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The Highland Book Prize is a brilliant way to bring attention to local and lesser-known writers. At this time of year, when venturing outside in the cold and dark seems to be so hard, books offer comfort and solace as well as entertainment. What better way to be inspired for your next holiday than by spending the winter months curled up nice and cosy with some of the best new writing on offer. Here are a few of our personal favourites from the recently released longlist for this year’s prize, and some ideas of where we would love to be relaxing when we read them. The prize has already caused controversy this year with one author removed from the list, but all the column inches this has generated has only increased the interest among book lovers and raised the tension ahead of the official announcement of the winner at the Ullapool Book Festival in May.
Merryn Glover is the first Writer in Residence for the Cairngorms National Park and a successful playwright. Of Stone and Sky is her second novel, and it is set on a farming estate in the upper reaches of the River Spey. After a shepherd disappears, a mysterious trail of his possessions is found in the Cairngorm mountains. Years later, his sister seeks to discover why he vanished and what follows is a paean to the bonds between people, their land and way of life.
Clashindeugle Farmhouse sits right in the centre of the landscapes described so evocatively in the pages of this book. It’s a perfect family retreat, being surrounded by panoramic views over the Cairngorms, with a perfect mix of luxury and tradition. For outdoors enthusiasts, there are tonnes to do in the area, but it is equally suited to those who just want to kick back and relax in front of a roaring fire while the kids occupy themselves in the well-equipped games room.
In a Veil of Mist by Donald S Murray is set on the Isle of Lewis against the backdrop of government experimentation into germ warfare in the 1950s. Based on real events, it tells a moving story of a place and its people in a lyrical, poetic voice with an authenticity that simply would not have been possible by an outsider. It’s an eye-opening tale of a curious incident most would be unaware of, but also a haunting exploration of the costs and fallout of warmongering.
Marabhat Lodges are an excellent base for touring Lewis. The peaceful, old-fashioned way of life as described by Donald S Murray is still very much in evidence, but the comfort of these newly built lodges is anything but traditional. They each have a king-size bedroom as well as a galley kitchen and outdoor seating where you can relax with a book in the Hebridean evenings that seem to go on forever. Stunning beaches, fascinating historical sites and varied dining out options are practically on the doorstep.
Ben Dorain is a fascinating and completely unique book of poetry. Here Garry Mackenzie has taken as inspiration an 18th century Gaelic poem about this impressive west highland mountain and complemented it with a modern series of verses. A recent translation of the original is featured here as well as the new work, which together form a sort of conversation held through the ages. What the old and new have in common is their deep appreciation of this landscape, and the lyrical descriptions will make you want to lace up your boots and head to the hills.
Ardchyle House is surrounded by hills and an excursion to Ben Dorain would be an easy day trip. The house itself sleeps 7 and would make a fantastic base for a small group of hikers who want some luxury at the end of a day outside. The mountains around here are accessible, and the property feels remote, but brilliant pubs and restaurants are walking distance away in the village of Killin. There is a hot tub with amazing views for relaxing in after a day out on the hill and a wood burning stove for getting cosy afterwards.