A few months before his thirteenth birthday, the young and miserable Gavin Maxwell crept out of St Wulfric’s prep school to send a ‘thoroughly hysterical’ letter to his mother. At the end of it he wrote, ‘For God’s sake take me away from this awful place.’ She answered his plea, and he was whisked away in the middle of the Spring term, ‘a quaking jelly of misery and self-pity’. He went straight home, to the House of Elrig – the house he grew up in on the edge of the vast Monreith estate in Galloway, surrounded by woods and peat bogs and heather. I was also a quaking jelly at school. I would long for the holidays, when we would pack up and drive to Scotland, to be dragged through ever thicker rain in search of ever rarer birds. My friends saw the sun in August. I saw the Shetland wren. So I find Maxwell’s books deeply comforting: none more so than The House of Elrig (1965), which describes in lucid detail the impossible social awkwardness of school, and the irresistible freedom of the natural world . . .