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.

RANNOCH Moor is a haunting place. It sprawls to a distant mountain horizon, wild and untamed. Huge boulders litter the moor, a legacy of the giant glacier which sculpted the nearby glens and carved out rocks from their slopes, carrying them for miles until laid here at the end of the age of ice.

Skeletal remains of ancient trees preserved in the bog pay testimony to the presence of the forest which once covered this wild moor after the ice. But their doom this time was not the axe of men. The trees were literally drowned as the land was soaked in a dramatic change of climate.

The moor demands respect for it can be an inhospitable and dangerous place. It’s not just the skeletons of trees which lie lost in its peat bog. The old routes travelled by drovers and redcoats kept to the edge of the moor for good reason.

But for those with a need for refuge, the moor’s heather-clad hollows and the wild slopes of its mountain fringe were a haven. Here an outlaw could hide out, a disposed clan find sanctuary.

Then in the 1930s, the heart of the moor was penetrated by the modern road. Most of those who travel this way feel the awe of it but usually don’t linger long; its wild beauty is something to admire from the safe comfort of their vehicle. Humans are put in their place by such landscapes.

Finn felt the moor’s changing mood as his aunt led him along the edges of Loch Ba towards a small, rock-strewn hillock. They clambered onto one of the rocks, a vantage point giving views in all directions. Finn felt dwarfed by the vastness of the moor.

“The old drovers’ route is over there, on the edge of the moor,” explained Izzy, “but they built the modern road through its heart. People speed along and most have no sense of what is underneath them. I think that while modern road engineering makes travel easier, it disconnects us from the power of the landscape.”

“Yeah, but it means that people can see the moor better, aunty; that’s good, isn’t it?” Finn paused to assemble his thoughts. “‘Cause if they’d built the road over there, people would maybe not be able to see the moor so well or sit on it like us.”

“Good point,” his aunt replied, which brought a shy smile onto his face.

It was darkening, with rain-laden clouds menacing the sky.

“It’s a bit eerie here, aunty, in a scary way, but also in an exciting one, if that makes sense.” Finn couldn’t find the words to explain exactly what he meant, but his aunt understood.

“It’s the atmosphere of mystery that hangs here, Finn, it makes you feel vulnerable but with a sense of adventure.”


“Erm, not safe, out of your comfort zone.”

Finn nodded: “Yeah, that’s what I mean, after all, to have an adventure you need to be out of your comfort zone, otherwise it’s not really an adventure, is it?”

“We could spend the night on the edge of the moor as an adventure,” Izzy suggested.

Finn suddenly looked unsure, but his aunt immediately picked up on his anxiety and quickly added: “Not here, though, but by a cascading river and under the gaze of a dancing mountain so we can have an adventure while not feeling too vulnerable.”

“Yeah, let’s do that,” smiled Finn.

“First, we have to call your mum to say goodnight; we can do that at the Kingshouse.”

Finn thought his aunt was joking: “A house of a king, on this moor? Really?”

Izzy explained the history of the Kingshouse Hotel as they made their way back to Bess.

Buachaille Etive Mòr was draped in swirling cloud as they arrived. Ewen was sitting in his car in the hotel car park, secretly waiting for them as planned. Izzy was relieved to see he was alone.

They spoke briefly while Finn made his call in the hotel. Ewen was very anxious to apologise and explain why his mother had been with him at Bridge of Orchy – and reassure her there would be no more unplanned surprises. But there was little time to talk, so Izzy quickly explained that Finn had agreed to spend the night by the River Coupall.

The Buachaille loomed above them as they set up the fire dish close to the river. “The name means the great herdsman of Etive,” Izzy explained as Finn peered up at its rocky heights.

“But it’s not dancing,” observed Finn.

“It will in the morning.”

Dark clouds drew down the blanket of darkness early, but the threatened rain was holding off for the time being. The tumbling sound of the water and the crackling warmth and light of the fire made this a comfort zone. Beyond them, in the darkness, lay Rannoch Moor with its ghosts and legends, and ahead the gaping jaws of Glencoe, the weeping glen with an infamous history.

Izzy wove many of the tales together. Finn had been on the moor so the stories came with vivid images. The tale of the Cailleach who turned into a raven, the story of the loch of the sword, accounts of outlaws and the legend of the An Duine Mor, the great man, a ghostly but friendly figure who would appear to save those lost on the moor. Finn listened spellbound.

Then spits of rain began to fizz on the fire and brought Izzy’s storytelling to an end.

“I think it’s telling us it’s time to sleep,” she said. “Maybe you can tell some stories in the car?”

Soon they were cosy in Bess as the rain outside began to pound on the roof.

Memory overcame Finn.

“Once I was camping with my dad and the rain came on and we had to run into the tent. It made a sound like that. He said it was a cosy sound because…”

Izzy listened.

“Anyway, doesn’t matter. He left me and mum and I hate him now. He’s not my dad any more, ‘cause real dads don’t leave you like that, do they? He said he loved me but he’s just a guy called Ewen who was a liar.”

Izzy felt so much for Finn and she desperately wanted to tell him the truth; that his dad loved him very much, had always loved him and hadn’t left him. That he’d fought to stay in his life, that he had been taken from him. She wanted to let him know that not a day had gone by that his dad hadn’t thought and wept for him in the last four years since he had last seen him. She wanted to tell him that his dad was only metres away, in a tent in the darkness under the trees close by, just so that he could be close to his son.

But of course, she couldn’t. There were so many lies and secrets. She had lied to Finn too. Izzy had convinced herself that her secrets were well-intentioned, but now she just felt part of the deception. Yet she couldn’t tell him the truth. What a mess she’d made with her good intentions.

“I miss mum; she’s the one who loves me, and you of course, and Raymond, he’s my dad now.”

“Course I love you, sweetie; let’s try to get some sleep. Your mum will be home on Monday, not long now.” Izzy had no idea what else to say.

Finn was soon sleeping but Izzy’s heart raced. She lay listening to the drumming of the rain on the car roof. Eventually, she fell asleep.

Finn woke up first in the morning. It was early and the rain had stopped but a thick mist hung outside. He was desperate for a pee.

He opened the door as quietly as possible so as not to wake his aunt. The misty air chilled his skin as he walked away from the car to find a suitable place.

It was still, not even a whisper of a breeze, and soon the midges began to swarm around him. As he finished, he looked up and saw something moving in the mist between him and the car. He froze, then ran.

A short time later, Izzy was woken by the sparkle of sunlight which broke through the mist.

She sat up abruptly. Finn wasn’t in the car. She looked around. The mist was lifting but there was no sign of him.

She got out and called for him: “Finn, where are you sweetie?”

She felt a mounting panic as there was no reply and ran over to where she knew Ewen was camped. His tent was empty.

“Oh my God!” she cried out. “Finn, please, where are you? Finn!”

Here are the links to chapters one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16.