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A stormy weekend away is a revisit with memories for Artyness's Barbara Henderson


By Barbara Henderson


Three things stand out for me about the summer of 2013.

1 I was shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize, after years of persisting with my writing dream. Alas, I did not win.

Barbara Henderson at Ceannabeinne Cottage.
Barbara Henderson at Ceannabeinne Cottage.

2 Andy Murray won Wimbledon – I watched alongside my family and whole army of excited fellow campers at Sango Sands Campsite in Durness.

3 But most memorably that summer, I first stumbled across the Ceannabeinne Township Trail and its remarkable tale of a village community’s resistance to the Highland Clearances. I was mesmerised.

Resolved to write about this incident, I returned the following summer to take more photographs. Annoyingly, the only building still standing was privately owned: the Ceannabeinne Schoolhouse, a key setting in my children’s novel which I couldn’t visit because it was usually occupied by holidaymakers. I had to make do with taking photographs from the road and imagining the rest. Fir for Luck turned out to be the book that got me through the door of the publishing world.

Fast forward a decade. Out of nowhere, the owners got in touch: “Hi Barbara. A guest alerted us to your book which features our cottage. We are passing through Inverness soon – would you like to meet?”

Did I ever! We arranged a date for a meal (embarrassingly, I had to rush away on the night due to unforeseen circumstances). Richard and Tara weren’t put off though – incredibly, they offered me a few days’ stay in the cottage with my husband in exchange for a bit of text for their website.

This month, we left our 17-year-old in charge at home and hit the single-track roads north through gale force winds and the odd bit of hail. The storms whipped the dark loch surfaces white on route – it looked like spirits rising from the waters, and my storyteller’s heart was smitten all over again!

A brief stop at the friendly village shop in Durness and we pulled off the road to Ceannabeinne Cottage.

My story immediately sprang to life again as I looked up to the beamed ceiling of the old school room, now a cosy living room with a woodburning stove.

Wild sea, crashing to the shore.
Wild sea, crashing to the shore.

We did pick the three worst days of weather in the history of rain and hail, but despite the sodden ground, we walked the Ceannabeinne Township Trail once more.

Our dog raced through the gale-borne sand on the spectacular beach below the cottage and we staggered along Balnakeil Bay too, despite being all but torn to shreds by the elements.

It’s hard to explain what it is about the Highland landscape that seems to seep stories. The solitude? The dramatic weather?

The ever-present heartbeat of the sea as it crashes to shore?

All I know is: I feel both refreshed and renewed in some way, ahead of a busy book launch season for Rivet Boy.

I wish you the same sense of renewal in these dying days of winter.

The cottage: norsehaven.com

Read an interview with Barbara about her book Rivet Boy that she mentions above: https://www.whatson-north.co.uk/whats-on/news/barbaras-book-is-a-bridge-into-the-past-303302/


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