Kirriemuir, Scotland, like Taos, New Mexico, in my experience, is not easy to get to. It’s out of the way, off the beaten tourist path, which, like a secret between close friends, adds to its charms.
From Edinburgh’s airport, you take a half-hour bus ride into the city and get off at Waverley Station. From there you catch a clean, modern train north to Dundee, which takes just under an hour and a half, passing seemingly never-ending softly undulating green fields and hills dotted with fat cattle, sheep and horses. In Dundee you drag your suitcase for a half mile along cold and wet streets to the bus station, where you board a new, electric-hybrid, double-decker bus bound for Kirriemuir, which is another hour north.
You arrive in Kirriemuir, Angus, in the evening’s rain and chill, find your old (17th century) hotel near the center of town, are led to your little room on the top floor, and sink into your cloudlike down-comforter-covered bed. You’ve come home.
Well, it’s not really my home, but I’ve given Kirriemuir so much thought in recent years while writing my newly published novel, Jamie’s Muse, it might as well be.
I first visited Kirriemuir seven summers ago to do on-the-ground research for this book because it was the home town of the novel’s main characters, my great-grandparents, Helen and William Black, as well as the town’s most famous son and Helen and Will’s contemporary, Peter Pan playwright James (“Jamie”) Barrie.
Barrie affectionately referred to Kirriemuir as his “wee red toony” (little red town) because most of its cottages, sitting shoulder to shoulder along narrow, winding roads, were built of locally quarried red sandstone.
J. M. Barrie’s enduring fame is everywhere evident here – from the child-size bronze Peter Pan statue in the town’s central square, to road signs leading to the home where he was born (now a museum), to arrows pointing to his grave stone in the town’s hilltop cemetery, to the names of local shops:
This is a town where Jamie Barrie will rightfully always be remembered. But his childhood friend Helen Black, the female protagonist of my novel, who with her young husband Will died under mysterious circumstances far away in Natal, South Africa, leaving an orphaned son (destined to become my grandfather) behind, remains unknown. My single-minded mission on this particular long and winding journey has been to take Helen back home.
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