Our literary tour of Scotland begins in Edinburgh: the entrance point for many a visitor to Scotland. The gothic charm of the Old Town inspired writers across generations, from Victorian gothic novelists who took inspiration from Greyfriars Kirkyard, to J.K. Rowling. The whole city is also the setting for many books by one of my favourite writers, Alexander McCall Smith. Of course, the Scots are more fiercely proud of their own, homegrown writers, including Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and J.M. Barrie.
Edinburgh boasts a delightful little Writer’s Museum, and there are literary walking tours around the city. It is enough to make you wantt to retire to the nearest cafe and furiously type a novel (though the cafe where J.K. Rowling apparently wrote Harry Potter may not be the best choice - is now more a tourist trap than a writer’s haven).
However, if the city offers a creative buzz for writers, it is the Highlands which offer the impossible landscapes of so many novels, and where the very air seems to be imbued with the storytelling of old. Every place has a tale of faeries or kelpies attached – and in such a remote and beautiful land, it is not surprising that tales of enchantment still hold sway.
In Invermoriston, just by the banks of Loch Ness, a walk into the woodland reveals J.M. Barrie’s summerhouse, overlooking the river Moriston. If there was any place for a flying boy who never grew up, this is it. I kept my eyes peeled for Peter Pan, but if he was there, he was well hidden.The woodland was deserted apart from us; it would be entirely possible to clear the leaves from the stone table in the summerhouse and spend an afternoon there writing, very probably undisturbed.
Further to the South, at the northern tip of Loch Shiel is a viaduct instantly recognisable to any Harry Potter fan. As well as featuring in The Monarch of the Glen, among other things, Glenfinnan achieved worldwide fame in The Chamber of the Secrets film. It seems to be fashionable at the moment to deride Harry Potter, but I am a lifelong fan; I don’t care how uncool that makes me, and my heart did a little flutter when I set eyes on the viaduct. I don’t know whether it is overrun with tourists in the Summer, but on a sunny day in Spring, it was as perfect a location as you could hope to find, in the highlands or anywhere on Earth.A short climb up the hill offers incredible views of the viaduct in one direction, set against the mountainside backdrop, and Loch Shiel in the other.
With the sun hitting the still blue waters, and the picture-frame mountains, it was just perfect. Below, on the banks of the loch, is a statue of an Unknown Highlander – a reference to the battles of the Jacobite Uprising, which is such a significant part of Highland history and therefore storytelling.Clan heritage runs deep in the Highlanders’ blood, and the old tales of clan warfare are known by everyone, told and retold to the extent that particular clans would still not give each other the time of day, should they happen to meet. These are the gory, brutal stories of warfare – serious historically, but boy, do they make good stories. I will tell you the stories of the rebellions, uprisings and wars another time, but for now, let me say that if you want to experience stories – ones that you know and others that you don’t – with more senses than you knew you had, you need to visit Scotland.