgow Dreamer, Ivor Cutler, couldn’t have made it up.

Intended to reflect on and record tumultuous events which have taken place alongside our borders in recent years, Aiblins is, says contributor Stewart Sanderson,

“Like Scotland, slightly synthetic and in a state of indecision.”

The reader alone will decide whether the collection is truly worthy of the publisher’s claim that it captures the importance of the arts in shaping modern politics.
Aiblins reflects a wide diversity of views expressed in English, Scots and Gaelic but not in Doric.

Indeed, apart from Mandy Macdonald’s Overheard on a bus in Aberdeen, it’s almost as if the North east portion of Scotland has silently drifted off into the North Sea.

Aiblins (130pp) is published by Luath Press at £8.99   ISBN: 9781910745847  

Words © Duncan Harley , Cover image © Luath Press. First published in the February 2017 edition of Leopard Magazine.

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Jul 292016
 

Aberdeen in 100 Dates Elma McMenemy book launch2By Duncan Harley.

Aberdeen’s Gordon Highlander Museum was the setting for the launch of Mearns author Elma McMenemy’s new book ‘Aberdeen in 100 Dates’.

A professional Blue Badge Tourist Guide, Elma has more than 30 years experience of working with Scotland’s visitors and has built up a vast repertoire of tales showcasing the rich and varied history of both Aberdeen City and the hinterland of the North east.

Her previous book focussed on the often macabre and bloody history of Aberdeen and in this new collection of local tales Elma leads the reader on a journey through 100 of the key dates which have shaped the development of the city.

Aimed, as Elma explains, at “people who would not normally open a history book” the publication has already proved popular especially with fellow tour guides who plan to use it as a research tool when preparing guided tours around Aberdeen and the North east.

“Its easy to talk to a coach full of tourists” she says,

“but putting words down on paper is quite another thing. Aberdeen is such a brilliant and helpful place. No-one I have asked has so far refused to help me in my research!”

The book presents as a sound-bite tour-de-force of popular folk and historical tales. With one story per page and illustrated throughout with line drawings, there’s plenty to interest even the most informed reader and visitors unfamiliar with the North east will undoubtedly be tempted to delve deeper into many of the stories highlighted within the 124pp.

Dedicated to a godson “who loved all sort of trivia”, the 100 dates kick off with an examination of the arrival in Aberdeen of Christianity courtesy of St Machar, a 6th century disciple of St Columba. Given that each tale is restricted in length to approximately 230 words, the author manages to pack in a good amount of information and leads the reader quickly from St Machar’s arrival on Iona on to the miraculous tale of St Machar’s Well and the eventual founding of Aberdeen’s St Machar’s Cathedral.

On June 5th 1815 we learn that a large mob “not falling short of half a thousand, attacked the White Ship, a house of ill repute run by Meggie Dickie”. The military were seemingly summoned to arrest the ringleaders one of whom was transported for seven years. Resurrectionists feature in the story of another Aberdeen riot, this time dated 19th December 1831.

Seemingly a mob burned down the local anatomy theatre after discarded human remains were found nearby. Who said Aberdeen was a boring city?

Bloody Harlaw, the founding of Aberdeen Golf Club, the epic tale of the Scottish Samurai and the Royal connections of William McCombie and his prize Aberdeen Angus Bull, Jeremy Eric, feature alongside the “crushing defeat of Rangers in the 1982 Scottish Cup” and the tragic gas explosion which, in 1983, destroyed the Royal Darroch Hotel in Cults.

Aberdeen_in_100_Dates_coverThe two concluding stories are bang up to date and describe the charity auction of Aberdeen’s Dolphin Sculptures and the 2016 discovery of 92 bodies buried beneath Aberdeen Art Gallery. Art critics perhaps?

In short, from quirky to gruesome, there’s plenty here to interest everyone.

Inevitably in a work of this complexity there are debatable issues. Fitting 100 tales onto 124 pages is no mean feat. The Aberdeen typhoid description is a case in point and includes the oft repeated line that there were no deaths.

However given that most local histories mirror this notion, the contention is perhaps forgivable and the three folk who died as a result the epidemic will no doubt forgive the repetition.

A slight criticism is however due, regarding the lack of chapter headings or even an index. Apart from the chronology of year, month and date there is little to inform the reader regarding the content of each section and although Elma’s general introduction clearly sets out the parameters of the book’s historical context, the lack of a formal navigation structure restricts the reader to a dipping in and out approach.

Aberdeen in 100 Dates is published in paperback by The History Press at £7.99
ISBN 978-0750-960311

First published in the Summer 2016 edition of Leopard Magazine.

