Sam is 63 years old when he meets up with Boswell in Edinburgh and they both set out on what will be a three-month trip around Scotland. Specifically, the main focus of their road trip is what are generally called the Hebrides, an archipelago of about 500 islands in the Atlantic Ocean on the western side of the northerly tip of mainland Scotland. Some of the islands are still uninhabited even today (oh, to have a [well-insulated] cottage on one of them!).

I spent some time yesterday morning trying to map out their exact route. It’s actually pretty well known what places they visited because both Sam and Boswell later wrote books about their travels:

  • A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland by Sam, published in 1775
  • The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by Boswell, not published until 1785 (the year after Sam’s death)

I was playing around with Google Maps, trying to get an estimate of the total distance, but also of course to get a visual view of the itinerary. I want to include both these pieces of information in my book. I’ve found that in the biographies I’ve read of Johnson, this trip is of course discussed, but for someone (like me) who has not yet visited Scotland, it was hard to get a sense of distance and direction, and also of where the land ended and the ocean began.

This is the draft map I came up with.

So, the basic trip was that they

started in Edinburgh and travelled north along the eastern coast of Scotland

then travelled west along the northern coast

then south to the Hebrides islands that were the focus of the trip

then went back to the mainland to Glasgow

then south to Boswell’s family’s estate in the county of Ayrshire

and that’s where they parted ways, with Sam heading back to London

(Note that this itinerary is from one of Johnson’s modern biographers. Wikipedia presents a slightly different one. Hmmm.)

The trip was not only long, but dangerous at times. One now-famous incident is when they were both on the water in the Hebrides and there was a serious storm.

I was just doing the roughest of work with Google Maps, but I’d estimate that in total they travelled about 1,200 km during the whole trip. And of course they weren’t in an air-conditioned or, as needed, heated car as they made their way. When they were on land, they travelled by carriage (wagon) or simply on horseback.

I’ve taken several long roadtrips myself, notably one with my youngest brother Dave, and at least three that I can remember with my friend Oscar. In my podcast, I’ll relate some memories about those latter three. Have a listen …

2 replies
  1. Wayne
    Wayne says:

    I’m glad. Those trips seem fairly recent in a way, but when you do the math — ho, boy. Best. Roadtrip. Partner. Ever. On the next one, as the pandemic continues and the economy falls apart, one of us will have to ride shotgun in order to acquire tuna fish and toilet paper from people who are reluctant to give them up.

  2. Oscar
    Oscar says:

    A fine tribute to one of the greatest relationships ever experienced anywhere, by anyone, at any time. I’m looking forward to our next adventure.

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