I first visited Scotland in the mid 1970s when I worked on a number of shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The work was intensive and gave few opportunities to leave the city and look around but climbing up Arthur’s Seat and seeing distantly blue mountains convinced me that, one day, I would come back for a proper look around. We drove to and from one such show in 1980 and saw a little of the countryside but the real opportunity came when my youngest daughter, Hannah, took up a university place in Edinburgh.
This resulted in a number of parental visits, most of them involving lunch at David Bann’s wonderful restaurant in St. Mary Street. We tended to be environmentally unsound and flew to Edinburgh on these occasions and, one particularly clear evening, I looked down as we crossed the Scottish border and was reminded of the sights that I’d seen from Arthur’s Seat all those years ago. During her undergraduate studies, we visited Hannah in Edinburgh one Easter and drove on northwards past Perth to Pitlochry. This was the nearest sizeable town to Loch Rannoch where we rented a small house at the west end of the loch, verging on the desolation of Rannoch Moor.
This was an idyllic setting with which I immediately fell head over heels in love. The “big house” of the estate on which we stayed was in the process of being restored from a state of dereliction: it had decayed from its heyday as a between-the-wars holiday retreat for film stars and the great and good but, for now, we had the whole place pretty much to ourselves. There were walks in the Black Woods, samples of whisky and encounters with the local wildlife. Eagles soared above the bleakness of the Moor which, this early in the year, was still blessedly free from the dreaded Highland Midge, the bane of many a visitor. We passed by a curiously symetrical mountain, Schiehallion, known to some locals as “The Fairy Mountain“. We never met the fairy but did discover that the mountain itself was the focus of an 1775 attempt to determine the mass of the Earth and also the name of a singularly delicious local beer.
One of my retirement projects is to go back to the Highlands and spend more time documenting the moors and mountains. Isolated though it is (we were 10 miles from the nearest town, Kinloch Rannoch), Rannoch station (another 6 miles down a dead-end road) has a regular train service from London and a hotel literally next door. By way of a taster, my 60th birthday treat was a surprise trip on the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston followed by a couple of nights stay at the isolated and charming Moor of Rannoch Hotel – unforgettable and a huge improvement over budget flights, airport hassles and branded hotels.
The highlands of Scotland may be on a more modest scale than the mountains of Yosemite pictured by my great hero, the late Ansel Adams but I sense a worthwhile challenge here. Watch this space.
Click here to see a slideshow of favourite images.