Am I Bothy’d

We’ve been on the road for 11 of our 17 days, the Mini’s windscreen has become an entomologist’s dream and can I just take this opportunity to moan about the cost of hotel laundry services? £3.50 for a pair of socks!! Should’ve popped into Tesco. Still, my notepad is full and the camera smoking. We’ve driven down one side of Kintyre to Dunaverty, from where Robert is thought to have sailed to the island of Rathlin, and back up the other. We’ve sped through moody Glen Coe, Scotland the Brave ringing from the stereo; mountain biked in the shadow of Ben Nevis through swarms of midges; sailed with dolphins on the Moray Firth; visited countless battlefields and castles, including the remote island fortress of the Comyns’ at Lochindorb and the haunting ruins of Kildrummy, where fate and Aymer de Valence caught up with one of Robert’s brothers; had various press encounters (you can read my interview in the Scotsman – which even features the Mini – on Events & Extras page of website) and now, here we are, bouncing through a glen in a Land Rover.

I’ve come out with Stephen, a ranger from the Atholl Estates in Perthshire, to get a sense of the wild, mountainous country into which Robert fled soon after the battle of Methven. We’re jolting slowly along a rocky, extremely narrow road and God help us if we meet anything coming the other way. We’ve left civilization far behind and I can see how a man could hide in this wilderness, but comfort would certainly be hard to find. After miles, deep in the valley, we pass a house – which according to Stephen was lived in until fairly recently. To a girl from the heart of bustling Brighton, it feels like the end of the earth. The only thing near it is a stone bothy, a shelter for hikers. I know that in Book 3 Robert will be heading into the Western Highlands, parts of which you can only explore on foot or hoof, and turn in my seat to tell Lee that on the next research trip we may well get to see the inside of a few bothies. He gives me a look, which tells me I will be forking out for a couple of plane tickets to Hawaii in the not too distant, before we’re distracted by a deer leaping away through the bracken. Stephen points out buzzards, black grouse and wheatears, which apparently used to be called white-arses, until someone – probably the Victorians – thought that was far too inappropriate. On the brow of a hill we spot what must be close to 60 stags, nicely visible through binoculars. It’s stalking season and they’re clearly wary. I ask Stephen about stalking and one thing he tells me is that the stags are brought down from the hillside on the backs of ponies. Now, I’ve been planning a hunt scene in Book 2 and I’ve read a fantastic book on medieval hunting, in which this very thing is described, but I was going to avoid using it because I just couldn’t imagine a horse allowing a dead animal to be slung over its back. The trick, apparently, is to leave deer carcasses near to where the ponies eat and drink when they’re young and to slowly get them used to the smell. My hunt scene resurrected, we turn and bounce back along the long road home.