Vacation Reading Plans: Spain and Scotland

As treats to look forward to after our DIY and moving adventures, we booked ourselves two summer holidays. Next week we’re off to Northern Spain for eight days. Thanks to a Brittany Ferries voucher from a cancelled trip in 2020, it ended up being a really cheap option – but it means I have to go to sea for 20 hours, each way. And I hate boats. My last sea voyage back from France only lasted four hours or so, but I was so sick. This time, I will be packing all the seasickness remedies known to woman. Your ideas are welcome!

I’ve never been to Spain and have lost my kindergarten Spanish beyond the few bits I’ve picked back up from my husband’s Duolingo practice. We’ve had next to no time to plan what we’re going to do while we’re there, but it should be a great place for hiking and wildlife watching, with a more Atlantic than Mediterranean climate. (We’re no beachgoers.)

What I have been planning, of course, is what I’ll read. I asked Twitter for recommendations, and got a couple that I followed up on. My library’s holdings weren’t particularly helpful, but I found a few somewhat appropriate reads: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, A Parrot in the Pepper Tree by Chris Stewart, Ordesa by Manuel Vilas, and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Alas that all of these are by men and only two are in translation! For place-specific reading, I’ve supplemented them with Book of Days by Phoebe Power, a book-length poem about the Camino pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, which passes not far from where we’re staying.

I also amassed a bunch of doorstoppers and slightly lighter literary fiction to help the hours at sea pass. See anything you’d particularly recommend? I’ll likely pack all of these and more (‘sensible’ is not a word that can generally be applied to my reading plans or habits!) because we’re taking a car onto the ferry so space/weight is not an issue.

Ironically, I have many more relevant book ideas for our second summer holiday to the Outer Hebrides in late June, but we’re travelling up by train so my book capacity will be minimal! There are loads of novels set on Scottish islands. Here’s what I’m pondering from the library:

Love of Country would be a reread, but is really more for my husband to read. I also fancy a reread of Night Waking by Sarah Moss.

Do you have any trips to look forward to? Will you try for any reading on location?

40 responses

  1. I read The Feast recently and enjoyed it – perfect holiday reading. I have to say I absolutely loathe and despise The Historian, but that’s just because I am super-sensitive to vampire stories bastardising Romanian medieval history. It promised to be a page-turner but didn’t quite live up to that either. Here’s my old review of it: https://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/review-of-the-historian-by-elizabeth-kostova/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll try to give The Feast a go. Even from the cover it looks like a perfect summer read!

      I can’t remember who recommended The Historian to me. It might be my college roommate, 15+ years ago! I’m not a fan of long books that feel long, so I’ll only try it if the opening pages grab me.

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      1. Bit Dan Brown, if you ask me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve never actually read Dan Brown, but I don’t have a good impression of his stuff!

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  2. Oh, definitely bring the Mary Stewart! I know it’s short, but she really lends herself to being read “on location” – I’m hoping to bring The Moonspinners to Crete with me in July.

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    1. Hurrah, I will definitely take Stormy Petrel along. A few shorter books in my backpack plus a whole library on my Kindle sounds like the way to go.

      Cathy is also off to Crete this summer! I hope you have a lovely time.

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  3. I haven’t read any of these, so can’t recommend, but I hope the crossing isn’t too bad for you and that you have a lovely holiday.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Cathy. I’ve had recommendations for patches/pills, wristbands, and chewable ginger. I’ll try all of the above!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Rebecca
    We always love to go to the inner and outer Hebredies. These are our favourite spots in the UK.
    We read most of the books you show. We liked most
    May, Peter “The Bleak House”
    Glover, Dennis “The Last Man in Europe”
    Have a great time in Spain
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We toured the Inner Hebrides in 2004. A fantastic trip! I can’t believe it’s taken this long to return to the same part of the world.

      Great to have your recommendation for those two books. I spy an Orwell theme developing this summer.

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  5. How lovely to have two holidays to look forward to although I’m sure you deserve them after the move. Coincidentally, I read the Straub on holiday and enjoyed it very much. Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout were the perfect choices for the puffs on the cover.

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    1. Oh, that’s great to hear! I loved her two previous novels — perfect summer reads. Her new one sounds quite different, but also appealing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Will there be any room in your rucksack/suitcase for clothes, I wonder? Enjoy Spain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha ha! I’m not much of a fashionista, so simple T-shirts, comfortable trousers and shoes, and many extra layers works for me. I’d much rather have lots of books to choose from than lots of clothes 😉

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  7. How lovely to be able to take all the books you want to take! Have a lovely time. If you’ve got any French or Latin, Spanish will be a doddle. I remember the Chris Stewart book being good.

