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.

THE walk up the hill took them through a wood of tall-planted fir trees, but soon the atmosphere changed. Birch trees, hazel, sycamore, beech and Scots pine lined the route, with rowan adding their display of red berries.

Izzy reached Creag an Tuirc first. She waited for Finn, hoping he’d appreciate the view.

“Wow,” he exclaimed as he turned and looked out over Loch Voil.

“It’s spectacular isn’t it?” said Izzy, pleased.

He walked towards the edge of the rock to get a better vantage point and stopped, just as Izzy was about to nervously grab him. They stood together taking in the spectacle.

The loch was blue and shimmering in the now-mist-free sunshine, snuggled in Balquhidder Glen as it stretched westwards.

“This is what it must feel like to be an eagle,” Finn said. “And it’s snack time,” he added with a big cheeky grin.

They sat cross-legged together, close, but not too close, to the edge, the panorama before them. Izzy opened her rucksack and took out snacks and juice; then her stove, kettle and bottled water.

“Coffee time too,” she said.

Sunshine bathed them and Finn now noticed the sweet fragrance of the wood.

Izzy soaked in the beauty of the place and magic of the moment. As Finn ate his snacks, she cast her gaze towards an old Scots pine which stood guard by them.

“So what about this place’s secrets, then?” Finn asked.

Izzy collected small sticks and twigs which lay where she sat and made a small pyramid shape with them.

“What’s that?”

“A pretend fire,” she said. “I’m going to tell a story that has been told for hundreds of years as people sat by their hearth, so this is our hearth.”

“But it’s a warm day, we don’t need one.”

“The hearth wasn’t just for warmth, it was the soul of the house, the gathering place,” replied Izzy. She lit her stove and made coffee as Finn added a few more twigs to their hearth. Coffee made, she was ready to tell the story.

Izzy pointed eastwards: “Over there, on a joyful August day, people had gathered for the fair of St Angus when a large force of Buchanan clansmen were seen approaching. They were heavily armed and clearly intent on a fight. But nobody understood why.”

“They were from the clan who had bullied the young boy,” said Finn.

“Yes, but remember he hadn’t told anyone. Now, in a panic, he explained to his horrified kinsfolk the humiliating incident with the fish and what he’d said.

“There was no time to waste; runners with the fiery cross were sent immediately through the glen to summon MacLaren men to battle.

“But bloody slaughter was already under way; the glen resounded with screams of terror, the clash of swords and the cry of men cut and dying as the Buchanan clansmen attacked.

“Outnumbered and unprepared, the MacLarens retreated to the foot of this rock, cornered like a boar in a hunt.”

Izzy paused in her telling to drink coffee.

Finn stood up and peered at the land far below the rock: “Just down there?”

Izzy nodded.

“What happened to the MacLarens, were they all killed?”

Izzy indicated to Finn to come back and sit with her. He took one final look over the edge then sat with his aunt, keen to hear what happened next.

“A boar is at its most dangerous when cornered, that’s when it will attack ferociously,” she said. “With their backs against this rock, the MacLarens had nowhere to run; they had no choice but to fight for their lives.”

Izzy imitated the sound of swords clashing and waved her right arm as if she had a sword. Finn fought her in the air with his imaginary sword. His aunt stopped the role play with a serious look on her face.

“A heart-rending cry was heard,” she said. “A brave but young MacLaren warrior had been cut down at his father’s side. The father fell to his knees and cradled his dead son. His grief turned into a rage for revenge.

“He screamed ‘Creag an Tuirc!’ as he charged towards his son’s killer. It electrified his fellow clansmen, they fought like crazy men.”

They both returned to their imaginary sword fight for a few moments, re-enacting the scene.

“Who won?” asked Finn.

“Well, the rage of the MacLarens began to turn the tide, then more of their warriors arrived. The Buchanan men began to flee. They were chased and cut down.”

“Yes!” said Finn, who stood up and found a stick which he used to fight imaginary opponents.

“Did all the bullies get killed?” he asked.

Izzy stood up and looked south towards the River Balvaig which curled from the loch. Finn joined her.

“Aye, no mercy was given, none were spared. The last two made a desperate attempt to escape by crossing the river over there. They were chased and both met their end, the last one at a place called Sron Lainie which we passed earlier.”

Izzy sat back down by the hearth and cradled her mug of coffee.

“Ever since that battle, this rock has been the rallying point for the MacLaren clan, and Creag an Tuirc their war cry.”

Finn stood like a victorious warrior, stick in hand, looking out at the scene of the battle. It was so calm and beautiful, not a hint of the bloody history he’d just been told.

He asked a question: “What about the lad, you know, who’d had the fish, what happened to him?”

“He wasn’t a fighter,” explained Izzy, “so he wasn’t in the battle. People blamed him because he hadn’t told of the incident earlier. Who knows what he must have felt inside at all the death people said he’d caused.”

