IZZY stopped at Lochearnhead by the phone box. They called the hotel where Finn’s mum was staying and left a message for her. After a 20-minute wait, they called back and he was able to speak to her.

Izzy waited anxiously, keeping her distance to give him privacy but trying to read Finn’s body language as he spoke. She had given him a big bag of coins for the call which he fed regularly into the slot. To Izzy’s relief, he emerged from the phone box looking happier.

“She’s missing me a lot,” he explained, “so I told her I was missing her too, but she’s happy that I’m having a nice time with you, so it’s OK.” Izzy gave an understanding smile.

“I’m glad,” she said. “Ready for lunch? I have cream cheese sandwiches, I made them fresh this morning. We can eat them by the shore of the loch.”

They drove a short distance along the tree-lined road that follows the northern shore of Loch Earn. At times it seemed as if they were driving through thick forest, the trees arching over the road making a tunnel of branches and leaves, made vivid green by the bright sunshine that seeped through the canopy. The meaning of the loch’s name seems lost in time, but some say its origin is loch of the Irish.

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter one

They had their lunch on a stony beach. Izzy performed her now-familiar ritual of boiling water for her coffee on her stove. Few words were exchanged as they ate. Izzy sat on a small boulder scanning the shore opposite. She tried to identify the place where the temporary grave of James Stewart of Ardvorlich was, a tale she hadn’t told Finn. Then she looked to the far western part of the loch to see if the island which had once been the stronghold of the Neish clan was visible. She wasn’t sure if she could see it in the heat haze. That would be a tale she would tell Finn later.

Then she looked east towards the southern shore for a distant view of Edinample Castle, where tradition says the notorious Campbell chief named ‘Black Duncan of the castles’ threw an architect from the battlements. He had the castle built after displacing the MacGregors from the land. She told Finn the tale, and that the ghost of the architect is said to haunt the castle. He wanted to visit but she explained it was a private residence.

“So not fair that some folks get to live in a castle!” Finn complained. Izzy could only agree.

Finn wanted to sunbathe for a while, so they lay like slumbering seals. Izzy closed her eyes, face up to the sun. It was now really hot. Soon she’d had enough and sat up, took off her shoes and socks, rolled up her trouser legs and headed for the water.

Finn looked up and quickly joined her. They both stood, knee deep in the cooling waters of the loch, splashing themselves. Then they picked up stones from the loch’s bed and threw them. “Having a competition, just like the giants,” Finn remarked.

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter two

Then he noticed that his aunt had a tattoo on the lower part of her left leg.

“I didn’t know you had a tattoo, what is it?” he asked.

She lifted her leg out the water for a moment.

“Cool, is it a dolphin?” asked Finn.

“It’s a Pictish symbol, copied from one of their carvings on a standing stone. It’s called the water beast but I think it’s a kelpie. Maybe even an ancient image of what people now call Nessie.”

“Nessie is a kelpie!” exclaimed Finn. “Can you tell me that story?”

“I will when we get there, promise.”

Finn was impatient, but he knew his aunt would keep her word.

“So why would you want a kelpie as a tattoo?”

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter three

“Well, I like the design, but also I suppose because it’s part of the ancient culture of our land ancestors.”

They walked back to the beach and sat with their legs sprawled out to dry their feet and legs in the sun.

Finn was still curious as to why his aunt would want such a fearsome creature as a tattoo.

“I believe we are all born with a kelpie within us,” she said, “it can stay harmless if we know how to keep it that way, but it can grow and become an uncontrollable monster if we feed it the wrong things.”

“You mean like junk food?” asked Finn quizzically.

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter four

“Yeah, kind of, but the kelpie inside us feeds on emotions, so it’s junk food is emotions like hatred, jealousy, spite.”

“So what’s its healthy food, then?” wondered Finn.

“What do you think?”

“Dunno,” he said, then thought for a moment. “Love, kindness, stuff like that.”

“Definitely,” said Izzy. She continued: “There is even a story about a kelpie who is changed by love. He falls in love with a woman, and she with him. The Kelpie lived in Loch Garve, much further north from here. They got married and lived together at the bottom of the loch.”

“Sounds like a copy of Beauty and the Beast,” said Finn.

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter five

“Yeah, it is a bit, except they both loved each other for who they really were. But there was one thing that made the kelpie’s wife unhappy: she was constantly cold living in the loch.”

“Obviously!” said Finn.

“Well, the kelpie loved her and wanted to make her comfortable, so he captured a stonemason and made a deal with him. In return for his life, the stonemason had to agree to make a fireplace and chimney.”

“Wait a minute, a fire under the water?”


“But that’s impossible!”

Izzy raised her eyebrows and gave Finn a grin.