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    1. I’m pretty good with French, so like in Italy some years back I’m sure I’ll just about be able to get by. “Una mesa para dos, por favor” is one of the useful phrases that has kept being repeated on Duolingo!

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  8. Ooo, I should look at that Power book. My brother and his family are currently living in Vigo, Spain, and recently visited Campostela. The pics were gorgeous. Enjoy your holidays!

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    1. I think there was a typo in my original post; I’ve corrected it to say the Power is a book-length poem about the Camino. I’ve also read Colm Toibin’s book about it.

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  9. How fun to have trips to look forward to! I hope the seasickness isn’t too bad. I don’t have much experience on boats so I am no help there.

    May’s The Black House was so good! I keep meaning to read more by him and just haven’t yet.

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    1. I’m glad you can vouch for the Peter May. I’m not much of a mystery reader and don’t tend to continue with series, but I’ll happily give it a try.

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  10. I hope you enjoy those two breaks, Beck, along with the reading matter you’re planning to get through. Needless to say, apart from one or two titles most of these are new to me so I can’t help much – I’ll just say I was ultimately disappointed with my forays into Ruiz Zafón’s fiction: they were good on atmosphere but you can’t be satisfied with that alone.

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    1. I’ve encountered very mixed reviews of The Shadow of the Wind. I’ll try the first few pages of all of these options and see which ones ‘take’.

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      1. I liked it a lot, but his others never came close to that

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  11. All of the Chris Stewart books are great. Madeleine Bunting’s book is too. I recently read, Hebrides by Peter May; I say read, it is mostly photos. I have already passed it onto someone see otherwise you could have had it

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    1. I knew you’d have some good travel book recommendations 🙂

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      1. I saw a copy of The Summer Isles in a charity shop today that you might like. My copy is signed!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Somehow I don’t think you’re going to take to Shadow of the Wind. Good on atmosphere but the plot is a bit silly.
    Where in Northern Spain will you be? We visited Bilbao and Santander areas a few years ago.

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    1. The ferry arrives into Santander and our holiday cottage is not too far from there.

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      1. if you get a chance, drive south to a place called Comillas – it has some lovely art nouveau buildings and a house designed by Gaudi

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  13. I very much enjoyed The Historian, but I wouldn’t read Franzen again if you paid me. I hate the way he portrays women in his books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve read most of Franzen’s books. I did try Crossroads last year but didn’t get far. We’ll see how I do this time.

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  14. I hope you have two brilliant holidays!

    I live in northern Scotland and I still haven’t read any of the books in your photo! I think quite a few of Mary Stewart’s are set in Scotland – Wildfire at Midnight takes place on Skye, I enjoyed it. Charlotte Fairlie is also mostly set on a Scottish island, but I don’t think it was quite as good.

    A book that I have had for some time and hope to get read before we go to Harris and Lewis in September is Poacher’s Pilgrimage: An Island Journey by Alistair McIntosh. The author grew up on Lewis. He left the strict Presbyterianism of the island behind him and is now a Quaker and peace activist who has for many years lived in Glasgow. He returned to his homeland and walked from the tip of Harris to the tip of Lewis (or the other way round, can’t remember). I went to a talk he gave about this and it was absolutely fascinating – he looks at the folklore of the area, the people (his mother lived there all her life), the geography, the beliefs, etc. He is very open minded and attended a Free Presbyterian (Wee Free – ie super strict) church service, where he was invited to lunch with the elders and had a great time.

    At the same event he also introduced me to the poetry of Sorley McLean, and gave the most moving reading of Hallaig. I was so taken with this that when we visited Skye I persuaded my husband to have a day trip across to Raasay (McLean’s birthplace) and we walked along the cliff tops to see the ruins of Hallaig. It was a beautiful sunny day, and so still that we could hear the voices of two fishermen on a tiny boat way below us. Seamus Heaney tranlated Hallaig from the Gaelic, and his English version is just perfect.

    The one hotel on Raasay also serves excellent tea and cakes – and it’s right by the harbour so after your walk you can stop off there without worrying about missing the ferry.

