James Hogg, also known as the Ettrick Shepherd, was a writer, poet, sportsman, musician and larger-than-life personality. In 1802, uneducated and still unknown, he set out on the first of a series of journeys through Scotland, from the Borders to the Highlands and Outer Hebrides. These journeys – in times of Enlightenment and Clearances – were inspiring, life-changing and often frightening. They led him to a life of chaos, failures, fame, fun and literary masterpieces.
Now, a descendant follows his footsteps and reflects on his experiences, and on the remarkable rediscovery of Hogg’s works a century after his death. It is a story of tenacity, of daring to be different and, against all odds, success and a flourishing legacy. It is a lively look at an extraordinary life and some of his works, including The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, considered by many to be one of the greatest novels ever written. (Ian Rankin said this book is not just relevant today, but urgent. Irvine Welsh said it is ‘one of the best, most brilliant books ever written’. Sean Connery called it a masterpiece.)
Bruce Gilkison is a New Zealander, and a great-great-grandson of James Hogg. He walked through Scotland to find out what was remarkable about Hogg and his journeys. He found a world of stunning landscapes, fairies and mystery, genius and ambiguity, friendships and back-stabbings. He learned about his ancestor’s bumpy road through life, and his unexpected and uplifting journey in the 21st century.
Bruce Gilkison lives in the South Island/Te Wai Pounamu of New Zealand, and is a keen climber, hiker and traveller. He has lived and worked in the Pacific, East Africa, North America and Europe. He has a passion for social and environmental issues, and has been published frequently on these topics; two articles were short-listed in the British Commonwealth Media Awards for Journalism. His first book, Accounting for a Clean Green Environment, was written jointly with KPMG in 1999.
Walking with James Hogg, which includes his own misadventures along with his ancestor’s, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2016. He was invited to speak on this at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016 – ‘the largest public celebration of the written word in the world’ – and at related events in the Scottish Borders.
He has a strong empathy with other cultures, a fascination with the wild and wonderful, and a lively sense of humour.
Bruce Gilkison not winning the ‘Race roond the Toon’ in the St Ronan’s Border Games, an event started by his ancestor in 1827.
James Hogg (painting by W. Nicholson, about 1815). Then aged about 45 and finally famous enough to be painted.
Walking with James Hogg: The Ettrick Shepherd’s Journeys through Scotland
James Robertson, multi-award winning author of ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’, ‘Joseph Knight’, ‘And the Land Lay Still’
’Bruce Gilkison has pulled off something quite unusual. It is a charming mix of biography, travelogue and memoir, and a fine meditation on ancestry, time and the vicissitudes of literary fame and misfortune... thoroughly engaging, instructive, funny... one senses that Hogg and Gilkison would have made excellent walking companions, although probably not without a falling-out or two... ’
Dr Suzanne Gilbert, lecturer, editor
’It would be impossible to find a writer more suited to this project. He combines a unique ancestral connection, impeccable credentials as an adventurer and explorer, and shares Hogg’s gift for a good story.’
Studies in Scottish Literature (issue 42)
’This highly-original short book combines aspects of guidebook, scholarship, and hiking-journal. Bruce Gilkison, a descendant of Hogg’s from New Zealand, set out to retrace, largely on foot, Hogg’s journeys through the Borders, Highlands and over to the Hebrides, as brought together in Hans de Groot’s edition (2010), Hogg’s letters and other works, and Karl Miller’s biography Electric Shepherd.
’The diary itself is interspersed with extracts from Hogg’s journal, and shaded boxes provide helpful short essays on such topics as the Statistical Account of Etterick Forest or kelpies (and the taniwha of New Zealand) or class or sublimity and biodiversity or the Clearances or Hogg’s Confessions or the St. Ronan’s Games. A solid bibliography attests to the reading that lies behind the main text.
’In other hands, the result could have been awful (think Bill Bryson, though here without the whingeing) but Gilkison’s self-deprecating curiosity succeeds remarkably well in channelling the well-attested charm of his great-great-grandfather, and in linking this benign "ancestor-worship” to his own twenty-first century appreciation for landscape and concern with ecology.’
The Guardian newspaper (New Zealand)
’Walking with James Hogg is a joy... a delightful read. It is a story of tenacity, of daring to be different, and of a flourishing legacy. It is a fascinating look at an extraordinary life... well indexed with a glossary for the understanding of baffling Scottish words, a list of walks ‘with James Hogg’ and an extensive bibliography... a most worthwhile read and one that may have you too longing to wander the glaciated, wild landscapes of the Scottish Highlands and beyond.’
LibraryThing (Sept 2016)
’Walking with James Hogg, not simply a retracing of journeys, is a call to enjoy landscape and nature by passing through them, to celebrate the connectivity of time with people, and to be aware that we are all creating a story as we go... the narrative generates the reader's warmth for both persons... Not least, this well researched book should assist in the growing conviction that Hogg is a champion of Scotland's literary legacy.’
