AND so Izzy began to tell the story.

“Many years ago, a group of local children ventured to the lochside here when they were not supposed to.”

“Not supposed to?” asked Finn.

“No, it was Sunday at Easter, and they weren’t supposed to be playing on that day.”

“So what happened to them?”

Izzy was pleased Finn seemed interested, so she continued: “They saw a strange disturbance in the water. The children watched with fascination as a beautiful horse rose from the depths.”

“A horse appeared from underneath the water?”

Izzy nodded.

“It was a kelpie!” said Finn excitedly.

Izzy looked out to the loch, then turned her gaze to her nephew.

“Aye Finn, a kelpie, or each uisge as it’s called in Gaelic, which means a water horse.

“It came close to the shore. Its coat was velvet brown and it had a magnificent mane of hair. The children reckoned it must belong to a local noble and that it had been bathing in the loch because it was a very hot day. So they waded into the shallow water to stroke it.”

“No,” said Finn, “they mustn’t touch it!”

“If only you had been there to warn them Finn,” said his aunt, “but the creature deceived them with its beauty and friendly manner.

“A kelpie is a clever shapeshifter and tricks its prey by appearing as a beautiful horse, or sometimes as a bonny man or maiden.

“The children discovered the truth too late. As they stroked it, their hands stuck to the creature, which began to transform back into its true form.”

“What did it look like?” asked Finn, who loved monster tales.

“Its smooth coat turned into scales, its face became lizard-like, with eyes that narrowed and glared. The hairs on its mane turned into swirling serpents, which coiled around the children’s legs and arms. They were caught, like fish in a net, as the kelpie dragged 15 children with it into the depths; to devour them.”

As Izzy dramatically described the gory details, Finn stared at her in a story trance.

After she had finished the story, she explained: “That is why this wood is called coille a’ bhroin, the wood of lamentation, or the wood of sorrow or weeping. It’s in remembrance of that terrible event.”

Finn came out of his trance.

“Aye, but it’s just a story, kelpies arenae real… are they?”

Izzy nodded with a reassuring grin: “Yeah, it’s a story. But people in the past believed it and it has truth, even if it’s not real.”

“How can it be true when it’s not real?” asked Finn.

Izzy tried to explain her meaning: “Many Highland lochs have old stories about kelpies or other creatures lurking in them. And these stories have been told for hundreds of years. I think people told them for a reason.”

Finn raised one of his eyebrows; he was listening but unsure of his aunt’s point.

She continued: “I think kelpie tales are about the importance of recognising hidden dangers and deceptions, in places and people. That’s what gives the stories truth: they help us to be wise and keep safe.”

“Yeah, suppose,” Finn said, then looked up with a smile.

“Plus it’s a good story! You know any other kelpie stories?”

Izzy had a pleased look.

“Oh aye! There’s even one in which a young lad like yourself manages to defeat a kelpie and make it work for him!”

“How did he manage that?”

“I’ll tell you that story later. Just now we have to get going. Time for a walk!”

“A walk?” asked Finn, despondently, “Do we have to?”

His aunty didn’t answer, she just gathered the bowls and pot and washed them. Then she stored the stove and utensils into the back of Bess.

She walked round where they had eaten to make sure no litter was left, then said: “OK, let’s go!”

They set off, driving back the way they had come, in the direction of Callander.

Her car was an old Volvo estate. She had put the rear seats down and fitted two slim mattresses into the back and turned it into a camper.

It was very basic, but just enough room for them both to sleep, with a division made by draft excluders down the middle to make separate sleeping areas, with a sleeping bag each.

Izzy had a small tent as well, which she stored in the roof box, but she always felt Bess was warmer and cosier.

“That’s our destination,” said Izzy, pointing to a small hill. They’d parked in a layby by the side of the road.

“What?” asked Finn.

“There, on top of the hill, you see, a huge stone!”

“We are going to walk up that hill to see a stone?” asked Finn. As he spoke, the rain returned.

“I don’t want to, it’s raining again.”

“You have a raincoat,” said Izzy in her cheerful tone, opening her door to go out.

“Yeah, but... I don’t want to go out. I thought we were going to see views from the car on this trip, not walk in the rain to see a stupid stone.”

Izzy closed her door and looked at Finn with a sympathetic smile. There were a few seconds of silence before she spoke, and Finn felt he was going to get his way.

“I’m not going to insist we go Finn, but if we don’t then we will miss the experience.”

“Miss seeing a stone? I think I can live with that,” he said sarcastically. Finn had fallen right back into his sullen mood.

Izzy put her hand on his arm: “It’s not just a stone, Finn, it’s part of something important.”

“Why is a stone so important?”

“You’ll find out if you take the walk to it.”

Finn looked out the window. The rain was easing. Reluctantly, he gave in.

