FINN finished playing on the swings and came up to Izzy.

“So exactly why is Fionn MacCoul buried here?” he asked.

Izzy promised she would tell the story later, when they reached the site where legend tells he was killed by a giant.

Then, at Finn’s request, they walked to nearby Finlarig Castle.

Izzy had always felt the castle had a sombre atmosphere, and so it did, even on this sun-drenched afternoon.

Maybe it’s because it is quietly hidden away from the tourist trail, its unstable ruins concealed by old trees.

Normally a tranquil place feels magical, but the grim deeds said to have been committed here darken the feelings.

Izzy had already told Finn of the castle and he wanted to see the beheading pit and hanging tree.

It was another built by the Campbell chief ‘Black Duncan of the castles’ at the beginning of the 1600s – such a ruthless man, and if accounts of him were true, very cruel even for his time.

At Finlarig, it is said, he enacted his ‘justice’, in particular against the MacGregors, whose land he had taken and whom he hunted mercilessly.

Finn stood in the pit where, according to tradition, noble victims were executed.

Their Campbell persecutors could watch and gloat from a window above in the tower. 

Nearby was the hanging tree, where people of lesser status were said to have met their end.

Finn found the overgrown steps that led to the summit of the small hill on which the tree grew.

They stood on the spot where so many condemned men would have had their last view of this world. 

“You’re right, aunty, this place does have a bit of a gothic atmosphere, especially when you know that so many people were hanged on the branches of this tree.”

Izzy nodded: “But remember, Finn, even if this is the original hanging tree, then it is innocent,” she said as they stood under its boughs. 

“The poor thing was used to commit terrible crimes,” she put her hand on its trunk, “but it wasn’t the tree’s fault.”

Finn wasn’t sure if she was joking; it’s just a tree, how could it be blamed?

He put it down to his aunt’s love of nature.

She often spoke as if plants and animals were like people.

Finn looked around. 

“Can you tell me a story about this place?” he asked.

Izzy thought for a moment, then agreed. 

They sat on a stone by an old holly tree in the sunshine and Izzy told two stories.

First, the tale of a wedding at the castle interrupted by MacDonalds lifting cattle.

Then she told the tale of Marion Campbell, a daughter of a powerful Campbell chief. 

She had been promised to a man she didn’t love, but instead she eloped with Gregor Roy MacGregor, the chief of the MacGregors.

“The sad thing is,” explained Izzy, “that beforehand the MacGregors and Campbells had been close allies for many generations, but then a feud over land and power developed.

So Gregor Roy was forced into the hills as an outlaw, and Marion willingly joined him, marrying him against her father’s wishes.”

“Despite their tough life,” said Izzy, “they deeply loved each other.”

Finn was fascinated as Izzy told Finn stories of their adventures; of how they lived in the wilds, living in secret hideouts, hunted by the warriors of Marion’s father.

She told the tale of how Gregor once escaped his pursuers by leaping over a river and how Marion gave birth to their first son in a cave.

“They wrought vengeance on the Campbells, lifting their cattle,” said Izzy, “but eventually they were found and Gregor was beheaded by a Campbell chief called Grey Colin in 1570.”

“In the beheading pit?” asked Finn.

“No, not here,” said Izzy, “but at another castle at the east end of Loch Tay.

"Some accounts say poor Marion was forced to watch, and afterwards she composed a beautiful lament, which is a sad song.

"She wrote it for her son, to explain to him what had happened to his father.”

Izzy recited a verse she could remember: “Even in snow and blizzards, And days with all the seasons, Gregor would find a hollow for me, In which we would sleep cosily.”

“Wow, what a story. What happened to her after?” asked Finn.

Izzy shook her head: “Nobody knows, she disappears from history, but her son Alistair later avenged his father’s death and so the feuding continued, which explains the grim deeds at this castle.”

“Maybe her son protected her after and hid her to keep her safe,” wondered Finn.

“That’s a nice thought, maybe.”

Finn stood up and walked around. 

“It would be better if folks could just get on, don’t you think!” he announced.

“Agreed!” said Izzy.

They walked back to the village.

They had a much-needed wash with hot water and Finn called his mum. 

After a while, he poked his head out of the phone box: “Mum wants to talk to you.” 

Izzy knew how difficult this time was for her sister, being separated from her son overnight for the first time in four years. 

But Izzy was trusted by her and Finn’s attachment to his aunt was very strong and made him feel safe.

He was obviously missing his mother, but he seemed to be enjoying the journey and his moods had been better, so it was decided the journey could continue.

“Remember, mum’s back from Spain on Monday eve.”

“I know,” smiled Izzy, “we will be there to meet her, I promise.”

After the call, they did some shopping and made a quick visit to the Folk Museum, which was housed in the old mill by the side of the river.

