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Being a writer-publisher can get you into some amazing situations – far from the laptop and library!

The most recent was Belladrum Tartan Heart

Jenny Brown and myself in The Verb Garden

Jenny Brown and myself in The Verb Garden

Music Festival in the Highlands of Scotland (@BelladrumFest), where I took part in a panel on Writing and Publishing a Bestseller. Along with top Scottish literary agent, Jenny Brown (@agentjenny), and founder of Canongate Books, Stephanie Wolfe Murray, we spoke to an audience in the ‘Verb Garden’ – a large tent with comfy sofas – and were introduced by veteran journalist, Maxwell MacLeod.


While the Verb Garden hosted a range of interesting events – from political debates to a talk by Rupert Wolfe Murray about living in Tibet (@wolfemurray) – there was a whole host of fun and musical events going on all around.

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Danny MacAskill from Dunvegan, Skye

Marauding Vikings, death-defying cycle stunts from Skye-born Danny MacAskill (@danny_macaskill), ceilidh dancing Bananas, The Kaiser Chiefs, Motown legend Martha Reeves, fire-breathing dragons, bagpipes, DJs, Dangleberries, Idlewild, Eddi Reader, Manic Street Preachers, The Proclaimers, marriage ceremonies and a host of people dressed up as Batman, Spiderman, Braveheart, The Hulk (the theme for the festival was Super Heroes) and – er – those Bananas again …!

Bananas take a break from dancing for a cream tea!

Bananas take a break from dancing for a cream tea!


All set in the beautiful surroundings of the Belladrum Estate near Beauly. Highly recommended for all ages! Tartan Heart Festival.







Paul with flowers in beard

‘Back to Eceabat where we got ferry across Dardanelles to Asia.  Sat in lounge, waiter came round with cay.  Rob trying to write diary again but men pestering him to buy jeans – offered 2000 lire!  Paul tried to sell his for 500L.

Next stop was Troy.  Went round ruins – about 9 different cities.  More impressive than expected – bits of city wall, rampart, theatre, pillars, storage jars etc.  Looked out across plain to Dardanelles and Gallipoli (?) in very far distance.  Looked around museum, various jars and pots and drinking goblets, as well as powder jars etc.  Some still had designs on – owls and little men.  No one quite sure which city was one of Homer – maybe 7th city.  Big wooden horse has been reconstructed by musuem.


Girls picking cotton in Western Turkey

Continued along coast and inland a bit.  Rather boring scenery, mostly flat and muddy; more hilly countryside covered in olive trees.  Felt ill.

Stopped at Pergamon – walking across road, Neva was missed by car by about an inch!  Bought nuts and raisins.  Shirley had her shoes polished; little boy in full command, bashing brush on box with great flair when Shirley was to put other foot up.  Nearly missed bus.

Drove few miles out and camped on sandy muddy stretch near water (house was built on previous camping area!) at Plajevleri – bar a few metres away, road on other side of tents.  Dogs barking round all the time and village idiot blowing whistle and snooping round tents.’



Young cotton picker in Western Turkey

Up early and raining.  Big clear out of Chinese laundry image!  Coffee at bar before left.  Boring drive back along road to Greek border.

Became very cold during day.  Stopped again at small port, bought hot bread and honey.  Eventually turned off down coast and followed Sea of Marmara.

Eventually near Eceabat made camp.  Very windy and bitingly cold.  Pitched in dark beside a derelict wall (apparently people sometimes live in it!) Very near sea, very rough, could see ships’ lights in the dark.

Had hot soup and stew.  Some of us walked (or rather were blown) into Eceabat – 2km – and had beer and cay at a quayside cafe.  No room indoors because all watching telly, so sat outside and froze!  (Chris, Nikki, me, Pam, Mark, Neva and Diana).  Walked back – very cold night.”



“Very windy and overcast.  Lovely coastal scenery once more, rather Scottish again with blue fingers of land and grey-blue sky.

Stopped at Lavadia for shopping stop.  Shops never very well presented.  Greek towns dirtier and less attractive than I’d imagined.  Had lovely pastries with cheese filling (Heidi, Frances and Diana) – I won’t lose any weight on this trip!

Picked up the other 6 at their beach camp.  They’d had lots of sun and fish barbecues etc.  Went to Thessalonika, tried to cash money, all banks close between 1 and 4 though.  Had sandwiches down by the waterside.  Very grey and windy, but quite stuffy too.  Others (Paul and Mark) had big gallon flask of ouzo type drink (“Cheepero”) which they tucked into.  Others of us drank wine – couldn’t touch the ouzo again!

Began to rain this evening.  Pressed on along coast to camp where ferry crosses to Thassos Island – absolutely chucking it down – had no trouble getting pegs in tonight!”



“Left Athens.  Dropped Nanette.  Making for Delphi. Incredible amount of shrines along roadside – only seen 1 vandalised yet had loads of small crosses and cups etc inside.  Began to get mountainous – Delphi in big mountains – ruins all the way up mountain slope.