“Alright then, but this better be good.”

They set off, with Izzy carrying her rucksack of essentials.

The path was steeper than Finn had thought and when they were halfway up, the rain got heavier.

As they crossed a burn, Finn stepped into a muddy patch and his shoes sank.

“No, my new trainers!” he yelled as he sucked his shoes out of the bog. “They’re ruined!”

“Och no!” said Izzy sympathetically.

She came over to Finn, knelt down and examined his shoes.

“I know they are muddy but they will be fine once they dry out.”

“I want to go back to the car,” protested Finn, deeply upset. The shoes had been a present from his mum.

“We are almost there,” said Izzy, pointing at a large boulder on top of the hill.

“Come on, let’s not give up now.”

Finn felt a wave of emotion begin to surface. It was anger; anger with missing out on Spain and being left behind, anger at the rain, anger with his aunt for making him do this, but also anger at himself for giving in.

He picked up a stick and began to swipe angrily at the bracken which grew tall by the side of the path. Then he took aim for a patch of rosebay willowherb. As he sliced off their tops, a cloud of their wispy seeds floated into the air.

“Make a wish,” called out Izzy.

“I wish I was in Spain with my mum,” he said under his breath, but loud enough for Izzy to hear.

After taking some of his anger out on the plants, he sullenly followed his aunt to the stone.

She was standing there with a joyful smile on her face, and Finn couldn’t contain his emotions any longer.

“You’re smiling after you’ve brought me up here in the rain to show me this! I’m cold and wet, my shoes are ruined. I want to go back to the car. Now!”

“Look,” said Izzy, pointing behind Finn. He turned round.

A large patch of blue sky had appeared, like a tear in the clouds.

A shining column of sunlight was making Loch Venachar sparkle and a rainbow arched over it; a complete half circle of vivid bright colour painted by the rain and sun.

It was a genuinely spectacular sight.

The rays of sunshine reached them too, making everything seem brighter and more colourful.

Rowan trees with vivid red berries grew by the stone.

They had caught raindrops in their leaves which hung like tiny diamonds, reflecting the light.

“Nature is giving us a reward, Finn,” said his aunt. “If you had stayed in the car, you’d have missed all this.”

“Aye, and my shoes wouldn’t be ruined,” he replied sardonically.

Izzy sighed and her spirit deflated. She understood why her nephew felt angry, and now felt guilty that she had forced him on the walk.

“I’m really sorry about your shoes, Finn,” she said honestly. “I shouldn’t have made you come up here.”

His aunt’s empathy helped to cool Finn’s anger.

She gave him time to feel calm, then offered a hug, which he accepted.

“How did you know that rainbow would happen?” he asked.

“I didn’t,” said Izzy, with a cautious smile.

He turned and watched the rainbow as it slowly vanished. Then they both stood in each other’s silence. Finn broke his first.

“So this is the stone then?” he said, while leaning his hand on it.

“Yup,” she said, in a calm voice, “it’s called Samson’s Putting Stone.”

“Don’t tell me, there’s a story about it,” said Finn, with a cheeky grin.

“There is, you want to hear it?”

“May as well, since I made it up here.”

“We need coffee, juice, chocolate and a dry place for our bums to sit,” his aunt said happily.

“Let’s sit on the top,” said Finn.

It took them five minutes of hilarity before they both managed to help each other onto the summit of the stone.

Izzy brewed her coffee as she told Finn of the legendary giants of Scotland, and how this huge stone was thrown here by one of them, named Samson, during a shot putting competition between them.

She used a pebble while telling the tale, to demonstrate the technique of the shot put.

“Samson threw this boulder three miles, from the slopes of Ben Ledi!” she exclaimed, while re-enacting the scene with her pebble. “Some say it was over 20 miles from the braes of Ben Lawers by Loch Tay, but that seems too farfetched to me!”

Finn laughed: “Aye, definitely, three miles fair enough, but 20, no way!”

“Exactly,” said Izzy as she sat down beside him to finish the story.

“No other giant could match that, so Samson won. And his putting stone has remained here ever since, bearing his name as a mark of his triumph and strength.”

“You’re good at telling stories,” said Finn.

His aunt gave an appreciative smile. “Thanks, I’ve had a good teacher,” she said.

“So it’s the story that’s part of something important?” asked Finn.

Izzy nibbled her lip, knowing she must choose her words carefully.

“Kind of,” she said, “a stone is just a stone, but when it’s connected to a story or memory it becomes something much more.”

Finn nodded. “Suppose,” he said. “What’s next?”

“Fish and chips at Callander.”

“Now you’re talking my language,” said Finn.

They scrambled off the stone and headed down the hill.

Izzy hoped her nephew was now in a mood for one more discovery before his fish supper.

Chapter One can be read here