AUTHOR Simon Varwell’s adventures have taken him across the globe from French-speaking Canada to isolated New Zealand islands.
You can read about those adventures in his first two books Up The Creek Without a Mullet and The Return of The Mullet Hunter.
For his latest book, the Benbecula-born but Inverness based Varwell takes a look at destinations closer to home and literally under the noses of travellers on the Inverness-Edinburgh train line.
Here he guides us on a whistle-stop tour of the stops he has visited in The Next Stop: Inverness to Edinburgh Station by Station.
Although a regular on the train line that links the Highland Capital with the Scottish one, Varwell realised he had never visited the majority of towns along the route.
"It was strange to discover just how much I had not seen or known about my own country, not least parts that were virtually on my doorstep," he said.
"From well-known tourist destinations to post-industrial wastelands, I enjoyed being able to give each place an equal chance at showing me what they were like. And often it was where my expectations were low that I was most impressed."
My very first stop was a perfect illustration of why I wanted to do this journey. Carrbridge was only half an hour from Inverness and yet I’d never been there. Though it was pleasant, there was not much happening on a Monday morning. The lifeless builders’ yard right by the station was among the most atmospheric spots.
Because previously I’d only ever passed through Aviemore as a springboard to the Cairngorms, I thought it was a bland and soulless place. Having spent an afternoon there, I now know that to be the case. The station’s pretty though, and my visit coincided with a steam train arrival.
I spent my first night in Kingussie. On first impressions, it was a grand and attractive town, but beyond that there was little to see or do. I did enjoy the walks into the surrounding areas, though. Ruthven Barracks, which I’d seen in the distance so many times, was captivating and dramatic.
After starting out with less than overwhelming experiences, I came to Newtonmore with low expectations. Yet I found it a warm, cheerful place. The Highland Folk Museum was a surprisingly kitsch-free step back in time, too, and well worth a family-friendly afternoon out.
Although it’s in the midst of stunning hillwalking territory, the tiny village of Dalwhinnie has little to show for itself. However, I had an enjoyable tour of the distillery, and encountered strange goings-on at an abandoned hotel...
By this stage, I was beginning to tire of wandering aimlessly around small Highland towns where nothing much seems to happen during the day. I didn’t pop in to the castle to say hi to the duke, though Blair Atholl does boast one of the best wee museums I’ve been to in a long time.
Passing through on the train, I’d always been fascinated by the array of dilapidated old factories that appeared to litter the town’s fringes. It was almost spooky seeing them up close, and nice seeing the town’s fine harbour and civic buildings. It was a little odd being in a big town after days of mostly small Highland stops.
The bland commuter town of Dalgety Bay is, on first glance, a depressing sea of suburbia with apparently no redeeming features. I was astonished, then, to stumble across a radioactive beach and the remains of a centuries-old ruined chapel. Sometimes the least likely places can be full of surprises.
After crossing the world-famous Forth Bridge countless times, it was incredible seeing it up-close from ground level. North Queensferry is a quaint place, but utterly dominated by this giant of engineering. There’s a surprisingly cheap pint to be had at the Albert Hotel, which after five days’ constant walking around I felt I really earned.
• Simon Varwell is helping Nairn Bookshop celebrate Independent Booksellers Week with an event at Nairn Community & Arts Centre at 7pm on Tuesday 1st July.
Varwell will give an illustrated talk about his latest book The Next Stop: Inverness to Edinburgh Station by Station.
This is a free event and refreshments will be available.
The Next Stop is published by Create Space, priced £5 paperback and £1.49 electronic version. For more information see www.simonvarwell.co.uk/thenextstop/