Made my sacrifice of 30 drachma (i.e. full price) and went in.  Got in on bad tour, woman couldn’t find the baize of the tripod!  Saw Temple of Apollo and amphitheatre.  Decided to climb even further to see the Stadium – went up dusty windy path, cheap of birds, disturbed a few pigeons.  Reached Stadium, really high up and hidden among trees.  FANTASTIC sight, just me and the gods up there, could almost see the chariot tracks in the dust.  A gust of wind in the trees sounded like the murmur of the crowd!  All the seats around one side of the stadium still well preserved; big square pillars at one end.  (Went to the loo looking down over the stadium – what a boast!)  Fantastic view of the mountains looking down from the top.

Travelled on through striking mountain scenery (much hazier and drier that Jugoslavia.  Idyllic pastoral scene cant have been so idyllic on such arid, dusty mountain slopes).  Clouded over.  Worked way down hairpin bends to a small town where we stopped for a “coffee stop” – taken to drinking nescafe to avoid sweetened Turkish coffee.

Camped again at Stylis – different part of coast, very near beach again and a quiet bar (with great toilet facilities!)  Had a nice Amstel beer then a good camp supperof steak and kidney and fresh melon!  Ground really hard; dark when we pitched – think it’s on a road in an orchard!”



“No after effects [of Ouzo] at all!
Headed down coast – dropped off 6 at a campsite [Platamon] – not coming to Athens – Paul, Julie, Mark, Pam, Neva and Sally.  A lot more room and quiet!  They wrote rude messages on bus as we left.

Made inland – detour to trip.  Suddenly left plain and huge rocks and cliffs appeared – very dramatic scenery.  Convents perched really high up on these cliffs, amazing sight [Monasteria of Meteora].  Climbed up road and stopped at Convent of St Stephen – had a look round – not allowed in unless wearing a dress and arms covered.  Let in across drawbridge – nuns almost totally covered in black.  Small courtyard inside – orphanage made up one side – no signs of kids until just leaving, then little faces appeared from a window.  View out over small town at foot of cliff-face and hazy blue horizon of plain – quite hot.

Small chapel – seats like monks at Durham, with small ledge so when dozed off seat collapses.  Very ornate icons, beeswax candles, incense etc.

(Before reaching here we stooped at a spring – very touristy, stalls selling corn on the cob, nuts, sticky sweets as well as religious emblems and bags and Davy Crocket hats.  Little chapel at other side, across suspension bridge, priest doing baptisms – very noisy and chaotic, walked round reciting while mother and baby follow, then slams down book and slaps wet cloths on the yelling baby.  Another fellow rushed in, stood at the lecturn and recited too, tourists milling in and out all the time).

Fred hung corn on the cob above table[on bus] – health hazard with flies.

Stopped and camped by sea again – Stylis.  We cooked another fantastic meal – my elaborately prepared custard was revoltingly runny!

That evening 3 Greeks bought us some beer at the nearby bar and ended up paying for all beer that evening!  They kept chucking the empties under the table and ordering more!  (Spent about £6 worth)  By the end (after a million ‘vivas!’) everyone was calling each other philo and phili!”

“remains of deadly corn on the cob – property of Fred and Jan”


On cooking duty in Greece – went over budget and overboard with the garlic and sustained a blister courtesy of the bubbling Smash (does anyone else remember that distinctive industrial taste of powdered mashed potato?)  Had my first and last encounter with the mind bending substance Ouzo – now I understand the warning: beware of Greeks bearing gifts … 


“Left early for Greek border.  I was doing cooking with Nikki and Chris.  Stopped at small town to shop – lots of sign language in the market (all 4 stalls!).  Overspent money.  Crossed border making butties!  Beer at border a rip-off.

Made for east coast, camped in afternoon at Methoni fishing village.  All went down to the beach (tents a stone’s throw away from sea), swam in the Aegean Sea! – very slimy and shallow!

Prepared meal with frisbies flying everywhere – got one in the back of the neck!  Fantastic spicy, garlic etc stew (La stew as opposed to Le Stew.  Drew up stupid menu – wide-mouthed frog and caterpiller pie, les afters, tic tac a la Robert etc!)  The smash (volcanic) spat at me and burnt finger – gorgeous blister.

Then all went down to nearest bar – some people been there since very early.  Tested out ouzo – only drank half bottle (too many).  Other Greeks there playing instruments – so some got up and did Greek dancing with them – Shirley being one of course.  Adrian keeled over – took 4 of us to get him to tent where spewed up.

Other group – 2 Scouse, I Irish and girl who is getting lift to Athens with us.  I thought I was OK but got to bus and memory is a complete blank!  Apparently I was feeling awful, hanging out of bus window and sounding upset.  Remember heading for sea at one point and sitting there – Rob came and rescued me, got things out of bus and found my tent.  After that I escaped again and headed for bus because heard music playing.  Apparently nearly murdered tape deck and shouted obscenities at Fred and Jan about the noise – vague recollection – Fred said that’s last time I get to choose music!”

