While the majority of the 18th and 19th century travel and guide books were written by men, the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives holds a copy of Hill and valley by the lively and engaging author Catherine Sinclair (1800-1864). Catherine was a Scottish novelist and popular children’s author and Hill and valley: or Wales and the Welsh (first published in 1838) was the first in a series of travel books written by Sinclair. Based on personal travel journal written in the summer of 1833, Sinclair originally intended the book to be “merely for private circulation”; each chapter begins with the salutation “My dear Cousin”, a literary conceit which helps to build the senses of intimacy, and of the personal, which permeate the work. While Sinclair, like fellow traveller/authors describes the castles, churches and fine houses of Wales with clarity and accuracy, she also recalls amusing stories and tales of scandal, and is not afraid to give her candid opinions upon the people she meets.
Clearly weary of companions obsessed with capturing ‘the picturesque’, Sinclair explicitly warns the traveller against the perils of the companionship of would-be artists:
“We seldom stopped to commit any landscapes to paper, as in travelling many might find it difficult to decide whether the greatest misery of human life is to be the companion of an inveterate sketcher or a botanist. In the one case he stops at every ruin, bridge, tree, or cascade, whether the weather be hot or cold, wet or dry,and thinks any one insensible to all the finer feelings of nature who could either shiver or tire. In the other instance, no discussion is so interesting, and no story so exciting, but you may expect to see a botanist break through the very midst of it to rush up a bank or plunge into a ditch, seizing triumphantly hold of some nearly invisible weed”.
Though Sinclair and her companion (known only as ‘A’) travelled by coach and horse, she reveals her secret envy of pedestrians, reporting that they met on the road:
“an incredible number of pedestrian tourists, ‘walking gentlemen’, with their heavy baggage tied, like that of the honourable Dick Dowlas, in a pocket-handkerchief, and slung over the shoulder; while they proceeded along with a look of independent enjoyment perfectly enviable… if I could secure no one’s observing me,it might have been most agreeable to pedestrianize the rest of the tour”.
Sinclair goes on to muse that:
“Some mechanical method will probably be invented, during the march of improvement, to supersede the exertion of travelling in this way, walking perhaps by steam, with a bottle smoking at each foot”.
Sinclair, Catherine, 1839. Hill and valley: or Wales and the Welsh Edinburgh: William Whyte and Co. (NSC 1893)