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Top tips for Slow Travel from a Highland Lady

A World Book Day Special March 2020

So far in 2020 we’ve been trying to embrace slow travel when we can: enjoying the journey for its own sake and reducing our carbon footprint in the process. And slow travel doesn’t come much slower than the journeys from London to Rothiemurchus made by Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus (1797-1885), author of Memoirs of a Highland Lady.

I highly recommend a read of this brilliant journal to everyone - especially those about to visit the Highlands. There are so many details about contemporary life at Rothiemurchus and the Highlands that you simply won’t read anywhere else, including tales of happy summer days spent Loch an Eilein Cottage. It’s a beautiful portrait of a world long since vanished and her sheer delight in the Highlands themselves and her “beloved Duchus” are gorgeously evocative.

The speed - or lack thereof - of their progress from London to the Highlands seems almost incomprehensible now. Even she admits this: “We travelled slowly - 30 miles a day on average, starting late and stopping early.”

But you could also say that it’s the final word in mindful travel, as each stop en route is celebrated for its quirks and unique characters. “Every good inn became a sort of home, every obliging landlord and landlady an old friend. We had cakes here, a garden with a summer house there, a parrot further on - all to look forward to on every migration”. The entire journey sounds like a wonderful grand tour of Great Britain in its own right.

When they reach Edinburgh she writes of the New Town still being built where “the untidy appendages of building encumbered the half finished streets.” Queensferry was the one low point due to the “ugly, dirty miserable sailing vessels, an hour at the quickest crossing, often two or three, it was the great drawback to the journey.”

We follow the rest of their much happier progress further North, and read that extraordinarily “It took us three days to reach home from Perth”. Three days! But then “Once over the water we were at home in Rothiemurchus, our beloved Duchus which...has remained the spot on earth dearest to the heart of every one of us. No other place ever replaced it, no other scenery ever surpassed it, no other happiness ever seemed to approach within a comprehensible distance of our childhood in Rothiemurchus.”

And I’d say that was one destination that was worth the wait.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant, edited by Andrew Tod is available from Waterstones.