A shortened version of our columnist Tim Porteus’s new book, Road of Legends, is exclusively serialised each week in the Courier. Here is the next mini-chapter.

AS THEY set off down the hill, Izzy paused by the rowan trees, admiring their vivid red berries.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” she observed.

They were basking in the warm September sunshine, as now the weather had changed yet again.

“Did you know people believed rowan trees had magical powers to keep away evil spirits and malevolent faeries?”

Finn nodded. “Yeah, I know.” He thought for a second, wondering how he knew it.

“I think you told me before,” he concluded.

“Aye, probably,” she said. “People would plant them close to their house, or around graveyards.”


“Aye, to protect the spirits of the dead. It’s an ancient belief, goes all the way back to the time of the early Celts. The rowan was important to the Vikings too.”

“We did the Vikings at school; can’t remember the teacher mentioning rowan trees though.”

East Lothian Courier: Rowan trees

Rowan trees

Izzy stroked a branch of one of the trees. “In Viking myth, the first woman was made from a rowan. Maybe that’s partly why I love them. They are usually quite small, but they are resilient and can survive in places and in conditions that other trees can’t.”

“Just like you,” said Finn.

He meant it as a genuine compliment and his aunt accepted it as such with a smile. He was deeply fond of his aunt. She was his mum’s younger sister but was quite different to his mum in many ways.

His aunt was more unconventional, with a childlike love of adventure and spontaneous way of doing things. She was different in her style too: her hair was cut short at the sides but longer at the back, and she always wore colourful clothes with boots.

There had been a time a few years ago when Izzy had suddenly stopped being around and Finn hadn’t understood why.

He had wondered if it was his fault, but later it was explained to him that she was busy being a tour guide and that often took her away.

But since that time she had been around much more.

While he usually loved spending time with her, Finn had really hoped she wouldn’t be available this time, as then his mum would have had to have taken him to Spain.

They continued their descent towards the car but then Izzy suddenly veered onto a different path which led up a slope in a different direction.

Finn stopped and watched his aunt walk up the hill.

“Aunt Izzy, that’s the wrong way!”

She stopped and called out: “No, it’s just a different way!”

“I thought we were going to Callander for a fish supper?”

“We are. Come on, it’s not far, this way will give us a better appetite.”

Finn sighed to himself. He didn’t need any encouragement to eat a chippy. What was she taking him to see now? Another stone? Why couldn’t they just go straight to the car?

Her aunt was waiting for him on the path. She held her arms out, then waved at him to follow as she turned and continued uphill.

He knew that if he walked back to the car, his aunt would have to give up and join him.

He looked down at it, parked in the layby, not so far away. But it was warm and sunny now, and he had to admit to himself that he had enjoyed the stories, and no doubt another one was coming. He thought for a moment, then made his decision: he followed his aunt up the hill.

He caught up with her and soon they were both climbing a steep section of the path together. Izzy paused and took a water bottle out of her rucksack and gave it to Finn. He gulped from it thirstily.

“Why are we coming this way?” he asked, handing the empty bottle back. “It’ll take us longer to get back to the car.”

“Aye, it will,” said Izzy, “but if a journey is just about the destination then it isn’t an adventure. Memorable journeys are measured in experiences rather than distance or speed travelled.”

“I just want a fish supper, isn’t that experience enough!” joked Finn.

“It sure is and will be even more so after we come back from 2,500 years ago.”

“We are going to be time travellers now?”

“Aye, kind of,” smiled Izzy, “come see.”

They scrambled up a small hill which had strange ridges around it and a flat top from which there was an incredible, commanding view. Most of Loch Venachar and some distant hilltops of the Trossachs could be seen.

“Look, and that’s Callander over there,” said Izzy, pointing to the south east at the town in the distance.

“I can smell the chippy from here,” laughed Finn.

“Can you see what we are standing in?”

Finn shrugged his shoulders: “A hill?”

“Yes, but look about you, can you see what used to be here?”

Finn was perplexed.

“This is Dunmore,” explained his aunt. “Dun means fort and mor is Gaelic for big.”

“So big fort?” ventured Finn.

“Aye, see those ridges over there? They are the base of ramparts, there would have been walls, part stone, part timber, called palisades, all around, and here,” Izzy pointed at her feet, “where we are standing, people lived in round houses. If you look really carefully, you can see the outlines of what is under the ground. We are in the same space where people lived before the dawn of history here.”

At first, Finn couldn’t understand why his aunt was so animated about bumps in the ground. He listened as she walked round describing to him what she thought the bumps had been and what the fort would have looked like. Her words began to rebuild the fort in his imagination. Then she spoke about the Celtic people who might have lived here.

This suddenly hooked Finn. He knew his name was connected to Celtic legends.

“Maybe my ancestors!” he said.

Izzy’s face brimmed with pride at her nephew’s observation.

“Yes,” she replied excitedly.

She stood pointing at the ground: “Here is where they will have told their stories around a hearth over 2,000 years ago. And the landscape…” she made a sweeping gesture with her hand “…its beauty, its dangers and the mystery of its creation, they were all explained in stories and myth-making.”

“Maybe the people who lived here made up the story of the giant’s stone to explain how it got there?” suggested Finn.

Izzy was loving this. “Aye, quite possibly, or maybe one of them knew the giant and saw it all happen!”

Finn laughed. He knew giants were mythological, but the stone did look out of place and he wondered how it had really got there.

His aunt walked to the eastern edge of the hill, where a steep cliff meant there had been no need for walls. She sat looking out towards Callander and Finn joined her. The town’s houses were small specks which seemed to sizzle in the heat haze of the late afternoon sun.

His aunt spoke wistfully: “Just imagine Finn, from this very spot almost 2,000 years ago the Celtic people who lived here would have watched as a Roman force arrived from that direction.” She pointed towards Callander, then continued: “I’m sure it wasn’t a surprise, as they will have heard stories and eyewitness accounts of their brutal invasion.”

“I thought the Romans were good guys, you know, brought civilisation and all that, like roads,” said Finn, “that’s the facts I got taught at school anyway.”

He paused and a big grin came onto his face, “and from Monty Python’s Life of Brian!” Finn mimicked John Cleese: “What have the Romans ever done for us?!”

“Yeah, funny film,” laughed Izzy, “but the Romans had history on their side Finn, because they wrote most of it.”

“So why didn’t the Celts write their side?”

“Well, they did record their history in a different way, with stories and legends. Later, many of them would be written down. But a story needs to be told and listened to, then re-told for it to stay alive, or it will be lost.”

She pointed out the place near Callander where the Romans had built a fort and explained they were by the Highland Line: a geological boundary between the Lowlands and Highlands.

“This fort guarded the entrance to the Highlands here,” she said, “and maybe it was the home of a powerful Celtic chief. The Roman fort was probably built for them to control the entrance as well, but they didn’t last long here!”

“An entrance? You mean like a passageway?” asked Finn, intrigued.

“A passageway made by nature,” explained Izzy, “it’s called the Pass of Leny. Beyond it, in a land of mountains and forest, lived people the Romans first called the Caledonians. But they actually had different tribes and their own name for themselves, as well as their own language. That’s where we are going next, through the Pass of Leny into the land of the ancient Caledonians beyond the Highland line!”

“But aunty…”

“After we have had our fish suppers of course!” said Izzy, to Finn’s visible relief.

Finn led the way down to the car, while his aunt lagged behind, admiring the views and butterfly spotting. Then her attention focussed on the man in the distance making his way up to Samson’s stone along the path they’d taken earlier. He was taking photos and she suddenly realised she’d forgotten to take any of her and Finn, who had already reached the car and was waiting.

When she reached Bess, Finn was leaning against her. Another car was parked in the layby and Finn was watching the man in the distance walking up the path to the stone.

“He’s just reached the point where I got my trainers muddy.” observed Finn. “Maybe he’ll do the same thing.”

“Aye, maybe he will,” said Izzy as they both watched his progress for a moment. The man stopped walking and turned round, and seemed to be admiring the view.

“Let’s take a photo of us together here,” Izzy said, “you know, to help us remember.”

Finn wasn’t keen. He didn’t like photos of himself. His curly hair was never right, he always seemed to scowl and, well, he was 11 and becoming self-conscious.

“I don’t need a photo aunty. I think the stories and my ruined shoes will help me remember.”

She nodded. He was right.

They ate their fish and chips in Callander sitting by the River Teith, stalked by ducks and swans who swam close hoping for a morsel, and watched by the mountain sentinel Ben Ledi.

“Sitting here eating our fish suppers reminds me of an old historical story about a fish bought in a market near here that caused a bloody clan battle,” said Izzy.

“A fish caused a battle? How?”

“I’ll tell you the first part of the story now,” said Izzy, “and the second part when we get to the site of the battle tomorrow.”

Here are the links to chapters one and two.