about writing and life and God

A gentle Sunday walk… not!

Sunday afternoon is traditionally walk afternoon and this Sunday my sister had a plan. So far her plans have been excellent so I put my walking boots in the car and climbed in happily.

We headed out westwards into the centre of the county where the scenery, still beautiful, is very different from the fertile fields of the east.

Dirlot 001.JPG

Our goal was an old graveyard, built in a very strange shape (described in books as an arrow) and perched on top of a high cliff. The site of an ancient chapel dedicated to St Columba, it now provides resting places for over 40 burials (mainly Gunns), with a variety of stones (including table stones, flat stones, and ornate metal-railed enclosures). The oldest stone dates from 1726.

Digital Image










Now, you may find this a little macabre but my sister and I were brought up to enjoy graveyards. Our grandmother used to take us for our Sunday walks to the local cemetery where she pointed out graves and regaled us with the stories of the inhabitants. We simply enjoy carrying on the family tradition. If need be, we permit our fiction talents to fill any gaps!

After the graveyard, we scrambled down the steep slope alongside the cemetery (the stone wall is the cemetery wall)

Dirlot 023.JPG

to the bank of the peaty-brown, fast-flowing Thurso River. This stretch is a particularly fine salmon fishing beat.

Dirlot 025.JPG

But we weren’t finished. The big rocky lump beside us is the site of 14th century Dirlot Castle, built by Reginald de Cheyne.

Dirlot 016.JPG

On any walk with my sister, if there is an opportunity for a scramble and a fine view… I must admit I found the climb a bit more strenuous than I’m used to down in Suffolk, but the views from the top, encircled by the grass-covered walls of the castle ruins, were well worth it.

Dirlot 029.JPGThough I was more than a bit scared of getting down again safely! But we did, and then took a gentle stroll along the river to the bridge

Dirlot 032.JPG

and more views of this classic Highland river, looking south over the Flow Country towards Morven, Scaraben etc. And just enough energy to amble back to the car and drive home for tea!

Dirlot 036.JPG




Leave a comment »

Day Six: Sharing the history

Caithness Horizons is a fabulous museum in Thurso on the north coast of Scotland and tonight, I was there as the guest of the Caithness Family History Society.

Chair, Janet Mowat, had said to my sister that where family historians take family stories which may or may not be fact and try to find out which they are, I take family stories which are fact and deliberately turn them into fiction.

Digital Image

Janet and me

So the focus tonight was on the facts – the family stories that underpin both When the Boats Come Home and The Mizpah Ring. And in return, I got some great stories of World War Two providing local colour and humour for the next book.

Book sales and tea and shortbread rounded off the evening, and as we left, I stopped off to look at the amazing Pictish symbol stones – from the 5th to 9th centuries.

Digital Image

The Ulbster Stone



Leave a comment »

Day Ten: Down Memory Lane: Wick High School

This morning I found myself walking down memory lane – almost literally, except it’s called Newton Road and is on the way to the secondary school I (and both my sisters) attended.In those long ago days, you went to the local school. There was one secondary school in Wick for the east side of the county and one in Thurso for the north and west side of the county. Three junior secondaries fed country kids into the two main schools at third year.

Today I went back to school.

Wick High School

Wick High School

I liked school. I enjoyed walking across town with my friends – almost a mile each way – and we did it four times a day, coming home for lunch from quarter to one till two o’clock. We worked out it took twelve and a half minutes to do the trip if we walked briskly – and on cold days walking briskly was the only way to go!

I enjoyed the actual teaching – English and History were my favourite and best subjects. And today I was back in school to do a bit of teaching in the English Department. It was an author visit – my historical novel, When the Boats Come In, the door-opener. But I wasn’t there to plug the book but to help with short story writing – and hopefully enthuse any youngsters harbouring the dream of being a writer themselves one day.

It was enjoyable – and hard work! I so admire teachers who do it all day long. My first group – thirteen fifth and sixth-formers – were with me for an hour and a half. The next two groups – around twenty in each – got the first half of the presentation in a forty-minute session. They’ve gone away with homework to do before returning tomorrow for the second half: a fifty-word saga with a clear beginning, middle and end.

We’ll see how they do!

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: