Time-shifting action adventure for young(ish) readers, based on true events in 16th century Highland Scotland. The memorable cast of characters includes Angus, a straight-talking Scottish deerhound, Doris a depressed seagull with a dysfunctional memory and an extremely nasty High King of Scotland.
Mr Toad and the Stone of Destiny
Mr Toad is a very special boat - he's a gateway between worlds.
Four young friends are aboard, cruising Scotland's West Highland coast and the Inner Hebrides.
They find themselves 500 years in the past, on a mission to prevent bloodshed between the clans Maclean and Campbell. They return to the present but their quest is not over ...
The locations and historical events are all real. Readers can follow the action with Google Maps, fly over the scene with Google Earth's 3D images, discover more about Scottish legends and history on the website www.mr-toad.co.uk and even add their own illustrations to the Gallery which includes 30 colour illustrations from the ebook.
Tobermory’s main street runs alongside the harbour. The buildings are painted in bright colours. There are little shops, pubs, restaurants and a couple of guest houses on one side of the road. On the other is the bay, dotted with yachts and fishing boats at moorings, the hills of Calve island at its mouth providing shelter. North of Tobermory Bay, the Sound of Mull widens from a sheltered channel between Morvern and the isle of Mull to become the Sea of the Hebrides. Beyond lies the wild Atlantic ocean.
In any weather, Tobermory is a beautiful place. On this evening, it was looking its best. A few yachts were making their way across the blue waters of the bay to find visitor moorings as close to shore as they could get. The people on the boats wanted to be within easy rowing distance of the village.
A big Zodiac inflatable, with a man in oilskins at the wheel and a huge dog standing in the bows, was threading its way between the yachts, stopping occasionally to collect mooring fees. Colin paused to look, Catriona came to a halt beside him. The others carried on walking. Colin was staring hard at the inflatable. He turned to Catriona, ‘Do you think that’s Hamish?’
Catriona shaded her eyes against the evening sun. ‘I don’t know. It could be.’ She paused. ‘ Yes, it is!’ she said, excitement in her voice. ‘And that’s Angus with him.’
They caught up with the others who were walking slowly around the harbour towards the Mishnish Hotel, stopping occasionally to look in the little shop windows. Eventually they arrived at the Mishnish. The hotel was painted a bright, cheerful yellow. Sophie's mood lightened. There was nothing sombre or foreboding about Tobermory's main street.
Inside, they found themselves in a comfortably worn, wood-lined room. There was a long bar counter with a brass foot rail, tables with comfortable chairs and a log fire opposite the bar. A cheerful crowd of yachties, locals, visitors and fishermen were already gathering around the bar. No one was using the table near the door, so they sat there.
Duncan rubbed his hands together. ‘Well, I think Franny and I have earned a beer. You lot are a bit young for that so it’s soft drinks all round. What would you like?’ He took their orders and vanished in the crowd at the bar.
The others began talking about the trip.
‘You were going to tell us about Lady Rock,’ said Mike.
‘It’s a pretty nasty story,’ said Colin. ‘You remember Duart Castle?’ Mike and Sophie nodded.
‘Well, in the 1500’s, the chieftain who lived in the castle, Lachlan Catanach Maclean - in English that’s Lachlan the Hairy - married Lady Ellen Campbell. Some people believe it was a political marriage - to bring peace between the clans. Others say they simply fell in love.’
‘OK. So where does the Rock bit come in?’ Mike wasn’t interested in politics or love stories.
‘Well, it seems they ended up hating each other. It got so bad Lachlan tried to murder Ellen by having her stranded on the rock off Lismore. He had it done at night so no one would see or come to her rescue. The idea was that when the tide came in she would drown. Luckily for her some people in a boat heard her shouting for help.’
‘What happened then? Did her husband know she had escaped?’ asked Sophie.
‘He thought his plan had succeeded. He even sent a message to her father saying she’d been drowned in a boating accident,’ Colin said.
Catriona took up the story. ‘Actually, she had made her way to her father’s house in Inverary. The Earl was going to declare war on the Macleans in revenge, but someone persuaded him not to. Instead, he invited Lachlan to his castle. When he arrived, Ellen was sitting beside her father at the dinner table. The story goes that nothing at all was said. Some time later Lachlan was in Edinburgh. Ellen’s uncle followed him to his lodgings and murdered him in his sleep.’
‘That ees a really horrible story!’ said Sophie. She shuddered.
‘I’d say the guy deserved it!’ Mike said.
At that moment the Mishnish’s door opened and the man in oilskins came in accompanied by the dog. Sophie, who was facing the door, was startled. Both man and dog seemed larger than life-size, but when she looked again, she realized she was mistaken. The man wasn’t particularly big. It was just that he looked immensely strong. The dog, however, was huge. Also shaggy, friendly- looking – and very, very wet.
