Professor Charles Withers, the Geographer Royal for Scotland, will be visiting Helensburgh this week - fresh from giving his last university lecture before retirement while dressed as Darth Vader.

Professor Withers, who is believed to be a big Star Wars fan, dressed as the Sith Lord before addressing Edinburgh University students for the final time last week.

His costume, sadly, is expected to be firmly back in the wardrobe by the time he comes to Helensburgh - though the subject of his talk should make for a no less fascinating evening.

Professor Withers will be speaking about the mapping of Scotland’s islands in a richly illustrated presentation for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS).

His talk will be held at the Victoria Halls on Thursday, November 29 as part of the RSGS Inspiring People talks programme, in partnership with Tiso.

Scotland’s islands support some of the country’s most scenic landscapes and play host to a vast array of vibrant communities. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to these remote locations each year to sample the best of island life. But to get there, they usually require a map.

Fortunately, Charles’s talk will be discussing just this, examining the mapping of Scotland’s islands from Mull to Muckle Flugga.

Taking his audience on a journey from the late 16th century, Charles will discuss the first infrequent cartographic appearances of Scotland’s islands – distorted and incomplete – to the now commonplace mapping (and computer-led cartographic obliteration) of these areas in the 21st century. The talk will also underline why mapping Scotland’s islands has been far from straightforward. For what, after all, is an island? And what a map?

But it won’t just be a look back in time – Charles will bring the story of Scotland’s mapping up-to-date by unpacking current cartographic issues such as ‘Shetland in a Box’. And, of course, his talk will be illustrated by contemporary images of some of the most beautiful island geographies the world has to offer.

Speaking about the upcoming presentation, chief executive Mike Robinson said: “The islands of Scotland hold an important place in many people’s hearts, and are often viewed by visitors as special locations for a trip away.

“But when travelling there, we often take for granted the maps that guide us. It will be fascinating to learn from Charles about the complex and intriguing history which led to the cartographic wonders we have at our disposal today.”

Professor Withers is the Geographer Royal for Scotland – the first appointed since the reign of Queen Victoria.

He recently released a book, along with colleagues Chris Fleet and Margaret Wilkes, entitled Scotland: Mapping the Islands, so he’s very much the man for this event. His talk will include images from the book including some rare and historically significant maps from the collection of the National Library of Scotland.

Inspiring People talks are open to all: tickets are free for students, U18s and RSGS members, £8 for Tiso Outdoor Experience cardholders and £10 for visitors. For more information see

Tickets are available at the door or via Eventbrite in advance.

Charles’s talk begins at 7.30pm on Thursday, November 29 at the Victoria Halls in Sinclair Street.