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.

July 2020

FINN took his daughter Eilidh by the hand as he walked under the trees towards the river.

Twenty-six years had passed since he was last here – a memory he had locked away with so many others.

They walked past a prehistoric broch which Finn couldn’t remember seeing last time. His aunt would have surely pointed it out to him. Then he read the information board and realised it was a recent reconstruction. The name of the nearby cafe now made sense to him.

On the path that followed the old railway line, Finn stopped. There it was, he’d found it: the oak tree. It still looked young, standing guard over the pebbly beach with multiple spreading branches and the magisterial presence Finn remembered.

His daughter headed immediately to the water’s edge. It was a much busier place now, with frequent walkers on the nearby path.

There was a suspension footbridge spanning the river which Finn couldn’t recall. A couple walking by paused for a moment but didn’t come to the beach. Perhaps social distancing had some benefits, thought Finn.

While his daughter played, he tried to identify the spot he had spent that first night of storytelling with his aunt.

“Here, right here,” he whispered to himself.

Time and space fused together as he imagined going back to the past to explain to his 11-year-old self what that evening of tales around the fire had really meant.

But he would not have been able to listen, not even to his older self. His world then was a broken mirror with vital pieces missing in which he could see only part of himself; those pieces lost to him forever. Guilt and anger clawed at Finn’s gut, rousing his depression from its slumber.

He felt the dark creature trying to pull him down, pain taking over. No, not now, he thought, not in the presence of his daughter.

He would not submit to it, refused to feed it with more ruminations.

He wondered if he should have taken Eilidh on this pilgrimage of healing. But yes, her presence with him, and his love for her, was the light in his soul that kept the dark creature at bay.

He would be present for her and walk with her to the summit of the faerie hill. She wanted to leave the faeries a gift and a wish. Finn did too.

“You ready for that walk up the faerie hill?” he called out to his daughter. She nodded excitedly with a joyful smile.

September 1994

Finn’s phone call to his mum before they left Strathyre suggested he was coping with the temporary separation. He hadn’t wanted to climb the faerie hill, but Izzy hoped he’d be up for a walk up to the rock of the boar when they got to Balquhidder.

It was still early morning as they crossed the old Stronvar Bridge and a stunning view of Loch Voil greeted them.

Mist spiralled from the water and swirled around the trees on the steep braes either side. But it was already warm, with more blue sky than grey above the mist. It was set to be one of those glorious September sunny days, the kind you appreciate all the more because you know it may be the last for a long time. They stood awhile watching the mist play above the loch, as the mountains slowly revealed themselves. The Highlands wake slowly in the morning.

Izzy’s soul tingled as she soaked in the beauty of the moment and breathed in the sweet air.

“Can you smell that Finn, the scent of the Highlands?” she said.

Finn raised his head and sniffed: “Smells like cow dung.”

He was right, it did now. A waft of it came from a nearby field where cattle grazed. Izzy laughed.

“Aye, well, that’s the historic smell of the Highlands too!”

She led Finn back to the old bridge they had just driven over. Its three arches spanned the river with historic elegance.

They sat on the walls looking down at the water and Izzy took it as an opportunity to tell Finn about the drovers, how in days of old they would come this way, driving hundreds of cows to markets in the south, crossing rivers and traversing through glens.

They’d often sleep outside with the cattle, or sometimes in drovers’ inns. They were the cowboys of the old Highlands, who knew the land and the different hazards of each route, but didn’t wear Stetsons of course, and rarely had a horse.

She pointed towards the hills to the north: “Over there was a drovers’ route, bringing the cattle this way. The drovers could veer round and steer the cattle east of the river, but with this bridge they’d have been able to cross here, then again at Strathyre downriver. There were lots of different ways, and the drovers had detailed maps inside their heads drawn by experience. Cattle were so valuable they would often be lifted by one clan from another.”

Finn looked bemused.

“Lifted? Like carried on their shoulders?” Izzy burst out laughing at the image and Finn looked hurt.

“Aw, sorry Finn, I wasn’t laughing at you, I was laughing at the image you painted in my imagination. Lifted means, well, stolen. But people called it lifting because it was seen as a tradition rather than a crime. At least by those doing the lifting!”

Finn looked around, still feeling a bit raw by his aunt’s reaction to his question.

“I haven’t watched TV for a whole day now,” he said, realising he’d missed his breakfast TV programme. He picked up a pebble and dropped it into the water below, then watched the circles expand.

“Where we going today?” he asked.

“Well, let’s see how far we get, but right now we are heading for Balquhidder Kirk!”