Jun 102016
 

outside_cover_vol_3_Bennachie_Duncan Harley reviews Bennachie Landscapes Series 3.

In this, the third publication in the Bennachie Landscapes Series, further aspects of the story of Grampian’s favourite hill are discussed in often minute detail.

Dedicated to Gordon Ingram, treasurer to the Bailies of Bennachie until 2000, and with a foreword by Dr Jo Vergunst of the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Anthropology this publication focuses on both our historical and our modern day relationship with the Bennachie range.

Funded through the Connected Communities programme the content reflects the work of project partners including the University of Aberdeen, The Forestry Commission Scotland and The Bailies of Bennachie.

The book presents as 10 research papers, each distinct but related and written by both Bennachie experts and Bennachie enthusiasts.

The ecology and social history of the area feature alongside the geology, flora and the exploitation of both peat and stone on and around the hill. Additionally there are excavation reports featuring Colony houses and Drumminor Castle.

Several of the papers make for highly technical reading and are not for the faint hearted. Peter Thorn’s description of the geological setting around Drumminor Castle is a case in point. Other chapters such as the interim report into the excavations at Drumminor Castle are written with the general reader in mind and should be accessible to anyone happy to sit through an episode of Time Team.

The site of the Bennachie Colonists comes under particular scrutiny. Sue Taylor provides insight into the social and domestic lives of the crofters, who made a living on the slopes of the hill, through the interpretation of pottery found at the Bennachie Colony site.

The excavations during 2011 – 2013 at Shepherd’s Lodge and Hillside yielded both sponge decorated and transfer printed earthenware indicating perhaps a previously unsuspected degree of economic sophistication amongst Colony settlers who often lived at subsistence level.

Barry Foster’s introduction to the peat lands of the hill not only gives the reader food for thought but illustrates clearly, using aerial photographs, the scale of the 18th century peat cutting industry.

In 2013 a partnership between Keig School and the Bennachie Landscapes Fieldwork Group surveyed the ecology and landscape use within the Lordship of Forbes. The research report makes for fascinating reading and describes the discovery of a previously unknown water-mill in the grounds of Castle Forbes.

A dig at the Back of Bennachie by students of Kemnay Academy features alongside an investigation of the English Quarry by Andrew Wainwright and a paper, by Colin Millar, reflects on the controversial 19th century seizure and “Division of the Commonty of Bennachie” by a group of powerful local landowners.

Illustrated throughout with both images relating to Bennachie and survey maps describing the digs and investigations, this book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the North East and clearly illustrates the value of community partnership research.

At 115pp, Bennachie Landscapes Series 3 is available from Inverurie Library and at www.bailiesofbennachie.co.uk  p
Price £10. ISBN 978-0-9576384-1-9

This review was first published in the May 2016 edition of Leopard Magazine.

Words © Duncan Harley

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Feb 112016
 

By Duncan Harley

Oil Strike coverAs oil prices remain volatile and the UK government records its first losses in 40 years from North Sea oil and gas production, Aberdeen geologist Mike Shepherd has penned a classic.

An industry insider, Mike has produced a highly accessible and non-technical account of how the North Sea energy boom took shape, the ups and downs of the industry and the story of the people who made it all happen.

In the true tradition of all good writers, Mike writes about what he knows best, in this case the search for Black Gold.

While on a geological field trip to Skye in 1978, Mike had witnessed first hand the construction of the Ninian Central platform.

Fabricated in Loch Kishorn and weighing in at an impressive 601,000 tons, the concrete and steel structure was reckoned at the time to be the largest man made structure ever to be moved across the surface of the earth.

“The North Sea proved to be a new frontier for the oil companies … they had been offshore before … but never in waters quite so stormy or so deep,” writes Mike.

The huge discoveries in the Forties Field in 1970, the share price crash of Black Monday 1987, and the inevitable influence of big money are discussed in detail. The effects of taxation, international politics and equity negotiations feature alongside the human cost in terms of accidents, including of course Piper Alpha

The decline in North Sea reserves as a strategic resource for the nation comes under close scrutiny. Mike predicts that production will finally cease around 2050 after which a massive clean up operation costing around £31.5 billion will be required.

In a chapter simply titled ‘Aberdeen’, Mike looks at the social and economic effects of boom and bust on the Granite City. Infrastructure including both the airport and the harbour initially needed urgent investment to serve and secure the initial 500 or so oil-related companies who set up in the city between 1970 and 1977.

Amazingly in 1972:

“The airport was quite basic and the arrival/departure building was an old Nissan Hut. One end was the bar and the other end was the tickets and seats. The same bloke did both jobs.”