Finn raised his voice with passion: “But he didn’t cause it, the stupid bullies did! He didn’t tell about what happened because he wanted to hide his humiliation. He was hurt and being bullied. How was he to know this would happen?”

Izzy nodded: “I think you’re right Finn – the bullies just used it as an excuse. But sometimes people feel guilt even when they aren’t really to blame.”

Finn nodded as he scanned the landscape, then swiped his stick against the trunk of a tree so hard the stick broke in two.

“Is it a true story aunty?”

Izzy got up and stood by him: “There is disagreement about when it happened, but it is a traditional tale long told and seems based on real events, but who can say for sure.”

Finn looked at his aunt: “I wish I could speak to him and explain it wasn’t his fault.”

“Me too,” said Izzy. She laid her hand gently on his arm. “Maybe someone did. Maybe he realised himself.”

Finn looked at the ground and gave a slight nod. “At least the bullies lost,” he said.

“Everyone did,” said Izzy, “there were no winners, if you think about it. That’s the stupidity of it all.”

Finn thought for a moment, then went to the rucksack to take a bottle of water.

He drank with big gulps as if washing something down. He threw the empty plastic bottle into the undergrowth.

“You said there was a mystery about Rob Roy’s grave, can you tell me that too?”

“Sure,” replied Izzy, “after you’ve put that bottle in our bag for rubbish, you know better than that Finn.”

Finn settled by the hearth and Izzy looked at her nephew, wondering where to start.

“The thing is,” she said, “I believe Rob Roy’s grave probably isn’t really the grave of Rob Roy!”

Finn laughed: “What? How can you say that?”

His aunt told how the story in the glen was that Rob had been wounded in a sword fight with a man called John MacLaren, with whom he had had a dispute over land. It was Rob’s last fight and the wound he received eventually caused his death.

She explained that it was said his body was then carried along a coffin trail which went over the hills to the west of the glen at a place called Bealach nan Corp, which means pass of the corpses.

The trail led to the shore of Loch Lomond, the earlier home of Rob Roy, then to an island called Inchcailloch where many of his ancestors are buried.

“It was common for dead people to be carried many miles to their ancestral burial ground,” Izzy explained, “because resting with your ancestors was important in clan culture. That’s why there are so many coffin trails all over the Highlands.”

“You mean paths to carry dead people to graveyards?”


“But what about the gravestone at his grave here?” asked Finn.

“That stone is very old and lay in the kirk long before Rob was even born, it commemorates a warrior lost to memory, most likely a MacLaren. The MacLaren clan was the first to hold sway here.

“The gravestones claimed to be of Rob and his family lie in the foundations of the oldest church, which was associated with the MacLarens even before the MacGregors arrived in this glen. Using old gravestones did happen, but I think Rob will have wanted to rest with his ancestors.”

Finn was confused: “So if it’s not really his grave, why would anyone say it is?”

Izzy pointed towards the south.

“Although Rob was well known in his lifetime, after his death he was turned into a famous legend by the historical novels of a man called Walter Scott. Wealthy tourists came here in droves in the 19th century, on horse and cart, then later by train. They wanted to see the places described in the book just as people do now with films.”

“Like the phone box from Local Hero,” proclaimed Finn.

“Exactly. It became a romantic pilgrimage and pilgrims need a shrine to visit. So I think someone began the story that those old gravestones marked Rob and his family’s graves, then later the story caught on and had become so popular that in 1869 even Queen Victoria visited the grave, giving the story royal approval. Interestingly, when she visited there were two stones, not three.”

“Who started this story then?” asked Finn, who wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or amused at the audacity of it all.

“I suspect we will never know,” his aunt replied. “One way to prove it either way would be if there was an excavation, and if a skeleton of a short man with long arms was found, then I’d admit I was wrong.”

“So you admit you might be wrong then?”

“It’s always important to consider you may be wrong Finn, but when something is believed for long enough it can become a truth based on tradition and faith. Some will choose to believe it, while others won’t; one person’s truth can be another’s heresy.”

Finn tried to follow his aunt’s meaning but he’d got lost after the skeleton. He knew she was clever; she’d often have deep discussions with his stepdad and mum that he wouldn’t understand. But this was different, she was talking to him and he wanted to understand.

“What’s heresy?” he asked.

“It’s when you believe something that’s not believed by others, who think they alone have all the truth,” she explained.

Finn raised his eyebrows: “Like a teacher.”

Izzy laughed: “Like a bad teacher, yes.”

“Let’s get going,” she said, dismantling the hearth and placing the twigs randomly back on the ground.

“Have you noticed something missing in all these stories?” she asked. Finn shook his head.

“Women!” Izzy replied. “It’s time for a tale about an intrepid woman, methinks; I’ll tell you her story as we head back down the hill.

“It may even have a connection to the name Creag an Tuirc, which means…” she looked at Finn for the answer…

“Rock of the boar,” he said proudly.

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