BEN Ledi rose from the near horizon as Finn approached Callander. The sight triggered a wave of anxiety. He was about to follow footprints of memory he had purposefully avoided all his adult life; not just the memories, but the emotions attached to them.

As he got closer, his heartbeat rose. The mountain loomed over the town, guarding the entrance to the Highlands. It had witnessed millions of years, seen the passing of ages long gone; the 26 years since Finn was last in its shadow just a blink in its time.

Yet he felt the mountain welcome him back and bid him to pause in its company. He pulled into the car park by the river. In his memory, Ben Ledi was shrouded in mist and dark shadows, but today it bathed naked in the midsummer sunshine.

The box containing his dad’s words sat on the passenger seat, but Finn had still not read them. He was afraid to. The fear made him feel foolish, weak and pathetic even. What was he afraid of? Why was he making his dad wait for his return, even after his death?

Perhaps that was it, his dad was dead. He couldn’t now say all those things he had wanted to. It was too late get to know each other and be his son again; too late to heal the hurt and receive his forgiveness. All he had were words written in notebooks from a man who hadn’t been part of his life since he was seven years old. His fear was of what the words might resurrect within him, that he had long ago buried. Was there any point now?

A message arrived on his phone. It was from Fiona.

“Hi Finn, how you doing? Izzy said you are going to see her. That’s great, she can’t wait. Hope you’re OK. Drive carefully along the Road of Legends. Btw your two wee brothers want to see you when you get back, if you want. They can still be annoying lol. Take care. Here if you need me. Sis. Xxx”

Finn smiled at the word ‘sis’. A sister; he’d had a sister for nearly 30 years, and two brothers, and never knew until today. She behaved as if she cared, despite it all.

He looked at the box, took a deep breath and cautiously opened, picking up the first thing that came to hand like a lucky dip. It was an old postcard of a Highland cow with mountains in the background. He studied the picture and memory flooded back. He’d once had this postcard on his wall next to his bed. He turned it round and read the writing:

“Love you more than all the hairs on hairiest hairy Highland coo. Dad. xxx”

It brought a smile. The post mark was just visible, 1989. He would have been six, the year his parents broke up; a time his world utterly changed.

His phone pinged again, this time a message from Izzy.

“You OK sweetie? Do you like tea or coffee, and do you drink beer or wine, and red or white? I’m making a casserole, anything you don’t eat? Can’t wait to see you. xxx”

He replied: “If eating outside, your camp stove casserole will be delicious whatever is in it lol. I’m a coffee and beer man, but wine good too, red. Looking forward to seeing you as well. Finn. xxx”

The Road of Legends lay before him, its memories already unfolding. He could see himself and his aunt having fish and chips all those years ago by the river bank and remembered the story she told him of the young MacLaren lad who had wanted to forget what had happened to him so didn’t talk of it, with dire consequences.

He laid the postcard on the dashboard.

“OK dad, last time I travelled the Road of Legends you were with me and I didn’t know it.” He looked at the box. “This time I know you’re with me.”

It took Finn only two hours to drive the route that had taken four days to travel with his aunt. At each turn he met a memory but it was only when he arrived at Glencoe that he briefly stopped – at the car park in the shadow of the Three Sisters. He got out and looked up towards the Lost Valley, tracing with eagle eyes the distant path he had taken on that fateful day.

“Yes, just there, I’m sure of it. At the foot of that rockfall, that’s where we met,” he said to himself.

Izzy was less than 30 minutes away, waiting for him on the beach at Cuil Bay, on the shores of Loch Linnhe. The thought of her made him realise he was hungry. Was it his stomach remembering his aunt’s camping cooking, he wondered with amusement. More likely that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

The prospect of spending some days with his aunt lifted his spirits. The drive past Glencoe village and along Loch Leven, with the distant mountains of Morvern, was stunning. Loch Linnhe was shimmering in the sunshine and Finn felt he was finally out of the last four months of lockdown.

