|Orders to Poach|
|Sandy with Polly the pony in Orders to Poach|
The Stewarts are described as one of the poorest families in Scotland; they live in a small Lodge rather than in the Big House and only employ Maggie, a cook housekeeper who may have been their nanny when Ninian and Fiona were younger, and her niece Morag who doesn't feature much but is usually there in the background. They may be poor but Ninian has been at Eton and is about to go to Sandhurst, and in a year or so Jamie will go to Dartmouth. Plus of course, Fiona has been doing the London Season (basically that means she went to a lot of parties designed to find her a husband, and perhaps was presented at court) and you can't do that on a shoestring even if we are told she was staying an aunt.
Their father has gone to Burma with his regiment because he earns a bit more on this posting, but he has still felt the need to let the Big House to a Mr Drake. But here's the crux of the matter; to keep a
|Hugh in Orders to Poach|
Ewan Stewart writes to his elder son telling him that they must poach. But Mr Drake somehow gets hold of the letter and reads it.
You don't need to know anything at all about fishing or stalking to enjoy this book although you will find yourself bombarded with information about salmon rods, trout flies, and goodness knows what else as you accompany the Stewarts, and their new friend Hugh Murray, on their campaign to get the better of Mr Drake and his watchers. You don't need to enjoy eating fish or venison (I don't eat fish at all and I'm not mad about venison) or want to trek across hills or up mountains, or climb scary sounding cliffs. The really enjoyable thing about this book, and those that follow, is the wonderful feeling for landscape, and the family relationships.
In later books the estate is let to more sympathetic people so there is no more poaching.
The endpapers for Orders to Poach, indeed, all the books, show the landscape very accurately although most of the names have been slightly changed. Look at Poolewe and Loch Maree (near Gairloch) on google maps or whatever you have to hand and you can match the real thing to the maps in the books almost exactly.
|Steer by the Stars|
|Jean & Jamie in Steer by the Stars|
|The House in the Hills|
|Fiona in The House in the Hills|
It seems to me that Olivia Fitz Roy really liked Fergus. She writes him as a lonely romantic and I suppose we are intended to sympathise with his difficult family background and his outlaw existence. I have to admit I'm not really convinced. Yes, he certainly leads an unconventional and essentially romantic-sounding life but it all seems too uncomfortable to me. I mean, when does he ever find the time to have a bath? Not to mention his really unpredictable temper which can be very unpleasant. I would find him a difficult person to share a table with in a pub, never mind have him to stay, or visit him at one of his homes (his brother's castle, the croft, the boat Wandering Star, and of course the smuggler's cave). But the Stewarts are more comfortable with him than I would be. And is it my imagination, that Fiona, probably Fitz Roy's favourite character, seems particularly taken with him? I wonder if he was based on a real person?
|The Hill War|
|Fiona in The Hill War|
The Island of Birds (1954) has James and Jean recuperating from measles but still not thriving. Fergus turns up out of the blue and takes them off to the deserted island where he has made a home for himself in a ruinous croft. The twins get involved with some very unpleasant people who plan to steal birds eggs. This leads to some frightening times, especially for Jean who is more timid than the rest of her family.
Sadly The Island of Birds doesn't feature a map. Perhaps because it is largely set on a fictional island rather than in a real landscape.
|Ninian in Orders to Poach|
I love the first three books and have read them over and over again but could manage perfectly well without any of the others. The characters all work well together, the landscape is wonderfully drawn, and the family atmosphere (including Hugh) is nicely realised.
The books are slightly more grown up versions of one of those Enid Blyton books where the children live on an island, or a Swallows and Amazons story. And none the worse for that. You do have to accept that Olivia Fitz Roy came from a posh family and therefore wrote about posh people. She wrote her first book to entertain her younger sisters when they were all living in the North of Scotland in WWII, and obviously she wrote about what she knew.
It is a great pity that the books all have a different illustrator. I don't like some of the drawings and it's a shame that our heroes look quite different in every book. But of course they do feature wonderful maps on the end papers. I do love a good map.
The illustrators are (in order of publication) William Showell, Anne Bullen, Phyllida Lumsden, Shirley Hughes, and Raymond Sheppard (he illustrated the last two books).
I heartily recommend the first three books if you can find a copy, and if you enjoy them you may enjoy the later books too. I just don't enjoy them so much.
|Fergus with the twins Jean & Jamie in Island of Birds|
|The Hunted Head|
The Hunted Head