The man walked over to the bar without noticing Franny or the others. He saw Duncan, grabbed his hand and began pumping it up and down. For a moment it looked as if Duncan was being shaken like a rag doll.
‘Duncan, man! It’s guid to see you!’ the man roared, slapping Duncan on the back. He spotted Franny and the others at the table. ‘Frances, my girl! How are you? Ah need not ask about you two! You are clearly in the pink of health. Aren’t you going to introduce me to yer friends?’ He strode over to the table, bear-hugged Franny and Catriona and mashed Colin and Mike’s hands.
‘I saw Toigheach in the bay and thought I’d find you here,’ he said and began talking with Duncan about weather and boat things.
‘Who’s Toy-yak?’ asked Mike.
‘It’s Mr Toad,’ Catriona said. ‘Hamish is using his Gaelic name. It means ‘the friendly one, the caring one’. Something like that,’ she grinned, looking a bit embarrassed.
‘OK,’ said Mike uncertainly. ‘So how come the boat got to be called Mr Toad?’
‘Nearest the second owner could get to the Gaelic pronunciation. You know it’s unlucky to rename a boat? He got around the problem by sort of keeping the name but making it easier to say. So Toigheach became Mr Toad. He doesn’t seem to mind,’ she added.
Duncan and Franny were engrossed in their conversation with Hamish. The big dog was sitting by his master, apparently listening to Catriona’s explanation of Mr Toad’s name.
Colin looked hard at Catriona, she nodded. Colin turned to Mike. ‘I think it’s time we introduced you to a very special friend.’ He turned to the dog. ‘Say hello, Angus,’
The big shaggy dog put out his paw, ‘How-do-ye do?’ he said in a low voice. ‘I’m Angus. And what would your name be?’ Mike, looking like a stunned mullet, took the offered paw and shook it.
‘Eh, Catriona, I think I’m going crazy. This dog just spoke to me,’ he said.
‘Yes, he did,’ she said matter-of-factly. ‘But don’t tell everyone. They might all want a chat with him.’
The big dog chuckled softly. ‘Only a ferry few can hear me,’ he said in a soft Highland brogue. ‘I speak the old language. Your friends here understand me. It seems that ye do too.’ Mike looked as if he was about to fall off the chair. ‘Dinna worry,’ said the dog. ‘They’ll tell ye all about me later.’
He turned to Hamish and thrust his huge head under his arm. Hamish, without looking, lowered his pint glass. The dog took a huge slurp, burped, said ‘Och, pardon me!’ Then, quite distinctly, ‘Thank ye, Hamish!’
Mike was feeling very strange. Dogs didn’t say ‘thank you. Or ‘pardon me’. Dogs, in his experience, didn’t say much of anything at all. Most just barked. He shook his head to clear it. Perhaps the Mishnish’s lemonade had something stronger in it.
Angus said nothing more for the moment, sitting quietly beside Hamish, accepting occasional pats from passers-by. Once, he looked over and Mike distinctly saw him wink.
They ordered and ate. By now the sun was low in the sky, although darkness was still some time off.
‘At this time of year it almost doesn’t get dark at all up here,’ Colin told Sophie.
Sophie nodded. She had listened to Mike’s conversation with Angus in total disbelief at first. But after a moment she shrugged. Nothing in the West Highlands would surprise her now, she thought. Weather changed as if by magic, rocks had mysterious names, a massive quarry was almost invisible and there was that weird castle which made her shudder. And now this huge dog which talked. She nodded to herself, feeling a bit light-headed.
Hamish and Angus walked with them when they left the Mishnish. At the pontoon, they said good night, making arrangements to meet in a few days time for a little fishing. There was a bay in Loch Sunart which Hamish said was worth exploring. ‘Say hello to Toigheach for me,’ Hamish said. Have a good voyage!’
Once aboard, they made hot chocolate and drank it sitting on the flybridge in the last of the evening light. It was warm. The lights of Tobermory twinkled across the water and from somewhere, perhaps the Mishnish, came the sound of bagpipes.
Duncan yawned. ‘It’s been a long day. I think I’ll turn in and read for a while. Coming Franny?’
When the kids were at last alone, Mike turned to Catriona. ‘What was all that with the dog?’ he said incredulously.
Catriona sighed. ‘I suppose we’d better tell them everything,’ she said.
‘Yes, you had better do, indeed,’ said a deep voice from somewhere beneath their feet.
‘Good evening, Mr Toad,’ said Catriona. ‘How are you? I wondered when you might let us in on what you have in store for us this year.’
Sophie and Mike turned white. ‘Who ees that speaking?’ Sophie whispered.
‘I am called Toigheach,’ said the voice. ‘You will know me better as Mr Toad. Catriona will tell ye more.’