11 May 2000. I'm driving comfortably up the M74 through the Border hills near Beattock on the way to South Uist and Barra. At Oban I'll rendezvous with David Paterson, a landscape photographer, who's working with me on a book on the Highland Clearances. As I overtake a worn blue Audi estate, I look sideways and see Dave's face and grizzled beard. We exchange incoherent signs, pull in a little later on the hard shoulder, and agree to meet at Arrochar on Loch Long for a snack and petrol. Shortly before noon I'm standing in the filling station letting the fuel run into my tank and staring fondly up at the jagged rock towers of the Cobbler, where I did a climb with my stepson-in-law on a halcyon day like this. As I take the hose out I see it's blue, not green. I've filled my car brim-full with £44 worth of diesel. Two hours of frenzied thinking, rethinking, conferring with mechanics, phoning the AA, being towed to a garage at Tarbet on Loch Lomond, transferring luggage, boots, rucksack, camera and crates of books (including all five volumes of the Crofters Commission Enquiry, 1884, and both volumes of the Deer Forest Commission, 1892) to Dave's car. Oban by 2.15, 53 miles of Highland road in an hour and a quarter? By half-past two we are safely stowed aboard the ferry and gliding north-westward across the blue glaze of the sound between Morvern and Mull.
LRB 24 May 2001 | PDF Download