With a foreword by Diane Morgan who comments:

“Given the depth of its subject matter it is an amazingly readable book”,

this publication is essential reading both amongst those of us who strive to understand the phenomenon of oil, and also those of us who strive to extract that Black Gold.

Oil Strike North Sea (187pp) is published in hardback by Luath Press at £20

ISBN 978-1-910745-21-2

First published in the February 2016 edition of Leopard Magazine.

Jan 212016
 

By Duncan Harley.

Book_Cover_Douglas_Harper_Rivers Railways, Ravines

River, Railway, Ravine by Douglas Harper. A well researched and engaging publication.

At 164pp and profusely illustrated with both period and contemporary images Douglas Harper’s new book examines both the provenance and the history of the patented, made in Aberdeen, Harper and Co rigid suspension bridge.

Until now little documented, the Harper bridges were among the first suspension bridge designs – not to be confused with the ‘Shakkin’ Briggies’ well known in the NE – to employ steel wire rope in order to form a relatively rigid and therefore highly functional bridge.

Harpers manufactured over sixty such bridges for export throughout the British Empire between 1870 and 1910.

Douglas, a direct descendant of the original bridge engineers, has spent over a decade researching the company’s innovative designs and seeking out surviving examples.

The mid 19th century was a period of rapid industrial growth both in the north east of Scotland and throughout the British Empire. The boom times of railway expansion had opened up new markets and stimulated engineering innovation on a scale rarely seen before.

From humble beginnings supplying the likes of the Great North of Scotland Railway’s seemingly insatiable demand for cast iron fence posts and level-crossing gates, Harpers’ were soon exporting caste-iron pre-fabricated pedestrian suspension bridges right across the globe.

Engineered and manufactured in kit form at their Aberdeen foundry and using innovative techniques gleaned from long experience in the designing of fences, Harper’s products required little local engineering expertise to either assemble or construct, making them popular choices in developing countries. These instantly recognisable and iconic bridges – with spans of up to 91m – provided many decades of service in places as diverse as Nepal, South Africa and even the Falkland Islands.

In his book Douglas details over 60 of Harper’s bridges including those erected in the UK, throughout the Empire and also in Estonia. Several are, he writes, still in use including one on the River Muick at Birkhall and another on the River Feugh at Banchory.

This is a well researched and engaging publication and quite literally a riveting read!

Sources include records held by Aberdeen Maritime Museum, the Harper Archive at Aberdeen Museum and Robert Gordon University. Written with the general reader in mind, Gordon’s book will also appeal to engineering enthusiasts and many historians.

River, Railway and Ravine is published in hardback by The History Press at £20

ISBN 978-0-7509-6213-1

First Published in the November edition of Leopard Magazine

Nov 122015
 

By David Innes.

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The third in Dr Brown’s series of pocket-sized part guide-part local history volumes moves logically inland from the coast of the previous collection, to its hinterland, the traditional county of Aberdeenshire.
Thankfully, that’s quite deliberately Aberdeenshire as a historic, geographical and cultural entity, not the current local governmental administrative mess.

The author even admits that she has twice breached this traditional boundary and featured items of Kincardineshire lore, although, I’d argue too that Rothiemay, whose Parson Gordon’s place in history as a cartographer is featured, is across the Deveron, and is in my beloved Banffshire.

That petty quibble aside, like its predecessors, Dr Brown’s output is easily read and superbly informative. Discrete geographical areas are defined, their tales and attractions grouped, and a short day out by car should enable readers to make their way round most in a relaxed drive. For those who want to research further, a welcome and comprehensive bibliography is provided.

The second Hidden Aberdeenshire volume continues to maintain the perfect balance of geographical and historical contexts with the personal tales of individuals, variously heroes, villains and innovators. Little-known or long-forgotten tales of murders, burials, personal and architectural triumphs and follies, simply-illustrated, will whet the appetites of those keen to broaden their knowledge of the rich history of the ancient county.

The origins of the Consumption Dyke at Kingswells, the fate of enemy airmen shot down over Aberdeen in July 1940 and the tragedy of the Inverythan Bridge train crash are only three examples of Dr Brown’s ability to distil down to 450 words vital pieces of hitherto-hidden NE history. And great credit is due to her for raising a smile at her ingenious description of 19th century bothy ballads as the Trip Advisor of their day!

Hidden Aberdeenshire: The Land is a further triumph for Fiona-Jane Brown. With her instinct in knowing what readers will find fascinating, her economy of content, accessibility of style and sharp-eyed research, readers will hope that the NE’s rich heritage will continue to inspire her to add to her already-impressive canon.

Hidden Aberdeenshire: The Land – Dr Fiona-Jane Brown

Black & White Publishing
ISBN 978 1 84502 990 6
128 pp
£9.99