It might not be the sunniest of summers, but for book lovers, there will always be things to do. If you are looking to get your family out and about and excited about stories, there are so many options across Scotland, from brilliant bookshops and lovely libraries to train trips, outdoor trails (including several with a Gruffalo theme), and our new favourite – visiting the settings from books we love.
For classic story-themed sight-seeing, why not head to Edinburgh to visit Greyfriars Bobby at Greyfriars Kirk (see Greyfriars Bobby: a Puppy’s Tale, by Michelle Sloan) or take a ferry from Oban to the Isle of Coll, which inspired Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag stories (our favourite is Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted).
Harry Potter fans can recreate a journey to Hogwarts by boarding a train at Glasgow Queen Street and crossing the awe-inspiring Glenfinnan viaduct (steam train tours are wonderful, but Scotrail’s cheaper service to Mallaig operates on the same route twice daily year round).
A good round-up of other celebrated story settings, including Wind in the Willows and Kidnapped, can be found in the Storybook Trail on the Visit Scotland website.
Many newer children’s books have wonderful Scottish settings too though, and there’s nothing like bringing a story to life by visiting places that feature in it. So, here are some day (or week) out plans inspired by our recent reads.
Book: The Highland Falcon Thief, by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman
Setting: Steam train tour of Scotland, including Glasgow, Perth, Inverness, Aberdeen
Outing: This award-winning story of a young artist and detective is the first in the Adventures on Trains series, which we have devoured. Set on board the Highland Falcon Thief, a fictional steam train, the dramatic story takes place over a journey from London to the Highlands, which includes Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness and Perth, with a stop at Balmoral to pick up the royal family.
Ballater, the Balmoral station which features in the story, is on the Deeside Line, which is now closed, but the station is still worth a visit in its new guise a local museum. You can still hop on a train and recreate much of the rest of the Highland Falcon Thief’s journey. We pick the section from Edinburgh to Aberdeen for the dramatic Forth Bridge Section. To learn more about steam trains, and try driving one, head to the Riverside Museum in Glasgow.
Book: The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle, by Hannah Foley
Setting: Edinburgh, Inchmahome, Orkney and more…
Outing: This magical adventure story about Avery, who is half-girl, half-cat, doubles as a whistle-stop tour of Scotland’s historic landscapes – magically reimagined. An ‘Avery Buckle’ day trip to Edinburgh could include the National Library of Scotland, which has a pivotal role in the story (indoor visits are limited, but just the outside is impressive) and an underground Edinburgh tour, for an insight into what lies below the city. In this adventure filled with folklore, the characters also visit an enchanted Inchmahome island (the real one is on the Lake of Menteith) ruined castles and historic crannogs (learn more at the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay) and memorably, head to Orkney, home of stone giants.
Book: The Animal Adventure Club series (The Baby Deer Rescue etc) by Michelle Sloan
Setting: Pittendoey Nature Reserve
Outing: This series of chapter books for young readers are set on a fictional nature reserve, where the children join an Animal Adventure Club, dedicated to protecting the local wildlife. Many of Scotland’s nature reserves and wildlife centres offer hands on experiences for young people, offering them insight into the discoveries Isla, Gracie, Lexi, and Buzz enjoy. The Scottish Wildlife Trust manage reserves around the country. If you are near the West Coast, do see what’s happening at Argyll Beaver Centre – we have enjoyed some wonderful wildlife-watching with their expert team.
Book: The Siege of Caerlaverock, by Barbara Henderson
Setting: Caerlaverock Castle, near Dumfries
Outing: It was hard to choose which Barbara Henderson story to feature (check out The Chessman Thief too) but we picked this one for both its impressive setting and powerful sense of that place. Set in the Middle Ages, the book follows Ada, a 12-year-old laundress caught up in a siege, needing courage and cleverness as she faces enemies inside and out.
Caerlaverock is an Historic Environment Scotland castle. At the time of writing it is closed to indoor visitors, but you can still explore the grounds – which is more than enough to give a sense of the scale of the siege, and the enormity of what those inside and out faced in 1300.
Book: Guardians of the Wild Unicorns, by Lindsay Littleson
Setting: The Highlands
Outing: Inspired by the landscape around Aviemore, this book is both a celebration of the wilderness and a warning that its wildlife must be respected. It follows two friends who encounter and defend a herd of unicorns while on a school activity trip. The settings feel very real, from an adventure centre to a managed country estate and the atmospheric mountain and moorlands in between.
Take a forestry or hill walk anywhere in the area (see some suggestions here) to appreciate just how possible it feels for a magical creature to emerge through the mist at any moment, or to follow in Lewis and Rhona’s footsteps further, try abseiling or rock-climbing through one of the local outdoor pursuits companies. Thankfully, there isn’t a unicorn-viewing activity on offer yet, but you can meet the next best thing, the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, at Glenmore.
Have you been on a summer outing – or do you have one planned, inspired by a favourite children’s book? We’d love to hear about it (@roaringreads on twitter) if so.