Peak Beyond Peak: Unpublished Scottish Journeys of Isobel Wylie Hutchison

Collected and Transcribed by Hazel Buchan Cameron

Have you ever heard the name Isobel Wylie Hutchison? If the answer is no, it’s little surprise, but her relative obscurity in Scottish history remains one of the country’s biggest cultural oversights. Isobel was born near the turn of the century and was many things: a botanist, a traveller, a poet and artist. She travelled solo throughout the arctic collecting plant samples, wrote and published extensive volumes of essays and poetry, and was – in short – one of the most remarkable Scottish figures of her time. In an essay detailing a journey across the Hebrides, Iceland and Greenland and her wandering spirit, she writes:

‘Why not indeed? ‘Why not?’ is a motto, by the way, to which I became attached at a very early age. Perhaps I should rather say, that at a very early age it became attached to me.’

When we first started Taproot Press, one of our aims, alongside publishing new voices, was to publish and recover older works of Scottish literature that have been forgotten over the course of history. I had a few on my personal list of potential writers, but Isobel Wylie Hutchison was near the top. So imagine my surprise when we received a proposal from Hazel Buchan Cameron to publish a collection of essays written by Isobel and stored away in a box in the Royal Scottish Geographical Society! Isobel’s spirit of ‘why not’ and her trust in the strange plan of fate quickly came to mind: we knew we had to take this on.

We are extremely excited about this book, and feel honoured to publish the work of Isobel, dutifully collected and transcribed by Hazel. As an image shared below will show you, this wasn’t always easy, and it’s testament to Hazel’s own admiration for Isobel and her work that this book is even a possibility. While better known for her solo journeys across the Arctic, these essays detail Isobel’s journeys across Scotland, including visits to Skye, John O’ Groats and the various literary shrines across the country. Written with her characteristic wit and a keen interest in both science and myth and folklore, the essays serve as important cultural markers not just of Scotland as it was and has developed, but of a woman’s experience of travelling there and the societal quirks that this reveals.

The book will be published in the second half of 2022, with an exact publication date to be announced later in the year.

Hazel has worked on many creative projects for herself and others including being the first Writer in Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Her previous publications include a memoir, Just Go In, (Grace Note Publications, 2015), a poetry collection Cutting Letters (Red Squirrel Press, 2018) and several poetry pamphlets, including The Currying Shop, which was joint winner of the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award in 2008.

Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889–1982) was a Scottish solo explorer, botanist, writer, broadcaster and artist. Although she is better known for being a pioneer of Arctic exploration, she also walked and wrote extensively about Scotland and its islands.

Just one example of the mind-boggling job Hazel took on when she decided to transcribe these brilliant essays!

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