Izzy wanted to show Finn St Fillan’s Stones, which were on display there – a tale to tell later when they went for a swim in his pool.

As they walked back onto the bridge, Izzy had a surprise.

She unlocked the gate which led to the old MacNab burial ground, where chiefs of the clan lie in a walled enclosure, their clan folk in the surrounding ground.

“It’s actually an island in the middle of the river,” explained Izzy.

“Its name means yellow island. It was a prehistoric fort before it was a burial ground.”

Finn nodded as he walked round the edge, looking through the trees down at the river as it roared, then calmed its way to Loch Tay.

Izzy spotted a carving of the MacNab crest, with an image of the head of a MacNeish chief, a reminder of a famous incident in the clan’s history.

“I’m getting hungry, aunty,” said Finn.

She had a plan for tea.

They would eat within the ruins of Rob Roy’s house at Auchinchisallen in Glen Dochart.

It was a 20-minute drive west of Killin.

They parked at a small layby just past the small bridge that took the busy traffic over the burn called Allt Coire Chaorach.

“That there?” asked Finn, pointing at the ruins.

“Looks like mostly a pile of stones with a chimney.”

“It’s called Rob Roy’s house, let’s have our tea there,” said Izzy.

“Really, it was his house? How do we get to it?”

It was a good question.

Once they got over the gate, they followed a narrow bracken-covered path.

They got scratched as they scrambled up a steep slope, but suddenly they were on the top and the ruined house was in front of them. 

They were only a short distance from the road, but it felt like a different world.

Finn stood on a large stone that once formed part of the foundations and looked up at the one gable end that was still standing.

No, it wasn’t just a pile of stones, he thought, he could see it had been a house.

Finn scanned the landscape around him.

Occasional traffic could be heard not far below, but the road seemed engulfed and made insignificant by the mountains and hills that dominated the view.

A herd of highland cattle were grazing nearby.

“Look, look! We have our own Highland cows!” Finn called to his aunt.

“Perfect,” she said as she her puffed her way to the house.

Finn jumped from the stone down to his aunt.

“Sorry, let me help,” he said.

“Let’s get set up” said Izzy, laying the heavy rucksack down.

Finn went for a closer look at the cattle while Izzy found a safe place to sit within the ruins.

She got out the camping stove and began to cook.

Finn joined her and they stared at the pasta as it twirled in the boiling water.

The cows came to watch, standing in a row, tails twitching with a fascinated look on their faces.

“You’re right in what you said, aunty,” remarked Finn between mouthfuls of pasta.

Izzy curled her eyebrows not sure what he was referring to.

“Food tastes much better when it’s cooked outside, in a place like this,” he explained with a big sauce-covered grin.

The sun was now lowering in the sky and Izzy could feel the air finally cooling.

The huge presence of Ben More was casting shadows in the glen.

She took out her small fire dish, screwed on its legs and placed it carefully within the ruins, away from any vegetation.

Finn suggested moving some stones to make more comfortable seats.

“We are guests here,” said Izzy, “we are sitting amongst old ruins, and we must leave them exactly as we found them. Even our wee fire must leave no trace. There used to be a sign here telling people about this place, but people just didn’t respect it, they’d damaged it or trash it, so the sign was taken away. We know better, so we are welcome guests.”

Finn nodded. He initially felt upbraided, but his aunt gave him a kind smile which changed the meaning of her words.

Instead of feeling scolded, he felt a strange sense of privilege that he’d been taught something important.

“Think how long this house has been here,” said Izzy, who looked up at the gable end with the chimney.

“That standing wall was added later, but it is said Rob built the original house here in 1713. It was a time when he was a hunted outlaw. This was Campbell country when he lived here, but he was under the protection of a Campbell chief, how ironic was that? Rob’s mother had been a Campbell, and you’ve seen how MacGregors could be both enemies and family with Campbells.”

She pointed at the base of the ruins: “Those stones are the foundations of the old walls. Now close your eyes for a moment, Finn. Imagine we are in the house in Rob’s time. There are no windows, a thatched roof above us and a peat fire is in the middle, with a smoky heat filling the room. Now open your eyes, can you see the house as it used to be?”

Finn opened his eyes and looked around.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Can you smell the peat smoke in your imagination?”

“I don’t know what it smells like aunty.”

“It’s a sweet smoke.”

“I smell it now.”

“Now look up, can you see how the soot from the fire has made the rafters of the roof all black?”

“Yeah, it’s all sooty.”

“We are sitting in the very place of the story,” said Izzy. “Right where you are, sat Rob Roy himself.”

“No aunty, he’s next to me, otherwise he’ll be on my knee,” joked Finn.

“All right then, of course, he’s next to you,” chuckled his aunt. She pointed to the small fire crackling in the fire dish.

“He’s looking into the peat fire, thinking about his wife and children. Then there is a knock at the door…”