Searching through house-clearance “stuff” at our local car boot sale, I discovered a battered Australian-published (!) first-edition of A.A. Thomson’s “Let’s See the Lowlands”, its jacket somewhat torn (but, at 20p, a book presumably worth more than what I paid for it?!). Thomson (1894-1968), best known for his books on cricket, was also a champion of S.R. Crockett.
Thomson fondly recalls “a book, which, as a boy, I read by candlelight, with eyes opened wide and heart a-bumping”. His summary of The Raiders, the novel by which many 'Crocketteers' first encounter the author, would entice any reader: “[It] tells, in one whirling spate of adventure, a tale of these grey hills and glens, of the fierce gypsy folk, of smugglers and cattle-reivers and of how a brave Galloway lad brought home his true love from peril amid the mountain crags”.
Thomson is self-deprecating about “Let’s See the Lowlands”, describing it as “a poor disjointed chronicle of somewhat aimless wanderings”. In reality, it is a clever Boswell and Johnson-type travelogue with the Yorkshire-born Thomson (in the role of a patriotic Scot) as “Boswell”. Balaam, his fictional friend, is “Johnson” – notionally a journalist commissioned by his editor to write a series of articles on the Scottish Lowlands. Balaam has strong feelings about Scotland (a country he regards as “regrettable”) and the Scots (“morally, intellectually, biologically, ethnologically…a mistake”!). The ensuing repartee between the two men is highly amusing.
Criss-crossing the Scottish Lowlands, Thomson makes a point of visiting Auchencairn, Balmaghie, Castle Douglas, Heston Island and other places with Crockett associations, quoting liberally from Crockett. Only 16 years after Crockett’s death, Thomson notes that “They say that no one reads S.R. Crockett nowadays”. Thomson maintains that “if I have persuaded one reader to pick up The Raiders and recapture the spirit of the boy, reading breathless, by candle light, then when I die… I shall die happy”. Who knows how many future Crockett readers (not least in Australia!) Thomson inspired?
Ps. On the basis of my enjoyment of “Let’s See the Lowlands” I’ve read two further Thomson books – Let's See the Highlands (1931) and The Breezy Coast: Berwick to John o'Groats (1932) – and can recommend all three.
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