I’m reading Ian Rankin’s A Stranger in Another Man’s Grave, and Rebus’ journey up the A9 and across the north of Scotland took me back through the years. During the sixties, every school holidays, I and one or more of my friends would strap on our rucksacks (backpacks) and set off to hitchhike ‘up north’. We’d start off by taking a train to Luss, then hiking to Loch Lomond youth hostel.
Then on to Crainlarich,
up to Fort William youth hostel at the foot of Ben Nevis,
across the Caledonian Canal with all of its lochs – including the mysterious Loch Ness, and as far north as we could make it in the time we had available.
Back then it was safe for young girls to hike and even to hitch hike around the country. We never gave a thought to any potential dangers, though we never told our parents about the hitching. As far as they were concerned we were on walking holidays. We loved the freedom of the road where we would sing along with each other our favourite Scottish folk songs, stopping to spend the night at a youth hostel where we made new friends then, after our morning chores, set off on the road again.
Some memories from these times:
Tearing apart fresh hot bread from a bakery and slathering it with strawberry jam.
Trying to work out which of the hills was Black Mountain only to see it written on a sign (bringing truth to a favourite joke).
Visiting the youth hostel in Glen Affric after walking for what seemed miles over hills, to discover a gate, but no fence and that the hostel wardens were two university students spending their summer there. They seemed to us like gods with their bronzed torsos and kilts.