    If you haven’t read Elspeth Barker’s wonderful O Caledonia I’d certainly recommend that – it’s very odd and Gothic, set in a remote country house in Aberdeenshire (I think), about a very eccentric family and the struggles (and ultimate demise – that’s no spoiler as it happens in the first chapter) of the misfit daughter. Also it’s a short book, so easy to pack!

    I’ve also recently read My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan (Elizabeth Cameron) – it’s fiction but most of it is based on the author’s own childhood summers on her grandparents’ remote croft above the Cromarty Firth. It gives a vivid (and largely unsentimental) picture of life in a very traditional community between the wars. Duncan’s memoir Letters From Reachfar is also good.

    My husband also highly recommends Graeme McRae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, which I have not yet read myself but I know it’s hugely acclaimed.

    If you’re looking for something light, I also enjoyed The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser, in which a woman inherits a gatehouse in the Borders along with her uncle’s vast selection of valuable books (I’m still waiting for this to happen to me…). Hence she soon meets the local, curmudgeonly, bookshop owner, and you can probably guess the rest – but it’s well written and good fun. I liked it.

    And re seasickness, my youngest daughter has suffered badly from it all her life, and I’m afraid the only things that have ever worked have been tablets from the chemist – Kwells, etc. She used to hate taking them, and she has got a bit better in her 20s so I don’t think she uses them any more, They do make you sleepy, I think. Good luck and I hope you have a very smooth crossing – we went to Islay again last summer and, because of Covid and the very lax attitude to mask-wearing inside the boat, we sat outside for the entire crossing. We sat at the back of the boat and had a great trip – the weather was good, the sea was very calm, we were sheltered from the wind. We’ll probably do the same thing when we sail from Ullapool this autumn,

    Sorry this is so long – I’ll stop now!

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    1. Thank you so much for your ideas, Rosemary! My husband has read several books by Alistair McIntosh and really admires him. I’d like to find more of his stuff. I enjoyed His Bloody Project when it was nominated for the Booker. I’ll look into your other suggestions, though I suspect they’re pretty niche for my local library — the university library might be a better bet.

      We went to Skye in 2004 and it was such a magical place! I’d like to go back to all the Scottish islands we’ve already visited, but first it’s time to discover some new-to-us ones 🙂

      I did buy some Kwells at Boots today, along with a pair of acupressure bracelets. Those plus a packet of dry crackers and another of stem ginger biscuits are my strategies so far. Masks are required when inside on the ferry, apart from when in a private cabin. So aside from when it’s dark and we’re trying to sleep, I reckon we’ll try to stay out on deck for fresh air and good views of the horizon (and potentially whales and dolphins!). I hope I’ll also be able to get lost in a good book or two.

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  15. Just realised I was talking nonsense in my second paragraph – Charlotte Fairlie is by DE Stevenson not Mary Stewart 🙄. I don’t know why I muddle them so frequently, they really are quite different. Sorry!

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  16. I really hope you have a smooth, sick-free crossing. Sea sickness is the worst! Will you be taking boats around the Hebrides as well?

    My in-laws have done the Camino – they have so many amazing photos.

    I have always wanted to visit the Scottish islands… I named my daughter after one of them! Can you guess which one? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true, we’ll be taking ferries in Scotland as well, but a 1.5-hour crossing feels like nothing compared to the 20 hours to Spain! At least by then I’ll be a seasoned sailor with a good idea of what remedies worked for me.

      I remembered your daughter is named Islay 🙂 We’ve not been to that island. Maybe someday!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’ve already told you! 🙂
        Maybe there’s not a whole lot of reason to go to Islay unless you’re looking for whiskey. Ha!

        You’ll be a pro by the time you take the short ferry rides!

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  17. You are going to absolutely fall in love with Spain. Soak in the culture and food!!! I am so jealous… my husband is from Spain and he is taking the kids to Madrid and Majorca for two weeks while I stay home and work. Normally, I would never turn down a trip to Spain but we have so many trips this summer I need to stay home a make some spending money!! I will have my own staycation, hoping to find a great book to read on the balcony after the heat has subsided for the day. Enjoy your exciting adventure! 🙂 Annie

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I read your post! Wow… and the pictures are great. Such a great place and yes, no one really speaks English so it pushes you out of your comfort zone to try and new language or revisit a language from school 🙂 I’m intrigued by Sally… I may have to pick up this book. Enjoy the summer holidays! Cheers! Annie

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