I made this book as part of my residency in Italy. It is a piece about a walk I took every day up the zig-zaggy path to the top of a hill where the remains of a pre- Roman fort are found. It is a guide of sorts, a description, a literal and imaginative making of this route. I am thinking about guides and map making as part of my practice as a result. Recently I bought a small red guide book dated 1906 which details all that is required to visit the Northern Highlands of Scotland – how one should travel, where to stay and what you might find . Here is an entry for Thurso on the north coast of Scotland where in the towns cemetery lie the remains of a man named Robert Dick….
‘…..this striking example of a self taught man…was born in Clackmannan under the shadow of the Ochils, but in early manhood he set up in Thurso as a baker. Though he continued the active exercise of his calling almost to the day of his death, he contrived to acquire such a complete mastery of botany and geology that Sir Roderick Murchison said of him – ” I found that this baker knew infinitely more of botanical science than I did ”. The rocks, crannies, mountains and moorlands of Caithness were as familiar to him as the oven of his own bakehouse. How far his talent and industry were substantially appreciated during his lifetime may be judged from the fact that all through the long years of his residence at Thurso he was never in possession of enough ready money to enable him to visit his birthplace. He died in 1866 at the age of 55 – of hard work and to some extent, of privation. Read in the light of his untimely end, there is a pathetic significance in a simple line of one of his letters to Hugh Miller – ”Geologists”, he wrote ” should all be gentlemen, with nothing else to do”. If Robert Dick had been one, the world would have been more advanced in knowledge than it is, and Thurso would, perhaps, have been none the worse off for ”cakes”.
This is a small entry amongst many. The writer finds all sorts of things of interest in his travels and I shall go and find the gravestone to Robert Dick next time I am on my way to Orkney.