“Where the minister who wrote the book on faeries was?”

“Aye, but there is much more to its story.”

Izzy took her rucksack from the roof box.

“So we are walking there?”

“Yep, it’s really not far,” his aunt replied.

But Finn was wary. Her rucksack seemed suspiciously full for a short walk.

They set off along the quiet single track road. The air buzzed with life and mooing from the cattle had replaced the sound of traffic. Soon they had crossed a small old bridge and were heading into a wood. They were at the base of Kirton Glen and the sound of a waterfall touched Finn’s senses.

Izzy paused only briefly at the falls but Finn wanted to linger.

“We’ll come back this way, and then we can spend some time here,” she said.

She pointed ahead of her: “Just there, through the trees, is where we are headed. I always think this is the best way to approach this ancient place; to emerge from a wood after being doused with the sound of running water, rather than just arrive from a car park and... well, you’ll see.”

The path opened up onto a gravel drive and a Victorian church. He followed Izzy round the corner of the church and found himself standing on the edge of an ancient graveyard.

Old gravestones littered the ground, which was uneven. A gravestone in the form of an ancient Celtic cross stood out against the blue sky.

Generation upon generation lay beneath his feet. The graves surrounded the ruins of a 17th-century kirk. The historic site was framed by distant mountains. His aunt was right about the approach; Finn felt like Indiana Jones emerging from the jungle to discover a long-lost ruined temple.

Izzy led Finn carefully past the graves and into the ruins, then through the open doorway of the old kirk. Before them were three old recumbent gravestones lying side by side, surrounded by a low metal railing.

A modern-looking gravestone above the graves had an inscription: “MacGregor Despite them.”

Finn read the smaller inscriptions. They told that these were the graves of Rob Roy, his wife and two of his sons. Someone had laid flowers at the foot of the graves.

“He was a legendary outlaw,” explained Izzy, “a member of the MacGregor clan, who were hunted like the wolf.”


“The whole clan was outlawed, which is why there is that inscription, which means despite their persecution they survived. Rob Roy lived part of his life as a hunted man, some say he was the enemy of the rich and a defender of the poor. I’ve heard him called Scotland’s Robin Hood.

“So he was a hero.”

“Well, he is to some. But to others he was a villain, a thief and a nasty killer.”

“Which is true, was he a goodie or a baddie?”

“Perhaps a bit of both, depending on who you are and what you believe.”

“What do you believe aunty?” asked Finn. Izzy pursed her lips in thought.

“Well, I love the romantic stories about him, like how he gave the minister here a sheep and cow each year in return for him not increasing his fees to the local people.

“ The fact the animals were probably lifted didn’t seem to bother the minister. People want these stories to be true because we want our heroes to be always heroic and good, and not disappoint us. But other stories show him in a very ugly light.”

“ I want him to be a hero,” said Finn, “but now I don’t know what to believe.”

“Perhaps we can admit to ourselves that even our heroes aren’t always perfect and have flaws, and so sometimes they do the wrong things.”

Finn shrugged his shoulders: “What’s flaws?”

“Erm, an imperfection, or fault.”

Finn looked down and scuffed the ground with his boots. Izzy knew this was a challenge to how he saw the world.

“I want to show you something else,” she said.

She led him to the edge of the graveyard, then pointed up at a rocky ridge which emerged from a wood on a steep brae above them.

“Can you see, up there, the cliff face with the ledge above? That’s called Creag an Tuirc, which means the rock of the boar. It looks out over the glen and was the clan rallying point for the MacLarens who lived here. It’s a special place, I’m hoping you will chum me up to it. I have snacks we can have when we get there.”

Finn looked unsure. It seemed a steep uphill walk.

“It’s a place that knows the secrets of this glen because it’s quietly seen everything.”


“Aye, like the mystery of Rob Roy’s grave, and what really happened when those Buchanan clansmen arrived here looking for a fight.”

“What mystery?”

Izzy just gave Finn a teasing smile.

“And it gives you amazing views.” she added.

“As good as from that Celtic fort and the giant’s stone yesterday?” asked Finn, who was wavering.

“I’d say even better.”

Finn returned her smile with a cheeky one: “Can I have a snack now to give me energy?”

Izzy chuckled: “Sure!”

She put her rucksack down, and took out a chocolate bar: “How about this?”

Izzy pulled on her rucksack and started to walk out the graveyard. Finn followed while enjoying the bar.

They walked together up the path that leads to Creag an Tuirc.

Here are the links to chapters one, two, three, four and five.