The Summer Isles are a small, now uninhabited archipelago a day or two's sailing north of the Isle of Skye, east of the Isle of Lewis and north west of the northern town of Ullapool. They were the location where Sir Frank Fraser Darling spent a year so so trying to prove that an island farm was still humanly and economically viable in the 1940s, and they are visible from the wild lands of Assynt. It was from his teenage visits to his aunt and uncle, a couple who liked to dwell in wilderness of Assynt, that the author first saw the Summer Isles misty in the hazy distance. For him and his beloved aunt Brigit they became in a way islands of myth and imagination, places to which they would at one future time go. This is the genesis in the author's mind of the idea that islands are mythopeic locations, where the human imagination flourishes unfettered.
But Brigit was never to visit the isles. An enthusiastic mountain walker she one day set off alone to ascend Ben More Assynt [Big Mountain of Assynt] and never returned. Searchers found her body at the base of a gully, down which she had fallen. So the author's journey to the Summer Isles was a long-overdue act of posthumous promise keeping.
The second root of the journey lay in the author's nautical background. From his early years he had gained experience with yachts, and this was to be essential to his success on the voyage,for the waters in which he was voyaging are dangerous and require skill. At all times in the book Marsden reveals his extensive knowledge of seamanship, and this contributes much to the high quality of the book.
The third root from which the book springs is the author's high level of scholarship. He is clearly a man who has read widely and deeply in the fields of myth, folklore and history. His mythical interests determined his route. Rather than take the simple route from the south coast of Cornwall up the safe Irish Sea he chose the dangerous route of going up the rocky islet-strewn coast of Western Ireland and then the dangerous seas of Western Scotland. The extra distance involved extended the journey time, already lengthened by his need to stop and research places and people en route. This meant that he commenced earlier in Spring than most yachtsmen would and extended his yachting in stormy Scottish waters later than many would deem safe.
This book should be essential reading for anyone who is tempted to take a sailing boat out lightly. At every point in this book, which is as much an adventure story as it is a cultural exploration and a personal odyssey, we are reminded of the dangers of the sea, and especially of seas around the area where the Western Atlantic fringes upon the British Isles. I am reminded of Nicholas Monsarrat's novel, the Cruel Sea, where he says that the only enemy is the sea, for it is insensitive to human pain and death.