Holiday Reading to Inspire
Reading on holiday is one of life’s great pleasures, whether it’s relaxing on a beach in the sun with a murder mystery or snuggling up next to an open fire in the evening with an historical romance. The Ullapool Book Festival takes place this weekend, it’s a celebration of some of the best in Scottish literature and poetry and it’s as good an excuse as any to highlight some of our favourite Scottish books to check out on holiday and some of the best places to read them.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival is an appearance by Graeme Macrae Burnet, the author of ‘His Bloody Project’. Virtually unheard of and represented by a tiny Scottish publisher this book caused a sensation when last year it made the long list for the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world. The book itself is set in the tiny village of Culduie near Applecross on the west coast of Scotland and deals with the plight of a young boy growing up in a poor crofting community. Although a work of fiction, the small crofting townships described in the book are real and you can visit the remains of them easily. Meall mo Chridhe sits less than a mile away from Culduie, the book’s scenic location. As you sit in the hot tub you have views all round of the countryside that the author describes in detail, so little has changed at times it is easy to find yourself transported back to the 1860s.
Kevin Macneil is most famous for his controversial novel ‘The Stornoway Way’ but it is his first book, a collection of poetry entitled Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides, that is perhaps his most endearing work. Traditional Gaelic poetry, although powerful and often very moving, can be inaccessible to many. In contrast Kevin Macneil, who was born and raised on Lewis has a writing style that is more whimsical and deals with contemporary issues as well as being positively life affirming. The book itself is best enjoyed when on the islands, dipped into over the course of a week and then left on the coffee table after you return home, to be reached for when you need a bit of a pick me up or a reminder of a fantastic holiday. Ceol na Mara near Shawbost on the north-west coast of Lewis is the place to stay if you want to be walking distance to a fabulous sandy beach but still a short drive to the town.
Until recently Nan Shepherd was a relatively unknown writer. Born in 1893 she built her literary reputation with a series of novels set in the north east of Scotland and one non-fiction book about hillwalking in the Cairngorms, which today is regarded as an absolute classic of nature and mountain writing. After many years of being out of print her best known works are now easily available and her reputation as one of Scotland’s foremost modernist writers has been restored, thanks in part to her appearance on the new Royal Bank of Scotland five pound note. The note also features a quote by her from her book ‘The Living Mountain’ which sums up her approach to life.
“It’s a grand thing to get leave to live”
Nan was entranced by the Cairngorms, spending much of her free time hiking there and documenting its wonders. If you were inspired to follow in her footsteps then Drumrunie would be the ideal starting point. Based right in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, it has panoramic views over the mountains and a wood burning stove to retire next to in the evening.
A fantastic way to learn more about the history of the Borders and especially the turbulent era of the Border Reivers is the recently published novel ‘Fair Helen’ by Andrew Greig. Set in the 1590s and based on the famous border ballad Fair Helen of Kirkconnel this award winning tale, often referred to as the Scottish Romeo and Juliet, is a love story set against the backdrop of feuding families in an unstable and volatile part of Scotland. The church at Kirkconnel where the lovers would meet is now a ruin but can still be visited and it’s impossible to drive around the area without your thoughts turning to the thieving, cattle rustling and fighting that shaped the landscape hundreds of years ago. Greenhill Lodge is a luxurious Georgian mansion that sits close to the border with England in 7,000 acres of heather clad hills. Instead of family feuds and tragic love stories it is the perfect place for celebrations, family gatherings and small weddings.