Saturday, November 07, 2015

Guest Post: Caro Ramsay

Aline here. I'm delighted to introduce you today to Caro Ramsay, another Scot, writing here an affectionate guide to Scotland seen through the eyes of a crime writer. She's bright, funny and feisty and incidentally, as the photo, shows you, gorgeous, though what it doesn't show you is the wicked glint of mischief in her eyes. She still works full time as an acupuncturist and osteopath and has a houseful of rescue animals including Mathilda the Staffie and Mrs bramble the three-legged cat – not to mention the well-intentioned poltergeist who sometimes leaves money lying around for her to find. Her latest book, Tears of Angels, came out in the States in September and the next, Rat Run, will be out next year.

Caro writes:

Scotland is marvellous, small but beautifully formed due to a wide variation in its geography and geology which lends to its breathtaking landscape. It is a superb place to live (apart from the weather) and is a wonderful backdrop for mystery fiction.

 As the Scottish Police Service are now one unified force, it is feasible that any senior detective from any region can be sent anywhere in the country and what a gift to crime fiction that is. Previously crimes were only investigated by the regional force concerned – Strathclyde for me, Lothian and Borders for Aline and any crossover created a mountain of paperwork.

So having come back from Bouchercon and still being amazed – after my fourth time in the States, at how big the place is, here is a bite sized guide to a bite sized country.

I live in Elderslie which is the home of William Wallace, not the home of Mel Gibson as a friend’s daughter once wrote in an essay at school. Elderslie sits at the end of the main (well the only!) runway at Glasgow airport. If you phone while you are waiting at baggage reclaim, I can be waiting to pick you up when you walk out the door.

From my house I can be at the opera in Glasgow in fifteen minutes, at Loch Lomond in twenty, at the seaside coast in twenty, at the Firth of Clyde in ten. I can be in Edinburgh in less than an hour, as a Glaswegian I have no desire to go there but as a Scot I will go under duress if I get paid.

As a crime writer this gives huge scope for murdering people and body disposal. The back lanes that run up behind the tenements of Glasgow lend themselves to all sorts of criminality in real life. The hills are varied, beautiful and extremely dangerous. I think because they look chocolate box pretty from the safety of a car people underestimate how vulnerable they can be, never go hillwalking in Scotland unless you are prepared to set out in a mid summer day and come back in a blizzard.

Scotland has 3 distinct geographical sub-divisions: the Highlands and Islands, the Central Lowlands and the Southern Uplands. The Highlands and Islands are about 400 million years old and give us the Cairngorms, the Skye Cuillins and the majesty of Ben Nevis with its bull elephant head standing at 4.500 feet.

This area is bisected by the Great Glen Fault along which lies Loch Ness. The loch is simply a body of water in a series of connected waters. It is extremely deep with very poor visibility due to the high peat content in the surrounding soil. It contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined so no wonder Nessie finds it so easy to hide.

The geology of the area also gives rise to St Kilda, who was never a saint, and they are the loneliest islands in Britain. Inhabited until 1930 when the locals found out that other parts of the world did not smell of rotting sea birds. The prevailing winds are ‘strong’ and it is non-uncommon for the inhabitants to go deaf with the noise of the wind. It was evacuated by the request of the citizens in the 1930s and famously many of them were given jobs by the Forestry Commission on the mainland which is good thinking as they had grown up on an island with no trees.

The famous island of Staffa, contains Fingal's Cave and Mackinnon's Cave, one of the longest sea caves in the world and the inspiration for some rather good music. The midland valley is known as the Central Lowlands and is volcanic giving rise to both Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh and Ailsa Craig off the west coast. The latter provides the best curling stones in the world.

Although we have lower level hills here they are always visible somewhere on the horizon. As I write this I can see dull sunlight flickering on the top of the Ben Lomond. There is a clear tourist path up the Ben which is deceptively easy and the need for a dedicated Lomond Rescue Team is hardly surprising.

The whole area is now a national park dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars and was gifted to the nation as a place of tranquil respite for the citizens of Glasgow. So why they don’t ban jet skis on the water I will never know.

There are two favourite places that I have managed to sneak into my novels, one is the Electric Brae which sits on the west coast as you look out to Ailsa Craig. It is an optical illusion that makes freewheeling cars run up the hill but before physics proved that it was all the work of the devil. Famously General Dwight D Eisenhower while stationed at nearby Culzean Castle often took foreign dignitaries to see the phenomenon.

My other favourite place is the Rest and Be Thankful, a road named in respect of its long persistent climb. It was named that by the soldiers in 1753. That road has been replaced by a higher road which despite metal cages and extensive engineering is still prone to landslides – four hundred-ton landslide on 28 October 2007. The original road at the bottom of the Glen almost remains untouched which makes me think they knew something we didn’t.

The Southern Uplands are a range of hills which run for almost 120 miles. This rolling landscape runs along a second fault line from Ballantrae to Dunbar. It’s altogether a much cosier climate down there with very little crime until Aline gets involved!


Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for the tour. I've always wanted to go to Scotland. Until then, I shall read books set there.

Caro Ramsay said...

Thanks Sybil, it is a wonderful place. All seasons of weather in one day!