ANNAPURNA DAWN & CONSTIPATION IN KATHMANDU – the final day on the bus, Nepal 1976

[Our final day as Swaggies/Overlanders began with a breathtaking sunrise over the Annapurna Range at Pokhara.  Then we were doing all the chores for the final time: dismantling the tents, heating up last night’s leftovers, cleaning out the bus … but not the rat!  Then is was off to Kathmandu, our final destination on the hippy trail.  Whether from nerves or excitement or strew and baked beans for breakfast, I was doubled up with constipation for this final leg of the journey and remember lying out on the seat unable to sit up listening to everyone oohing and ahhing about the view coming into Kathmandu.  I did get a look at the mountain tops though … 

Kathmandu – a magical medieval muddle of houses and mayhem of rickshaws, bicycles and animals.  We decamped into cheap tourist hotels of the Thamel District – the Asia and The Star – and discovered the delights of KC’s restaurant and cake shop!]


Woken at dawn, shouts from outside that view fantastic, so grabbed clothes and staggered out to see pink light on Annapurna range, behind hotel!
Really breathtaking and clear, with dark wooded foothills in front and thatched huts in foreground.  Everyone clicking away with cameras.  Peak of Machhapuchhare in centre really magical – gradually whitening then disappearing in morning cloud.

Last breakfast – stew and baked beansThen great clearing and washing of bus and equipment, (rat still stowed away with us!)
Left Ian at Pokhara – lake looked glass-like as drove past with fringe of mountains around.  (Nice, cheerful, quick blind boy said goodbye to us – helped at hotel until went blind – no money for operation – Neva and Julie want to help him financially if possible).

Lovely run to Kathmandu – negotiated festive archways out of Pokhara (nearly lopping picutre of queen off), had to rush to front of bus then to back to change weight and height of bus!
Lovely valleys with rounded mountains, thick with green vegetation – deciduous trees and banana trees, paddy fields, haystacks, thatched shelters in the fields; small villages, lots of cattle and hens – with good reflexes!  People carrying heavy loads attached by bands round heads, including small kids.

Climbed up pass from Pokhara valley into Kathmandu valley.  Lovely view of Himalayan range in evening sun – paddy fields set into side of hairpin bends!  Not much room for buses!

Had incredibly painful stomach pains by this time (constipated on final day!) so had to lie down the whole time.  Could hardly walk when reached Kathmandu.

Called in at Blue Star – most people felt too expensive, so drove through city to other side – narrow streets with brick and wooden houses – got stuck trying to get round corner – great hootings from rickshaws and consternation from shopkeeper whose house we were about to take away!

Dropped in street by KC’s restaurant – had look at “Asia” and “Hotel Star” – latter cheaper so most piled in there (Jan at Asia waiting for Fred who’d gone to Pokhara to meet us!)  Shared room with Big Pam and Neva (on floor). 
Went to KC’s for meal (stomach relieved by this time!) with Fran, Sally, Di, Heidi, Adrian, Chris and Hans.  Good meal – I had cheese jaffle (like puffed up bread) and apple pie – soon learned about excellent pie and cakes – KC’s have separate cake shop across road from restaurant!”

ROAD TO POKHARA – paddy fields, purple padded jackets, and a king next to our camp, 1976

[We climbed into the Himalayan foothills of beautiful Nepal and on to Pokhara below the Annapurna Range (with our resident rat still in tow).  The village was full of soldiers because the King was in residence in his palace, while we made camp for the final time in our orange ridge-pole tents by his stunning lake.]


Mouse was trapped last night!  Rat still at large!
Stopped before hills at busy village – small shops in shacks next to newer buildings.

Into hills – beautiful tree-covered slopes and paddy fields below – lovely rivers.  Lunch stop by cay shop and small thatched houses with open verandas, supported by rough posts.  Beautiful big green river with big bridge over.  Little kid by me and “Little” Chris chatting away, then suddenly turned to us and said “Piss!” – well what could one say?!  Nice old woman serving cay – obviously the Granny of half the village – purple wrapover jacket.
German man very excited about fish in the river – had “very good speckles on” so he could see them!

Lovely gorges and hillside villages – lots of road tolls.  Small people – Mongolian and Indian faces – all wear coloured hats.

First view of Annapurna Range in distance!  High white peaks in setting sun, half the valley in shadow.
Pokhara full of soldiers and decorated archways over the road – apparently King here at the moment.  Went past his summer palace and nice village by edge of beautiful lake – lots of little restaurants.  Piled into one and had lovely cheese paratha and coffee.  Chris gave me fags for Dad – rhinos on them!

Camped in grounds of cheap hotel (army in usual place).  Walked round village with Di, Heidi, Shirl, Chris and Hans – no sign of Tibetan dancing.  Diane and Maree threatened with gun because out after curfew! 

Last putting up of tent! – I pegged!”