One of the most celebrated areas of Scotland is The Trossachs. That is an area in The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park where you would find mountains, dense forests, pathways into the wilderness and very beautiful lochs like Loch Achray, Loch Venachar and, most legendary of all, Loch Katrine. The fame of Loch Katrine has both poetic and practical roots. Practical because its immense volume supplies Glasgow with its water supply in a remarkable feat of engineering. For that engineers laid extensive pipework that is totally invisible now to the visitor who treks through the pines and mountain ash and birch trees. Poetic because it is the setting for Sir Walter Scott`s The Lady of the Lake. This long poem is not much read nowadays but its publication in 1810 caused an immense stir throughout Europe. Composers such as Rossini and Schubert wrote major works under its influence and it was probably the main reason for the journey of the young Felix Mendelssohn to Scotland to see the now famous author. Unfortunately Mendelssohn arrived just in time to see the great man set off for a journey to London. However, Mendelssohn did not waste his time and his magnificent Hebrides Overture, sometimes known as Fingal`s Cave was one outstanding result. Another, far less well known, is his piano piece A Scottish Fantasy which is a wonderfully evocative piece of romantic writing which I have only ever heard once, played on the BBC many years ago by the great Cuban pianist Jorge Bolet. The poem is often credited with having sparked the revival of interest in Scotland and the Highlands that continues to this day with the multiplicity of tartans, ceilidhs (a Scottish party with wild dancing, music and the occasional beverage) and the whisky trails all over the country.
Aside from all this however the frequent or the fortunate visitor to this area will know that there is another reason why The Trossachs deserves a visit. If you go to the restaurant and visitor centre at Kilmahog on the way to the lochs you can have fine food and coffee and Scottish wares. However, the real attraction is the noble Angus. Angus is a highland bull. This splendid half ton beast surveys his domain and his many human fans with august disdain. He is well aware of being beautiful, a bovine George Clooney with no need of fine clothes and certainly not of a haircut. He is more of a Samson in that respect in that his shaggy hair is a large part of his glory. Visitors can buy brown bags full of carrots and turnips to feed him which he casually accepts as if conferring a regal favour on those who offer. I once visited him in the company of a vegetarian friend of mine. She pointed out that Angus had reached a level of strength no human had ever reached without the need of meat. The moral of course was that I too could be stronger and more charismatic if I ate bags of turnip rather than the steaks and casseroles I enjoy. I pointed out that by that reasoning a diet of turnips would also give me a huge spread of sharp horns which I would find inconvenient. This argument was not well received by my friend although I felt Angus did offer a complacent smile.
It was on that visit that I made use of Angus for an experiment I had always wanted to try. As a youngster I had read a novel called Quo Vadis by a Polish writer called Henryk Sienkiewicz, a very good novel I might add. In it some Phrygian christians are ushered into the Colosseum in Rome to provide entertainment to the world`s most sophisticated audience by being publicly torn apart by a variety of wild beasts. One of the christians is a beautiful young princess called, if I remember correctly, Lygia. Even the love of the Roman general Marcus Vinicius for her has not saved her. However, also in the ring with her is her servant, the giant Ursus who adores Lygia. The first beast to be introduced to the ring is a huge, wild bull under strict orders to do very nasty things to the christians. Ursus, however, steps forward and faces the charging monster. He grabs the bull`s horns and twists them until he breaks the bull`s neck. I was impressed by this when I read the book and perhaps more so when I saw the Hollywood film. For decades I had wondered whether it was at all feasible that even a very strong man could do this. So, as we fed Angus on this particular visit he casually turned his great head from side to side as he munched, displaying his wide, magnificent horns. I grabbed one with both hands to see if I could restrain him at all from turning his head. The result was humbling. I don`t think Angus was even faintly aware that I was employing all of my mighty, steak and casserole-fed muscularity to restrain him from turning his head. If I had not let go at the last minute I think I would have been flung nonchalantly into the piles of mud and dung on the other side of the field. I left thoughtfully, wondering if I should re-read the novel to see if there is any mention of Ursus eating turnips.
My latest travel book is Coffee with the Colossus about remarkable visits to Greece and my latest novel is The Moves of Murder another in the Rojas Casebook, the mysteries of the eccentric Spanish detective. More information is available on http://www.rngnovels.co.uk