Monday, November 22, 2021

Places in the memory

Book Week Scotland has only just ended.

This is an annual clambake of all things bookish thrown by the Scottish Book Trust and supported by Creative Scotland and the Scottish Library and Information Council. 

In previous  years it has seen authors going hither and yon to talk about their books, writing in general and meeting readers in events held within libraries, books stores and other venues.

Naturally, last year it was badly hit by the pandemic, with many events going on-line, but you can't keep a good book promotion down because this year, arms filled with vaccine, pockets with masks and hands liberally coated with various gels and unguents, many of us were once more traversing this great land to promote the written word. And ourselves, of course, for there is no ego like an author's ego. 

Well, maybe an actor. 

Or a rock star. 

Or a politician. 

OK, there are many egos like an author's ego but this isn't about those others. 

Early reports, however, indicate that in many cases audience numbers are down, with readers perhaps still hesitant to come out thanks to "the Rona." It's understandable but let's hope next year life is back an a more even keel.

One of my events took me back to Inverness, where my protagonist Rebecca Connolly is based. For those who don't know, Inverness is seen as the capital of the Scottish Highlands, situated on the Beauly Firth and at the head of the Caledonian Canal, that great waterway carved out of the Great Glen, linking various lochs to take shipping from west to north east and thus avoid the long and arduous passage up the west coast and traversing the blustery north.

I love the highlands, which is why I decided to set this series among their rolling hills, ragged mountains and lochs whose depths conceal many mysteries. This time I stayed in an inn with history going back hundreds of years situated on a road that was once a main arterial route in the days before internal combustion and oxygen having to be made available at petrol pumps to bring us round after the price shock.

I had some time to wander around the city, naturally signing copies of my books in the local Waterstones bookstore, and, on the way to Grantown-on-Spey to visit a fabulous independent store, the Bookmark, I took time to wander in a vast forest of Scots Pine so tall that it wasn't the breeze that stirred the tops but the breath of angels.

There are memories in these wild places for me. The route there and back took me past Pitlochry in Perthshire, where the autumn colours still clung to the trees as if reluctant to part from us. It was here I went camping for the very first time with my wife and even as I sped past all these years later I could smell the bacon frying in the morning. 

I passed the turn off for Kinloch Rannoch, 18 miles to the west, and my idea of heaven. We used to rent a cottage near there at least twice annually for many years.

The Beatles sang of the places they remember and it came into my head as I thought of Kinloch Rannoch and Schiehallion, the fairy mountain, rising from the mist. I thought of walks around the woodland, the leaves golden brown in the soft autumn sun, and wondering at the peace of the Black Wood, the largest tract of the ancient Caledonian forest in Scotland. I thought of the dogs that were once my companions on these walks and, naturally, of my late wife who loved the area as much as I love it. I thought of its history, rich with incident, red with blood as much of the highlands are. And I thought of Rannoch Moor;  vast, bleak and dark in its mystery. 

The thoughts ran through my head as if on fast forward as I sped north, passing the chasm of Killincrankie where once a battle was fought and, centuries later, I once walked with my wife and friends in dead of night as we made our way back from the pub to our campsite. 

But then I was beyond the area and all these memories were but ghosts in my rear view mirror.

Looking back, I believe that I was always at my happiest there and I have the urge to return and let Mickey (my dog) romp in the pawsteps of his much-loved predecessors. 

Maybe I will, if only one more time, for the good times. As the Carpenters once sang.

(Here are some images from the area)

Charlie, a dog who has long since left me, just seems to fit in.

One of the views with the ruins of a once grand house just visible beyond the tree

Dunalastair Water

Bleak Rannoch Moor

The autumn colours on the River Tummel are always breathtaking

Schiehallion rising above the mist

Even in the rain, the valley is spectacular



Tanya said...

Thank you for sharing your memories and the breathtaking photos. I love to read stories set in the Highlands, and I very much appreciate seeing the area through your eyes.

Part of my childhood was spent in a region of Pennsylvania known as the Laurel Highlands, where we had an annual Highland Games. I have no idea how authentic the events were, but there was music (bagpipes of course), dancing, sheepdogs, caber-tossing, and booths selling Scottish food and goods, so I think there must have been at least a few people of Scottish descent involved. Your photos and recollections brought back some long-buried memories of attending the games and enjoying the mountain scenery.

Douglas Skelton said...

Thank you. Highland games, even here, are based on long-standing events (usually attached to beating the living daylights out of an enemy) but have obviously been tempered to more peaceful ends. They can be fun, colourful and event exciting - no matter where they are held. And, of course, if you have Scottish blood in you, the skirl of the pipes should never fail to stir it so you want to go out and beat the living daylights out of an enemy!