Great Northern? by Arthur Ransome is an adventure book for children set in the Outer Hebrides. It is the twelfth and final book in the beloved Swallows and Amazons series that Ransome wrote during the 1930’s and 40’s.
The book begins at what appears to be the end of a grand sailing adventure in the Outer Hebrides. Uncle Jim has pulled the boat into an inlet for the children to spend time scrubbing barnacles off its sides before the boat is returned to its owner. While the older members of the party are hard at work, some of the younger members go off exploring, only to discover what Dick thinks may be a Great Northern Diver bird nesting in a loch nearby. Great Northerns were not known to nest in the British Isles so this is a great discovery.
The children soon make the acquaintance of Mr. Jemmerling, an avid birder who is extremely eager to hear about their discovery. Through a series of events it becomes clear to Uncle Jim that Mr. Jemmerling is up to no good. Not only does he want to find and kill the Great Northern Diver and claim its eggs for his collection but he wants to be known as the person who made this unbelievable discovery. Uncle Jim will have none of this and immediately postpones their departure until Dick can get some proper photographs of the bird and nest to use as proof that the children were the original discoverers of the Great Northern Diver nesting in Britain.
Uncle Jim and the children attempt to lead Mr. Jemmerling on a wild goose chase and lose him at sea before finding a quiet inlet to hide in while Dick makes a proper hide for his camera and time is given to get the photographs. Eventually the local highlanders get involved. Unaware of what is going, on they unknowingly foil the children’s attempts to keep the birds from Mr. Jemmerling. The story ends with plenty of high adventure which involves bagpipes, guns, and a chase. Will the children be in time to save the lives of the birds and their eggs?
Travel Notes: this is delightful reading for a visit to any of the Scottish islands. The West Highland Museum in Fort William has a wonderful collection of stuffed birds on display including many of the ones mentioned in this book as well as the Great Northern Diver.