"The Bone Cave: A Journey through Myth and Memory" by Dougie Strang is a Scottish travelogue with a difference. It recounts a short journey by the author undertaken one Spring; and then a much longer one through the Scottish Highlands that same October. What you get when you open the cover is very much more than a travelogue. You also find, interwoven with the main narrative, glimpses of the author's childhood and early adult life. But it's not the autobiographical sections that really set this book apart. Rather it's the author's exploration of the connections between the places he visits and elements of Scottish folklore that make this such a special book: that give it an added dimension that is likely to fascinate anyone who visits the Highlands, just as it did me. This is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who wants to see beneath the surface of the Scotland normally available to visitors.
One of the reviews quoted on the back cover describes this book as "a meditation on the move..." and that is a pretty good description. The links between the landscapes Dougie Strang passes through and the flora and fauna - especially the red deer - he encounters and a particular strand of Scottish folklore concerned with hunting deer and the spirits that perhaps inhabit the animals is central to "The Bone Cave". There seems to be a human need to interpret new experiences in terms of elements of the familiar. That's perhaps why reading this book reminded me of another travelogue, one I've not read for decades. The spiritual aspects of "The Bone Cave" did put me in mind of Robert M. Pirsig's classic, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Okay, there are no motorcycles in "The Bone Cave": the author makes his journey on foot or by bus, train or hitch-hiking. But both books involve journeys that turns out to be as internal as they are external: that are as much about the authors' inner worlds as they are about the parts of Scotland or the USA that are being crossed.
The publisher's description helps set the scene: "A vivid account of a journey through the Scottish Highlands, The Bone Cave follows a series of folktales and myths to the places in which they’re set. Travelling mostly on foot, and camping along the way amid some of Scotland’s most beautiful and rugged landscapes, Dougie Strang encounters a depth of meaning to the tales he tracks – one that offers a unique perspective on place, culture, land ownership and ecological stewardship, as well as insights into his own entanglement with place. Dougie sets out on his walk at the beginning of October, which also marks the start of the red deer rut. The bellowing of stags forms the soundtrack to his journey and is a reminder that, as well as mapping invisible landscapes of story, he is also exploring the tangible, living landscape of the present."