Anticipating Travel: Literature for Scotland

“Actively anticipating a vacation can deliver doses of pleasure before the trip,” according to an article in the NY Times, “What a Great Trip and I’m Not Even There Yet.” WritersMuseum( That is a prime reason why I collect titles set in the places where I’m to visit. Harry Potter fans, for instance, will revel in tracing the places where J.K. Rowling wrote her wildly popular novels, like The Elephant House, a tea and coffee house. Close by is Greyfriars Cemetery, popular in the past for its statue of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful dog that stayed with his master even after he died, but now a pilgrimage site for Potter-related names such as the tombstone of Thomas Riddle. Visitors to Edinburgh can sign up for a Book Lovers’ Tour, featuring several from the prolific Bookloverstournumber of authors that Edinburgh boasts. Sure, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson are the featured authors in the Writer’s Museum, but there are also the inexhaustible Alexander McCall Smith (e.g., local series including Sunday Philosophy Club; 44 Scotland Street), Muriel Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson, plus John Buchan (the ever popular The 39 Steps) and Arthur Conan Doyle. ScottMemorialScotland features a wealth of good writers. Lists can be found at several websites including these: and “Top” lists of books include the classic Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon although I’d advise skipping the first section, which is a dense history with dialect to get to the good stuff, the story of a young woman and the family farm. The dialect issue is also problematic for Trainspotting, a novel about heroin junkies. Skip the film version and watch instead Local Hero, a charming film about the possibility of oil development on the west Scottish coast, or another of Bill Forsyth’s films, Gregory’s Girl, both from the early 1980s.

George Bruce medieval merchant  "palace" in Culross

George Bruce medieval merchant “palace” in Culross

Culross, a village that time forgot, just north of Edinburgh, features the stunning George Bruce Palace, and the medieval streets have provided the setting for the TV series based on Diana Gabaldon’s time-travel romances, the Outlander series.

Trail at Duncan Clan Center

Trail at Duncan Clan Center

The Aldo Leopold of Scotland, John Lister-Kaye, offers a lovely

Sheep along the trail on Skye.

Sheep along the trail on Skye.

natural history of the place in northern Scotland that became his field studies centre in Song of the Rolling Earth. Read it when touring northern Scotland. A beloved novel is Ring of Bright Water, set on Skye. See the otters near the Skye bridge via glass-bottomed boat. When I was at Isle of Skye, I chose to re-read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as I thought my reaction to its introspective narrative might improve as a mature reader, in contrast to my undergraduate days. It did not. Travel companions recommended Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, a romance that spans two world wars and features a correspondence between a Scottish poet and an American fan. Skye is truly a beautiful place, accessible by ferry.

Cloister at Iona Monastery

Cloister at Iona Monastery

The Book of Kells by R. A. MacAvoy, which I read for a trip to Dublin in 1986, is actually much more appropriate to Iona Isle, home of the monastery where the book was written. A mix of fantasy and Celtic historical fiction, The Book of Kells gives insight into the plight of the monks who had to fend off Viking plunderers. The atmospheric, if small, island is well worth to see the origin of Kells and well followed by a visit to see the book itself. Scotland offers a long history of good writing, surely something for everyone and everyplace. N.B. This RoadWorksBook travel occurred as a Roads Scholar trip.


One thought on “Anticipating Travel: Literature for Scotland

  1. J:  I really enjoy these posts although admitting that I do not recognize all of the authors 🙂  But the ideas are the same: In preparing for a trip to Weimar, I read some stuff by Goethe but find them a tough read.  However, my bone-up on the Weimar Republic was fascinating. Of course England (and Scotland) are full of those famous fathers of geology and they always make a good read. Take care.  Regards to D.  mike

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