A Mini Adventure

Scotland – DAY 1
The Mini, having just recovered from its 2000 mile run across Ireland, groans up the motorway towards Scotland, stuffed to the bonnet with 17 days’ worth of luggage. Lee gives me a hard time over the amount of shoes I’ve packed, so I tell him he’s lucky he’s not in King Edward’s retinue as he’d been lugging a four-poster bed. Medieval travel really did include the kitchen sink.

5 tea breaks, 2 chocolate muffins and a packet of Fruit Pastilles later, we pass the outskirts of Carlisle. Sunlight glints on the Solway Firth. Beyond, the hills of Dumfries and Galloway rise, dark against a storm-bruised sky. The landscape is familiar and I feel an unexpected sense of homecoming. This is the third such research trip I’ve done in Scotland and so I know it fairly well, but it’s more than that – for the past year writing Insurrection I’ve been living in this country in my mind. Coming back is like stepping into the novel. As we enter Annandale – the old gateway to the west – I half expect to see Robert and his grandfather riding across the fields.

We check into a hotel in Dumfries, which has half a dozen Scottish weddings going on and all the makings of a good farce. Men in skirts, mistaken identities, family crises – Shakespeare would have been in his element. Lee slumps on the bed for a moment, before I harry him off and back out to the car. It’s a glorious evening as we head up the road to Lochmaben, the scene of Robert’s formative years and stronghold of the Lords of Annandale since the mid 12th century. I’ve been here before, but I want to re-familiarize myself and it feels like a good way to ease myself into research for Book 2. We park in the town and walk the mile and a half along the reed-fringed waters of Castle Loch to the ruins on the southern shore, hidden in a tangle of woods. Built by King Edward I around 1299, it came to replace the former castle of the Bruce family, situated in Lochmaben on the edge of Kirk Loch. The old castle was captured in 1298 and it’s entirely possible Edward used some of its material to build his new stronghold here. The stonework dates from later in the 14th century, but the earthworks that remain are original. Like scores of Scottish castles it would change hands many times during the Wars of Independence. It’s an atmospheric place; broken, ivy-strung walls looming in the dusk, the only sounds the cries of birds flying low over the loch. I imagine the air filled with the thud and clatter of tools as the building work begins, the English watchful, aware that the Scots are out there somewhere, waiting to strike.

Back in Lochmaben we pause at the former Bruce stronghold by Kirk Loch. A mound is all that remains of the motte and bailey, barely visible behind the bunkers and flags of a golf course. We race for the Mini as the sun vanishes behind clouds that appear out of nowhere, the rain coming hard and sudden. Who was it who said, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing?