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.

IZZY had walked in the Glencoe many times, and of course driven through it often while on tour. Never had it lost its power to impress and move her; the giant remains of a volcanic cauldron which bubbled and erupted millions of years before the arrival of dinosaurs; sculpted by ice, carved by water; the senses are overawed by its towering peaks and ridges.

Izzy studied the mood of the Three Sisters. A trail of mist was coming in from the west, spots of rain were in the air, but so were speckles of sunshine. White clouds ringed Aonach Dubh, the black ridge. Ossian’s Cave was just visible high on its rocky face. Ossian was Fionn MacCumhail’s son.

Finn wanted to know the story, so Izzy told part of the legend as he got his boots on: “Ossian’s mother was called Saba. Fionn had met her on a hunting trip, but it was an unusual first meeting as he nearly killed her.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Well, she had been transformed into a hind, a deer, by a vengeful druid called Fer Diorich. But Finn’s hunting dogs refused to close in for the kill, instead they growled at him when he aimed his arrow at her.”

“His dogs knew the truth,” observed Finn. He stopped tying his boots and sat up. “I remember this story! She followed him and turned back into a woman once in his fort and they fell in love and got married. She got pregnant, but then Fionn had to go away to fight the Vikings and she was tricked by the druid and turned back into a deer.”

“Yeah, well remembered.” Izzy waited for him to continue, but he couldn’t. “I can’t remember what happens next,” he said.

Izzy took in a deep breath and looked up towards the distant rock on which Finn’s dad sat, waiting patiently. She changed the subject.

“Let’s go Finn. I’ll tell you the full story tonight when we are camped by Loch Linnhe. It will be our last night because tomorrow we go up the Great Glen to Loch Ness, where we’ll meet your mum and Raymond. Let’s make it a great night of stories. There’s also tales of witches and faeries in this glen, even a dragon and a goddess, and of course selkies by the sea. But first our adventure to the Lost Valley!”

Finn was ready. He wore the boots his dad had bought for him and the scarf his nanna had lovingly made, although he knew neither. “Let’s go then!” he called out as he headed down to the path.

Eight years previously, Ewen had walked this path with Finn when he was only three years old. They were happy days. Finn’s mum had stayed in the bed and breakfast to relax and give Ewen some father-son time. They had climbed until they reached the beginning of the steep-sided ravine, then sat eating snacks together, admiring the spectacular view of Aonach Eagach and trying to identify which tiny dot in the distance down in the glen was their car.

That was as far as they got; quite an achievement for a three-year-old. But the path beyond that point gets hazardous and Ewen promised a disappointed Finn they’d walk all the way to the lost valley when he was older.

That promise was about to be honoured, although Ewen’s gut was torn by the sadness of the circumstances. He would have to stay unrecognised and distant from his beloved son, who was now only a couple of hundred metres away, walking on a section of the path they had trod together all those years ago.

But there was also a bittersweet joy. They would share the journey, their footsteps would be separated only by moments; they would rest under the same mountain shadows and feel the same breeze on their faces. He would watch over his son as they climbed all the way to the lost valley; together, just as he’d promised.

Finn’s senses tingled as he peered up at the mountains. Izzy caught up with him, carrying a rucksack full of essentials. The dark bulk of Gearr Aonach peered down on them as they approached the River Coe, passing the boulder on which, until a few minutes before, Finn’s dad had been sitting. Finn had seen him from a distance but hadn’t taken any notice; just another walker admiring the glen and taking photos.

They paused on the wooden bridge which crossed the River Coe, its tumbling water fresh from the hills after the previous night’s heavy rainfall. Finn had already given his greetings to the river when they’d stopped at the Meeting of the Three Waters further upstream. There the waterfall had cascaded freely over the rocks, but here the river was trapped in a narrow gorge of its own making, raging its way to Loch Leven.

Izzy wondered how Finn would cope with the climb, but to her surprise he scrambled up the rocks, proudly leading the way. They reached the point where, eight years before, Finn had sat with his dad. He stood and looked at the view, staring down at the car park, faraway in the distance.

He looked up at the path above as it wound its way along the side of a steep ravine. Small waterfalls were weeping from the cliffs opposite. Distant memory pricked him, but too lost in time to make sense. It was just a feeling.

“Time for drinks and snacks, I think,” said Izzy, sitting on a ledge and opening her rucksack.

“They look like wee bugs,” Finn remarked, watching the traffic on the road. He crunched his crisps in the packet, then turned to his aunt.

“One of Fionn MacCumhail’s dogs was called Bran, I remember that now.” He bit his lower lip, looked down at his boots and kicked some pebbles from the path.

“My dad had a dog, I mean Ewen, not my dad now... I loved that dog, he was called Bruce, you know, after the king, I miss him… the dog, I mean.”

He paused, looked down again and scuffed his boots on the ground. Izzy moved slightly closer to him, just listening.

A long minute went by. Finn just stared ahead, as if he was searching for something lost in his mind. Finally he spoke, still gazing ahead.

“Please don’t tell mum this, but I do remember I once loved dad, I mean Ewen, when he was my dad. But it was all lies he told, I know that because he left me when I needed him and he made mum cry, so I knew I couldn’t love him anymore. That would hurt mum so much and she is the one who really loves me and I love her. So I hate him now and I’m glad I do because my dad, I mean Ewen, never loved me or mum anyway.”

Izzy took his hand and held it tight. Finn broke his gaze and looked at her.

“I love you too aunty and I know you love me. At least I can trust you. Thanks for making me come up here. Let’s get to that lost valley and have our lunch!”

They walked together silently, passing waterfalls and zigzagging through huge fallen rocks.

“Did the MacDonalds really bring their lifted cattle up here?” asked Finn incredulously.

“That’s the story,” replied his aunt.

They reached a point where they had to cross the river. Ewen had done so five minutes before and was now watching from a hidden vantage point in the rocks above. Finn helped his aunt but when they were midstream they both lost their balance. They held onto each other, trying to avoid falling into the water, and Finn burst out into huge belly laughs at the sight of his aunt balancing on one leg on a wobbly stone. Watching secretly, Ewen felt his heart tighten with emotion. He hadn’t heard his son’s laughter for so long he’d almost forgotten what it sounded like.

Somehow they managed to make it to the other side with dry feet, but not dry eyes! The final part of the climb was the steepest, but Finn was energised knowing they were close to their destination. The walker just ahead of them was giving him pace.

“Wow, so cool,” exclaimed Finn when they reached the edge of the lost valley. It lay concealed and surrounded by vast volcanic walls made by the peaks and ridges of Bidean Nam Bian, meaning pinnacle of the mountains.

“People have different names for it,” explained Izzy as they sat to have their picnic lunch. “Some call it the lost valley, or hidden valley, but its Gaelic name is Coire Gabhail, meaning the Hollow of Capture, which fits with the stories that the MacDonalds used it to keep their lifted cattle here.”

“I can’t believe I made it!” said Finn triumphantly as he unwrapped his sandwiches. “Can we get a photo for mum, I mean after I’ve eaten these?”

Not far away, Ewen also unwrapped his sandwiches but he couldn’t eat. He watched from a distance as Finn talked and took photos, then shouted out his name to see if his voice would echo. Ewen spoke to him, knowing he was too far away to hear.

“I have kept my promise, son; that we would walk up here together. I just wish you could know I was with you, and that we could sit close together and laugh and share a picnic too. Maybe one day we will again. These mountains have seen so much and they know what patience is; that all things pass and change in the end. Just remember I have always been with you, even if I’m unseen. I love you, always have, and always will. I’ll never stop being your dad.”

Izzy told the legend of Ossian’s birth and life, and the story of Glencoe’s dragon, which lived on Beinn Bheithir and terrorised the people until defeated by a clever young lad. Too soon for Finn, it was time to return.

Ewen watched them leave and vanish out of sight. He walked to the edge of the path and peered down. Finn and Izzy were making slow progress, so he walked to the spot where his son had sat during his picnic.

He sat there quietly, in the company of his thoughts, for 15 minutes. Then he checked the path again. There was no sign of them so he assumed they were further down the hill, so he began his descent.

But when Ewen reached the river he suddenly came face to face with Finn, who had been unseen behind a boulder. He had his boots off and was wringing his wet socks. Ewen saw Izzy, frantically gesturing, but it was too late; Finn had seen him.

Ewen fumbled and looked away. He tried to hide his face by pretending to have an itchy nose, then turned to walk back up the hill.

“That’s dad!” said Finn, with a bewildered look, “I’m sure it is, how is he here?” He turned to Izzy, but her face was ashen.

Finn stood up and called out as Ewen walked quickly up the path.

“Dad! Is it you?”

Again Finn turned to Izzy: “It’s my dad!” Her mind raced; how to explain this without telling the truth? The truth would destroy everything.

“Erm, well, erm…” words wouldn’t come.

“Dad?” called Finn with a breaking voice.

Ewen couldn’t walk away now. He stopped and turned, then headed back down the path towards his son.

“Aye, Finn, it’s me, your dad.”

Here are the links to chapters one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18.