Anyone who has visited the Scottish Highlands and seen firsthand the crofting communities has imagined themselves living on and maintaining a croft. Like the off-grid cabin sitting deep in the woods, it’s a dream most won’t explore but will always wonder about. Annie Worsley takes the ‘what if’ out of the idea and shares a year in the life with the reader, documenting the experience using the natural world as an indicator of time in Windswept: Life, Nature and Deep Time in the Scottish Highlands.
Main image: A late summer evening on Red River Croft and surrounding mountains. Credit: Annie Worsley
After many years living on Red River Croft and taking copious notes on each natural interaction, Annie has compiled excerpts of her notes into an almanac of sorts, showing the realistic and romantic tribute to life in the highlands. An adventurer at heart, Annie and her husband Rob spent their spare time exploring the mountains, but after a mysterious illness takes its toll on her health, Annie is confined to the croft and surrounding areas, watching the natural world thrive and buzz around her from conveniently placed sitting spots, including a small, homemade bench overlooking the sea.
Windswept tells the croft’s past, present, and potential future stories, with every sense painstakingly described to place the reader squarely in the howling wind and the seasonally shifting colours. Annie doesn’t just live here; she’s explored the history via an old book by a previous inhabitant; she lives with the croft, not on it. She studied how it works, the order of nature and how each animal, flower, and insect interact with each other throughout the year, using the data to improve biodiversity and soil quality for future generations.
Split into seasonal sections, starting at September’s equinox, each part is broken down into experiences relating to that time of the year. With so much information on changing colours, smells, flora and fauna, this book isn’t necessarily one to read in one sitting. It’s hard to take it all in as it feels like you live the year with Annie on the croft.
Descriptions of the landscape throughout the book are often compared with parts of the human body, with vivid and intense imagery. These illustrations personify the croft, showing it living and breathing along with its inhabitants. Those with experience in the highlands will be familiar with the respective seasons they visited, particularly the highland midge!
We finish the book at the same point we started, the autumn equinox, ready to start the cycle again.
Windswept: Life, Nature and Deep Time in the Scottish Highlands is published by Harper Collins (£16.99, hardback).