For the first thirteen years of my life I lived in the Scottish Highlands including two places in Sutherland, one in the north-west and the other in the east.
It’s a beautiful county full stop but it’s the lovely, lonely landscape of the north-west that haunts me, the one I like to visit when on holiday from Edinburgh and that has been the background for several of my short stories and poems and a contemporary People’s Friend serial.
We lived thirty-one miles north-west of Lairg and would drive home from a trip to Tain or Inverness hardly encountering another car. When we did, we looked at the number plate and out would come the AA Guide where in those days there was a list of prefixes and you could tell where that car had come from. For example, our own car, a two-tone Hillman Minx, had the prefix SST and that signified Sutherland.
All part of in-car entertainment in the 1960s, folks …
The sight of mountains and moors and moonscape rocks and Highland cows and sheep staring from the roadside and seas and cliffs and hidden silver and gold beaches and far-off horizons still tugs at my heart in sunshine and in rain.
But there would be no time to consult the AA Guide if it still had that list because the landscape is now full of cars. Lonely no more!
The marketing of the ‘North Coast 500 Route’ has been an astounding tourism success. I’m sure the vast majority of visitors appreciate the scenery (although not the driver of a open-top, cream-coloured sports car speeding up the Bealach na Bà last September – if you know its steep hairpin bends you’ll appreciate his idiocy), and the business it has given to providers of accommodation and visitor attractions is terrific, so my hankering for the empty roads is entirely selfish.
For the aforementioned People’s Friend serial, The Family at Farrshore I altered the geography to suit my purpose and I made up place names (in case there were real people in the area with my characters’ names) – but in my head ‘Farrshore’ is on a hill just south of Scourie. When Cathryn stopped her car in the rain to pick up a stranger, that was on the A894, and when Tyler and Rosie got lost I was picturing them on the beach at Durness.
Cathryn? Tyler and Rosie? The Family at Farrshore is available on Kindle, and in large-print from libraries, if you want to find out more about them – and at the same time have yourself a fictional tour on part of Route 500.
And if you would like to hear how I came to write the serial I’m a guest writer this week at Anne Stormont’s Virtual Book Festival (be sure to check out Anne's own books while you're there, highly recommended).