I've just returned from a memorable trip to Scotland's west coast and the Colonsay Book Festival. I've been lucky enough to take part in some wonderful book festivals around the world, and I must say that this one ranks among the most enjoyable. Not simply because it's so good to get back into the festival way of life after the pandemic, grand though that is, but because the location - on a small and remote island more than two hours by ferry from Oban - was fantastic and the company and organisation of the festival equally excellent.
I was one of half a dozen speakers and given that two of them have been nominated for the Booker Prize, it felt like very select company indeed. I was interviewed by Neil Hutton, an academic expert in criminal justice, and the time whizzed by during our session. It was good to see two auld acquaintances, Alex Gray and her husband again, and to meet Karen Campbell and hers. The other speakers were John Burns, the poet Robin Robertson, and the novelist and journalist Andrew O'Hagan. Andrew read from his forthcoming 'state of the nation' novel Caledonian Road, a superb extract and enough to make me think this is a novel that might be a Booker winner - you read it here first! The hospitality (with excellent meals at the Colonsay Hotel - strongly recommended) was terrific from first to last and the photo shows the six of us relaxing outside the village hall where the events took place before catching the ferry back to the mainland.
Colonsay is a gorgeous island and luckily the weather was mostly kind, enabling us to to drive round the island and also to wander across the Strand as far as the beach at Oronsay, an island that is paddling distance from Colonsay. Standing stones and lovely, almost empty beaches contribute to the appeal of the landscape and the views take the breath away. The trip fired my interest in the western isles and I hope to return to that part of the world before too long.
On the way, we stopped off at Inveraray and went round the castle and its grounds and also the ancient and highly atmospheric Inveraray Jail. A sunlit evening walk along the banks of Loch Fyne was quite idyllic. Other highlights of the trip included a look around St Conan's Kirk on the edge of Loch Awe. On the way back, Oban greeted the ferry with a spectacular sunset and next morning there was time to explore Seil Island, which is linked to the mainland by the steep 'Bridge over the Atlantic' - another intriguing place with bags of atmosphere - and also Luss, which claims to be the loveliest village in Scotland. A wonderful trip and I'm very grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make it such a success.