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 road north from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy tingles the senses. The way is guarded by mountains and as they entered the pass between them, Finn looked up towards the giant shoulder of Beinn Odhar. It’s looming presence made the walkers on the nearby West Highland Way look like tiny ants. Then Beinn Dorain took centre stage.

“Wow, what a view can we stop aunty, for a photo for my mum?”

Izzy pulled in at a layby and Finn jumped out with his camera and began to snap away. Izzy stood close by him, making sure he didn’t veer too near to the busy road as he was taking photos.

Beinn Dorain was always an important moment for her when travelling on this road. The love for the mountain expressed by 18th-century poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre was something she totally understood. She studied its mood; wisps of mist covered the summit. Her gaze then led down the slope to the edge of Auch Gleann.

She had ventured there last summer to find the ruins of Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s home at Ais-an-t-Sidhean; walking in his footsteps on the “glorious ground” he had so beautifully described. His love of the land, and rage at its desecration, still echoed in these hills.

They continued the journey, Finn pointing out a huge boulder as they neared Bridge of Orchy. Izzy felt her heart race with nerves as she slowed and turned into the minor road to cross over the old 18th-century military bridge.

The river was in spectacular flow and Finn was keen to get out, as she knew he would be. She parked Bess by the side of the road and he leapt out of the car, heading straight for the bridge.

Not more than 30 feet away, his nanna and dad sat in a small rented car watching him.

“Look, Ewen, he’s wearing the scarf,” said Mary with a breaking voice. She had made it for him as a birthday present four years before but it had been sent back. It had been Ewen’s idea to leave it on the tree. But that hadn’t been part of the plan agreed with Izzy and neither was Mary’s presence here.

Mary peered closer to the windscreen to get a better view of her grandson.

“Oh, he’s grown so much,” she said.

An emotionally laden silence filled the car as they both watched Finn lean over the wall on the bridge to look down at the River Orchy, as it tumbled towards the glen of the same name.

Ewen wound down his window and Finn’s excited shouts of joy could be faintly heard above the roar of the water. Mary listened, then looked at her son, giving him a brief forced smile. But she couldn’t hold it for more than a second; her face clouded and her eyes sank.

“How did it come to this, son?” she said, looking down at her clasped hands.

“I have prayed to God to find an answer to how anything so cruel could be allowed to happen. I don’t understand.” Her voice had no anger, just deep sadness.

Mary carried two burdens. One was her own loss, of her grandson, whom she loved so much. But she also carried her son’s loss. As a mother, his suffering was an even heavier burden than her own. She had seen him change from a loving, committed dad into a broken shadow of himself. She had been powerless to help him or her grandson from the abuse. Nobody seemed to care, least of all those who should have.

Ewen had done his best to protect his mother, not telling her about what was said at the court hearings, which he knew would enrage and upset her. There had been moments of hope but each time a cruel new twist meant more months of agony and delay. He tried to hide his pain but that became impossible as weeks turned into months, then months into years of separation from their beloved Finn. Ewen had swayed between anger, depression and utter despair. Finally, hope seemed lost.

After Ewen’s attempted suicide, his mother became seriously ill from the stress of it all and she coped in the only way she could think of, by cauterising her emotions, closing that part of herself down. She became unable to talk about it or even think of it. She behaved as if Finn didn’t exist and took the photos of him down from her mantlepiece. She stored them in a box, along with everything connected to her grandson; kept it hidden.

But in quiet unguarded moments, memories seeped out. The last time they had been together, when Finn was seven years old, she had told him she loved him and he had hugged her tightly, saying: “I love you nanna, more than crisps and all the movies ever made”.

Finn suddenly walked back from the bridge and for a moment seemed to glance in the direction of his dad and nanna. But then he ran to the water’s edge to view the bridge from the rocks by the river. His nanna and dad lost sight of him, but Izzy took this moment to discreetly walk towards their car.

Ewen thought she may be angry, but she looked sympathetically at Mary, who seemed so full of sorrow. Izzy just wanted to give her a hug. But of course she couldn’t.

Instead, she gave them both an understanding expression and Ewen indicated all was OK by raising his hands in a reassuring gesture. Izzy nervously turned round to check Finn was still out of sight, then gave another smile before walking to the river to go check he was safe.

Moments later, they both scrambled up from the river back into view, Finn carrying some stones. He stood above the riverbank and threw them one by one back into the river, watching the splash each one made before throwing the next. Then he stood a while, taking in the atmosphere and spectacle of the place.