“Anything is possible in a story,” she said. “So the stonemason had no choice. He built the fireplace and chimney, and the kelpie made the fire. The mason was set free, and in thanks the kelpie ensured he always had a plentiful supply of fish.”

“So just how did the kelpie make an underwater fire then?”

Izzy shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know, but love can help you make the impossible possible. The wife was no longer cold and they lived happily together. Every evening they sat cosily by their blazing hearth. That’s why there’s a part of Loch Garve that never freezes, even in the coldest winters.”

Finn laughed at the image.

Izzy rolled her trouser legs back down and stood up.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“Where to now?”

“Killin, it’s a lovely village. Some folk say its name comes from the Gaelic Cill Fhinn, which means the chapel of Finn or Fingal. Fingal was another name for Fionn MacCoul. We are going to visit Fingal’s Stone, which is said to be the burial place of Fionn himself!”

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter six

“I’m a coming!” said Finn excitedly, putting his socks and shoes on.

Izzy glanced at the two old thatched houses at the foot of Glen Ogle as she drove up the steep glen. She had memories of them from her childhood, and every time she passed the old houses they seemed slightly more dilapidated. Izzy felt their deterioration and neglect symbolised so much of the story of the Highlands.

As old Bess climbed up the road towards the pass, Izzy could see in her mind’s eye the trains running across the dramatic viaduct which formed part of the old railway line which cut through the hillside on the western slope. Now trackless, she had distant memories of seeing it in use from her early childhood before the rockfall which closed it prematurely. Those days travelling with her parents in their Morris Minor car had given her that first taste of awe at Highland landscape that had remained with her ever since. Her love for the Highlands was rooted in her fondest memories of her father, who had a passion for them.

Below the modern road, on the floor of the glen, faint traces of the 18th-century military road meander up towards the pass at the top of the glen. Izzy had always felt that the Glen Ogle was overlooked; a place where people usually passed through on the way to somewhere else. Its ghosts were marching Redcoats and driven cattle on the hoof.

So she always stopped if safely possible to give the glen its place, even if for only a brief moment of appreciation. She pulled into a layby near the top of the glen. Finn had no idea of the view that had been hiding behind him and was taken by surprise as he got out the car. He wanted to take a photo of the glen and looked for his camera. Finn was feeling it, Izzy thought to herself: that spark of awe that the landscape lights in your soul.

Ten minutes later, they arrived at Killin. The first introduction to the Falls of Dochart, which can roar through the village after days of rain, can be a spectacular surprise. Izzy gave Finn no advance warning and when the rapids suddenly appeared, Finn called out: “Can we stop, can we stop!”

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter seven

She pulled in and Finn was out of the car before she put the handbrake on. He stood on a rocky ledge watching and listening to the water as it raged over the rocks, its brown peaty water turning white at the fringes as it crashed its way towards the old bridge. Finn leapt between the rocks, taking himself into the middle of the rapids. Izzy held her breath, terrified he’d slip, but reluctant to restrain his joy.

“Be careful, Finn,” she shouted out, but of course he couldn’t hear her. He stood, mesmerised in the midst of the torrent. Izzy sat on the wall and watched anxiously as he tried to reach a young Scots pine growing impossibly from a rock. Eventually he returned, much to Izzy’s relief. His boots were wet but his feet dry and his face glowing.

“What an amazing place!” he said.

They walked over the bridge, past Innis Bhuidhe, the ancient burial ground of the MacNabs, and the folklore centre, both of which she planned to show Finn later. Then a short walk behind the school and they were there: Fingal’s Stone, the resting place of the legendary Fingal, otherwise named Fionn MacCoul.

Finn’s initial excitement turned to disappointment that the stone itself wasn’t more impressive. He had imagined a huge standing stone, but Finn himself was taller than it.

“That’s it?” said Finn, deflated.

READ MORE: Tim's Tales, chapter eight

“Finn,” said Izzy, “be wise to the test set by this place.” He shook his head, he had no idea what his aunt was talking about.

“Look around any city, any land,” she explained, “and you will see that the tallest and grandest monuments are built to commemorate self-important men whose deeds are soaked in vanity, greed and power. The true heroes and heroines of our land have no great oversized monuments to them, they are remembered by something greater, that lasts longer than even fine-cut stone.”

Finn looked at his aunt for the answer.

“Stories, Finn, stories that are told and retold,” she said, “they are the finest monuments to those who we truly wish to remember.”

Finn nodded.

“I was worried this trip would be boring, aunty. But it’s not. Not so far anyway. Thanks for teaching me all this. Can I go play on the swings over there now?”

“Of course.”

Izzy stood with folded arms, watching her nephew play. Very soon he would be 12 years old; so grown up, yet still a child. Her heart ached for him, she knew the loss he carried, all the hidden pain. Please, she thought, let love make the impossible happen.