In A Last Wild Place Mike Tomkies tells the story of his struggle to survive in often extreme weather in a remote part of the Highlands of Scotland where the only access to his cottage is by boat. In winter and early spring his difficulties almost mirror those of some of the wildlife he encounters on a daily basis, a position he describes as ‘close to the animal state oneself’.
Mike’s frequent treks in the area round his wilderness home demonstrate the seasonal changes in the woodlands, in the mountains and on the loch, which is his ‘main road’. His phenomenal knowledge of wildlife is not limited to mammals and birds but includes trees, wild plants and insects, particularly butterflies. At close quarters he studies and writes of golden eagles, buzzards, black-throated divers and red deer.
His chapters on deer in winter are particularly poignant and dramatically demonstrate the heavy death toll on deer in bad weather, especially when their numbers are too high or when they are fenced out of what would have been their traditional winter sheltering grounds. He attempts to rescue several exhausted deer, on occasions bringing them into his kitchen or workshop to dry them and heat them up. His empathy with wildlife is such that he put himself at considerable risk rescuing a red deer calf that had fallen into a raging burn and was close to being swept over a waterfall.
Whether his subject is the birds round his cottage, the common gulls nesting on an island in the loch, the butterflies in summer or the deer at their calving grounds, Mike Tomkies can include more valuable detail in a single paragraph than some writers can put in a chapter. He is an extraordinary naturalist and his tales are made all the more interesting by the presence of his constant companion, his experienced German shepherd dog Moobli.
I read this book when it was first published in the 1980s. I’m so glad I read it again.
A Last Wild Place, Mike Tomkies. Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, Caithness, KW6 6EG. £18.99