Back in Time 0


“It’s been raining since Glasgow,” grumbled Vicky, “rain, rain, rain, and it’s so cold, probably be snowing in a minute and we’ll freeze to death. ‘Car found with four frozen Americans’, it’ll be in all the papers, you’ll be sorry you made us come, Dad.”

“Not if he’s frozen,” said her little brother, Ewan. “That’s enough,” Mother said coming to life; she hadn’t spoken a word since they had set off from the airport, driving perilously on the wrong side of the road, “do stop complaining Vicky, we’re all tired and cold not just you, and we’re almost there; look, that’s the sign for the ferry.”

“Wow,” said Ewan, “two languages, look, can you say that Dad?”

“Failte, welcome,” said Dad, “That’s Gaelic, my granny spoke Gaelic, she wouldn’t speak a word of English, ever.”

“Why not?” asked Vicky.

“That’s a long history,” replied Dad, “the cousins will tell you, lots of stories to tell around the fire, we’re going to have such a great Christmas.”

Dad maneuvered the car down the rattling ramp and onto the ferry. They were the only car. Hail rattled on the deck, and mixed with rain to slide through the scuppers.

“Only five minutes, said Dad, seeing Mother biting her lips, closing her eyes at each lurch of the vessel, as it pulled away from the dock,  “then a few miles up the road and we’re there.  I can’t wait to see Tarbet House again, you’ll fall in love with it Ellie, it’s the real thing, built in the seventeen hundreds.”

Mother shivered and pulled her scarf down over her face, “As long as it’s warm, and there’s a kettle.” Dad laughed and held her hand, “I promise you the kettle.”

On the other side of the loch a sudden squall of snow blotted out the old inn crouched opposite the landing place, and a curtain of rain and hail swept over the boat to hide the dock buildings on the shore  behind them. The afternoon had faded away.. They were in no man’s land thought Vicky, between present and past. This trip back to Dad’s childhood home where his granny had been housekeeper, and his father a stock hand, better be worth it. She and Ewan had grown up with tales of the ‘Big House’; the bustle of the farm and stalking parties, great gatherings of relatives, the romance of the Highlands and mystery of Dad’s mother who was never mentioned in the stories, or at home.

The ferryman, staggering cheerfully toward them, took Dad’s fare, “You’re lucky, this’ll be the last ferry.  You have a good night now,” he called as he lowered the ramp and watched them drive off.

A few scraggy sheep trotting in the road turned their ghostly yellow eyes to watch as Dad drove carefully past them.  There were no houses, no other cars, nothing moved in the fields and on the hills, now covered with drifting snow and the shadows of night.

“Watch for the house sign,” said Dad, “on the right, coming up after the bend, if we see the post box we’ve gone too far.”

“Watch for their Christmas lights,” said Ewan, “they will have lights won’t they?”

But there were no lights. They saw the house sign, drooping from its chain, at the last minute and the car skidded as Dad made the turn and bumped up a rutted, stony drive way. The house was in darkness, no lights showed in the farm buildings behind it. Dad pulled up, and he and Mother got out of the car.


“The cousins were supposed to be here before us,” he said, “they were going to get the house opened up and they were bringing the Christmas dinner, venison.”

“Probably the weather held them up too,” said Mother, “how do we get in? I can’t see a thing where’s the door? Turn the car, we can see with the headlights.”

The headlights showed the long stone house wall, tall shuttered windows and a solid, black, wooden door.  Dad pushed and pulled at the door, rattling the handle. The wind wailed sadly round the house corners; no one answered Dad’s knocking.

Vicky and Ewan got out of the car, “We’re hungry and it’s freezing, can’t we go to a hotel or something?” said Vicky.

“We could go back to the one by the ferry,” said Ewan, “maybe they will have burgers.”

“Maybe we should,” said Mother, “and try again tomorrow, obviously there is no one here, they must have got held up.”

Dad turned the car again and crept down the icy drive; out on the road the snow was blowing hard now and packing under their wheels, the car barely moved, slipping sideways when Dad tried to accelerate.

“It’s no good,” said Dad, “I don’t want to get stuck in a ditch.”

“Look out!” shouted Mother, “Sheep!”

Three sheep reared up from the road edge in front of them, blundering into the car.  Dad wrenched the wheel and the car spun around, and slid into a stone wall with a crump.  The sheep trotted off into the snowy darkness as the engine died.

“Now what?” asked Vicky, “can you get it going again?”

But the car refused to start and the snow was turning to icy needles, stinging their faces, rattling on the car roof as they got out and stood looking at it.

“That’s it, said Dad, “we’ll just have to go back to the house, there must be a way in, maybe I can get in through the pantry window somehow, it always used to be left on the latch.”

“Bring your back packs,” said Mother, grabbing her overnight bag, “we’re not coming out again in this weather.” She hugged Ewan, “It’ll be fine, we can make a fire, and the cousins will be here tomorrow, I’m sure.”

They trudged back to the driveway; two milk churns stood at the entrance, “Funny,” said Vicky,

“I didn’t notice them before, and where’s the sign?”

“Come on Vicky, don’t hang about, it’s too cold.” Dad and Mother pushed on, pulling Ewan between them. Vicky followed. She smelled wood smoke, or a pipe? Impossible. She looked around, wasn’t that a glimmer of light? There to her right, coming from the shuttered windows? She hurried forward.

Ewan was leaning against the wall, “Dad and Mother have gone round the back,” he said, “to break in.”

Vicky hardly heard him, she was looking at the window, there was a light, there behind the shutter.  She turned around, sheep bleated from the barn and a cow mooed a reply. What.. ? She turned again, pulling Ewan to her. Now she heard the clatter of a busy kitchen. Was it the cousins playing tricks?

She knocked on the black door.  Someone was coming. The door creaked slowly open. An old woman holding a candle aloft looked at her. She pulled her shawl tight across her chest, speaking in her own language.“So yer back and you brought the boy.”  She spat on the ground. “Well, yer not welcome, English, and yer not stopping.”

The door shut in Vicky’s face.