When he turned to walk back to Bess, Mary got a good view of Finn’s face; she studied his features: he looked older but was just the same boy she’d known and loved. Then a campervan suddenly arrived and parked, blocking the view of her grandson.

“No,” she cried to herself. She was desperate to see Finn in these last moments. She snapped and opened her door.

“Mum, no, you can’t,” pleaded Ewen as he lent over, grabbing hold of his mother’s arm to prevent her from leaving the car.

“He’s my grandson, he’s your son, I can’t bear this anymore.”

She leaned out of the car and called out: “Finn, Finn darling, it’s me, nanna, and your dad, we love you, we love you so much!”

“No mum, please.”

A man came out of the campervan to see what was going on and Ewen released his hold. His mother got out and ran onto the road.

She was seconds too late. Bess pulled away just in front of her, and drove along the old single track road towards Loch Tulla.

Mary ran for a few steps, crying out desperately: “Finn! Finn I love you! Please! Finn, it’s your nanna. Izzy please stop!”

But music was playing in the car and neither Izzy nor Finn could hear her.

Mary stood on the road and watched as the car disappeared into the distance. Ewen came to her, put an arm around her and leant his head on hers.

“Mum,” he said softly. But she peeled away from him and walked over to the river’s edge and stood in the same place her grandson had, only minutes before.

She watched the river for a while as it tumbled under the bridge, then looked up at the heights of Beinn Dorain. She stood silently. The man from the campervan asked Ewen if everything was alright.

“Not really,” he replied and walked up to his mother. “Come on mum, let’s go.”

She turned to look at him, her face blank of expression; then followed him back to the car. She paused before she got in, to take a last look at the place where Finn had stood.

“That’s that, then,” she said, with a deep sigh. She was closing down again.

Izzy and Finn had their tea on the southern banks of Loch Tulla.

A path through bog myrtle and flowering heather had led them to the water’s edge, where they ate, surrounded by Caledonian forest, or at least a small remnant of it. Mountains and moorland seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see. It felt like a wild place.

Izzy cooked their meal on her trusty stove, an unusual casserole from a tin which Finn was very unsure of. As she stirred, she spoke of the history of the place; of drovers who came this way and used the nearby old inn, the ghostly marching footsteps of redcoats, the tragedy of the clearances.

She handed Finn a steaming bowl while still talking and a huge lump of crusty bread. He cautiously put half a spoonful of casserole in his mouth but, to his surprise, it tasted really good. Or maybe he was just really hungry, he thought.

After their meal, Izzy stood up and looked around. “This place is called Doire Darach,” she said, “which means oak grove or oak wood.”

“But these are all Scots pines,” said Finn, proud he could now identify trees.

“You’re right, but over there, by the old drovers inn at Inveroran, there are oak trees. It’s unusual to find them in this area, so that’s probably the reason the place is named after them.”

Finn waited for her to continue. He was expecting her to tell a story about the trees but she seemed distracted, upset even. She walked to the water’s edge and stared out over the loch. Its dark waters reflected the pine trees. Izzy began to tell a story.

“Over 300 years ago, there lived an old woman by the shore of this loch. People didn’t know her name, they just called her the cailleach, which means old woman. They said she was a witch, so they kept their distance from her. Children were told never talk to her. She lived alone.

“Then one day, a group of local children went swimming and a young lad got his ankle caught in a bed of submerged reeds after diving in. He couldn’t free himself and began to drown. His friends desperately tried to release him but couldn’t. They ran home to tell their parents, but by the time they arrived everyone knew it would be too late. The father dived in to recover his son, but there was no sign of him.”

“The cailleach had saved him!” Finn exclaimed.

Izzy sat down next to him.

“Aye. She arrived with the lad, his clothes and hair still dripping wet, but he was alive. His mother and father rushed to hug him, and thanked the old woman.

“Later, while getting warm next to the peat fire, the lad spoke of what had happened.

“He said it wasn’t the cailleach but a swan which had freed him from the reeds just before he lost consciousness, but the old woman was by him when he woke up on the bank.

“His parents thought he must have been hallucinating but then the father remembered that the old woman’s hair had been dry, so she couldn’t have been in the water to save his son.”

Finn was confused. “But you said she had saved him.”

“She had.”

He furrowed his brow in thought, then understood: “She was a witch and had turned herself into a swan to save him!”

Izzy smiled and nodded: “She was a kind heart and chose to use her powers for good; well, at least for those who deserved it.”

“Did the boy realise the truth about her?”

“Eventually,” said Izzy, “after he remembered something he’d long forgotten.”

Here are the links to chapters one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.