It had been a hellish time. The worst of it was that he had been unable to spend time with his daughter. Attempts to keep close using screens often seemed to emphasise the separation rather than ease it. It was unbearable to have her close by yet unable to care for her and just be her dad. The lockdown had also ended his job and he couldn’t see friends. His only company had been his depression, an unwanted cell mate in the prison of Covid isolation.

His satnav took him along a narrow single track road, then a view of Loch Linnhe opened in front of him. A rocky beach with grassy verge, some tents. Where was his aunt?

“That’s her,” he said out loud to himself, like an excited child.

She was standing waiting for him, at the far end of the road, next to her campervan. She was bending down and peering into his car from a distance to see if it was him. He waved and in that moment she ran towards him, arms flapping, screaming with joy.

Finn stopped his car and got out.

“Hi aunty,” he called out.

“Finn, Finn, oh my God!”

Izzy came to a sudden halt just in front of him. She was desperate to give him a hug, but Covid and the last 26 years made an invisible barrier she wasn’t sure he wanted to cross.

She stood, looking at him up and down, then raised her hands to cup her face, shaking her head with a massive smile.

“Look at you, you’re a grown man!” She could see his father in him, but didn’t mention it.

Izzy put her arms out and Finn walked into them. The last time they had hugged he was 11 years old and his head just came to her shoulder. Now he was much taller than her and engulfed his aunt in his arms. The years of separation melted, the old connection rewired.

“Let me introduce you to someone,” said Izzy. Finn pulled his car up beside her campervan. It was an ex-post van, still mainly red but the window surrounds painted a dark green. A narrow funnel peeked from the roof.

“You got a wood burning stove in there?” asked Finn.

“Yep, but the weather is so lovely today, we will have a campfire on the beach tonight”.
She opened the side door and a Border collie leapt out, greeting Izzy as if she had been away for a year.

“This is Ceilidh, she has kept me company for the last three years, and kept me sane, just, for the last four months.” She barked, then bounced towards Finn to greet him.

“You hungry?”

“Aye, starving”

“Good, the casserole is ready. I’ll just heat it up a bit, let’s sit on the beach to eat, too nice to eat ‘inside’.”

Finn’s senses were touched by the sound of the stove hissing. He looked around at the scenery as her casserole quietly bubbled. The loch lapped gently on the shore and the squawking of seagulls caught his attention.

“Do you know why seagulls squawk instead of sing?” asked Izzy as she served her interesting-looking casserole to him in a bowl.

Finn shook his head. She told him the story as they ate, which didn’t give a scientific reason, but a legendary one.

“I’ll tell that story to Eilidh,” said Finn.

“Your daughter?”

Finn nodded.

There was so much to say, so much to explain, so much to catch up on. But sometimes words are less important than simply being present. They sat together, listening but not talking.

After a while, Izzy left Finn with his thoughts and went into her van. She came back with a can of beer in one hand and bottle of red in the other, see-sawing them up and down, wondering which he’d prefer.

“What you having?” he asked.


“OK, can we share it.”

“Absolutely, I have more bottles. You know, essentials!”

Finn laughed. He’d been so nervous about meeting his aunt, but it felt like he’d come home.

They sat on the beach together, still keeping their words, watching the sun lower in the sky, giving it a yellowish haze. It was a while till sunset, but the day was ending.

“Midges will be out soon,” said Izzy as she began to prepare a campfire on the pebbles from driftwood she had collected earlier in the day.

Finn poured some more wine into his cup.

“Izzy,” he paused, then turned and looked at her.

“I’m sorry, you know, those things I said to you in the car that day,” he paused again and looked down. Izzy waited, listening.

Finn looked up, then straight at her.

“I didn’t...”

“I know, sweetie, and you don’t need to apologise. You need to heal.”

Her words opened feelings he’d kept tightly hidden for years and he couldn’t stop them overflowing. It was the beginning, but before he could heal he needed to understand. He went to his car, opened the box and took out the large notebook titled ‘The Road of Legends September 1994’.

It was still light enough to read, but Izzy brought him a torch.

There, on that beautiful beach, as the sun began to set over the sea, with the scent of sea salt and smoke from the crackling fire, in the quiet company of his loving aunt, he felt ready to open the book and read his dad’s words to him.