Amazon UK, customer review
’A well-researched, witty and warm read. The passages which relate Gilkison's own journeys around the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland speak of a real character. Recommended to students of Scottish history, Hogg, or really anyone wanting an entertaining read.’
Goodreads, customer review
’ ...a very engaging account of his journey of discovery.’
JL (reader feedback), New Zealand
’I have just finished Walking With James Hogg, and can truly say it is one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. It will join the clutch of cherished books I return to again and again... dozens of personal connections that would have made the book thrilling even without its intrinsic excellence and interest... a hundred thousand thank yous! ’
Karl Miller, author of ‘Electric Shepherd’
James Hogg is ’the unlikely man who helped to give the word "personality" its modern meaning'.
FF (reader feedback), Australia
’I found it of great historical and literary interest... found his views on the Highland Clearances thought-provoking. All grist to the historical mill. Congratulations on an excellent production!’
AO (reader feedback), New Zealand
’...what a pleasure, I loved it. I have been singing its praises so now have a queue of borrowers... Many thanks for such a treat.’
Country Life (UK)
‘Recommended New Books on Scotland’
Walking with James Hogg, listed first of six new books on the Country Life 2016 annual list.
Fresh FM (New Zealand), ‘Top Writers’ radio interview
’Bruce Gilkison whose book Walking with James Hogg has sparked a lot of interest worldwide... full of wonderful anecdotes... ’
The Scotsman, July 2016
A rather grumpy review - literature, adventure and fun, it seems, shouldn’t mix.
With some strange comments: ‘But as Gilkison doesn’t notice, the Borders he walks, and Hogg walked, have no mountains.’ Doesn’t notice? The author has climbed thousands of hills and hundreds of mountains - even such classics as the Matterhorn - and clearly knows the difference. Hogg’s awe when he first sees real mountains in the Highlands is described vividly.
The sections on landscapes, the review says, are not as good as literature by Robert Macfarlane. Fair enough. Macfarlane has been described, after all, as ‘the great nature writer, and nature poet, of this generation.’
But even in a grumpy review there were bouquets: ‘This is a book of accidental charms... decently written and of considerable interest...’ It’s good to know it succeeded - even if it was accidental.
Coastal News (Nelson, NZ)
’Entwined with James Hogg’s story is that of the author... along the way he uncovered some of the magic and mystery of early 19th century life in rural Scotland... Beautifully detailed descriptions of Scottish landscapes... personal discoveries for the author of his ancestry as well as identifying where his love of mountains, climbing and walking has come from, along with the ability to tell a good story.’
Radio NZ interview with Kim Hill, 17 September 2016, Radio audience 200,000+ (Kim Hill was named International Radio Personality of the Year for 2012)
"Kim Hill talks to Bruce Gilkison, who spent the past two northern summers walking some of the Highland journeys completed in 1802-1804 by his great-great-grandfather, the Scottish writer, poet, sportsman, musician and larger-than-life personality James Hogg. He writes about him in Walking with James Hogg: The Ettrick Shepherd's Journeys through Scotland."
JH (reader feedback), Maine, USA
’I have been charmed at reading your book... I find your personal viewpoint very useful for sensing the change of eras and for immersion in the scenery. It has been easy for me to ride along with you in your backpack, but I know the history pretty well, if not the landscape nor today's people. After reading, I can sense them much better. I find that your devotion to and affection for people, their quirks and foibles, endearing and satisfying... an embrace of the humble sort as well as the sublime...’
HD (reader feedback), Ontario, Canada
’It is a terrific book... The best thing is the relationship between the biographical and the autobiographical. James Hogg was exploring the Highlands 200 years ago and here we have an exploration of both the Highlands and of James Hogg exploring the Highlands. It is a lively book and deserves to become popular but it is also a learned book, even though it wears its learning lightly.’
National Business Review (NZ), on an earlier publication (presumably metaphorical)
‘...Bruce Gilkison has green blood coursing through his veins.’
Sustainability Working Group, NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants
‘Bruce has been a sustainability lighthouse to the New Zealand accounting profession for many years.’
Edinburgh International Book Festival, Introduction to 2016 Programme
‘Through a host of writers, including Cal Flynn and Bruce Gilkison, sweeping histories are balanced by deeply personal accounts... ’
Edinburgh International Book Festival (22 August 2016); Sheena McDonald introducing Bruce Gilkison and ‘Walking with James Hogg’:
‘This book is an absolute delight... I thought I knew who James Hogg was and when I read it I realised I didn’t really know very much... there are really four books in it, because it tells about James Hogg, it tells about Bruce Gilkison, it tells about James Hogg’s journeys, and it also tells us a lot about Scotland in his time...’
From the publisher, Edinburgh University Press:
From some quality bookshops, mainly in Scotland and New Zealand, or through various websites
Walking with James Hogg:
The Ettrick Shepherd’s Journeys through Scotland