In 2012 the Scottish Book Trust ran a writing competition on the theme of My Favourite Place, and published the winning stories, poems and songs in paperback. There were over a thousand entries. Twenty-three were selected for publication, alongside stories contributed by Alexander McCall-Smith, Michael Palin, Sally Magnusson and Liz Lochhead.
I wrote about a solo canoe trip across Rannoch Moor. I had a mission in mind. There is a feeling that you get in wild country that is not easy to put in words. It’s about distance – distance from crowds and artifice – but it’s also about closeness. I wanted to distill gallons of this feeling into a few drops of ink.
Solitude is a relative term. Nowhere in Scotland is more than six miles from a metalled road. But six miles of solitude is still worth seeking out.
Most authors would kill for a print run of 150,000 copies, but that’s how many the Scottish Book Trust printed and distributed free across Scotland. I helped out at my local library with the launch events.
It was once a wilderness of Scots pines, with bear and lynx padding the needled floor. Now it is peat and heather, a few patches of commercial forestry, red deer and buzzards. Yet the past is still present, because the peat is riddled with skeletal tree roots, the colour of ivory. This is the ossuary of a long dead forest. Like the iron harvest of the Flanders farmer, the past won’t stay buried.
I was invited to read extracts on BBC Radio Scotland. The BBC are very professional about these things. We went out to Rannoch Moor for the recording.
You can read Rannoch Sunset here.
Mountaineering Scotland literary competition
I achieved second place in the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (now under the snappier title of Mountaineering Scotland) Literary Competition in 2014. My entry, Reviresco, is available here.
Reviresvo is the motto of Clan McEwan, meaning ‘I will flourish again’ (perhaps because Clan McEwan is a so-called ‘broken clan’ – meaning nae lands and nae chief). I applied the idea of Reviresco to the remnants of the ancient pinewoods of Scotland. They are all that remains of the boreal forest in Scotland and are very special places indeed.
I joined Mountaineering Scotland when I was going through the process of accreditation as a mountain leader. I am very glad I did. It is undoubtedly a force for good, fighting tenaciously against inappropriate development in our mountains. They also have a strong focus on safety and education. They run courses for members at ridiculously low prices on first aid, avalanche awareness, first aid, scrambling, mountain leadership, etc.