I finished If Wishes Were Horses in summer 2010 and handed it in to my editor, Angus. After he’d read it he sent me an email saying that he was sure he knew where we could find Finmory, the house in Patricia Leitch’s Jinny and Shantih novels.
Here’s the first description of Finmory House in For Love of a Horse:
“At the far edge of the moorland, mountains shouldered up against the sky. Cloud shadows raced over them so that their colours seemed to flow and change as you watched – deep purple turned to blue that faded into bleached pinks and mauves. Waterfalls streaked black gorges with threads of brilliant white as they crashed down the mountains’ sides, and patches of dried moss were a vivid saffron gold. Ravens croaked, disturbed by the car, and two buzzards flew up from the telegraph wires that followed the road. …
The track turned and dropped down to a farm, half-hidden in a clump of pine trees. …
The car crawled slowly along a muddy, rutted track, twisted through a broken-down gateway, and followed the overgrown drive that pushed its way between top-heavy, fungussy trees to Finmory House. … They all burst out of the car to stand staring at the four-square, solid, stone house.
‘It’s smashing,’ breathed Mike.
‘Sea at the bottom of the garden!’ exclaimed Jinny. ‘And mountains peering down the chimneys!'”
I think everyone who loved those books wanted to live in Finmory. And it turns out that, for several summers as a student, Patricia Leitch did just that. In an interview with Jane Badger she said that:
“Kilmacolm is part of the setting for the Jinny books, but only part. If you want to go looking for the locations you’ll have to be prepared to travel, as the setting is actually a combination of two different places. Finmory House, the house to which Jinny and her family move, is on the Isle of Skye, and is the house at which Pat worked as a housemaid for several summers. The moors around Finmory are in Renfrewshire, around the village of Kilmacolm.”
Now Angus’ family comes from Skye, and he too has lived there, so when he told me that he’d found Finmory, I knew we were onto something. His email had read:
“although Talisker is justifiably praised as a fine single malt, the distillery itself is not at Talisker but Carbost. Talisker Bay is a few miles away over moorland and a single-track road, down which you pass eventually to glimpse the sea and find a farmhouse and another, much bigger house, this surrounded by trees and tucked in the lee of a huge, rearing rocky outcrop. It is quite the most beautiful place in the world. I think the house is now a hotel of some sort, although if I ever won a lottery, I would attempt to buy its owners out. You can walk past it and down a rowan-shaded path alongside a burn to the bay itself, which faces west, between great headlands, and has the blackest of sand.”
When my book was published I sent a copy to Patricia along with a note about Angus’ theory, and a few weeks later I had a letter from her:
“YES YES YES YES YES. Finmory is/was Talisker. Am staggered that you and your editor tracked it down. Many lifetimes ago I worked there three college summers in I am sure, another life. Cannot even think of it, what memories. One of the Jinnys uses the name Talisker and many of Finmory’s background was Talisker, but not the moors, they were/are the moors at Kilmacolm. … If you would be interested I could tell you more about Talisker. It was indeed a wonderful place. The dream was then to stay in one of the stables with Kirsty/Bramble. Nearly happened. … One white moon night was remembered vividly but I bolted and wrote instead.”
Talisker House is now a listed building. I haven’t been able to find a site for it as a hotel, but there’s some information on the structure and history here (Boswell and Johnson stayed there in the eighteenth century) and a shot here from behind. This absolutely stunning photograph shows you the location – as described by Jinny. WalkHighlands has both photographs of the spectacular bay (do you think that “stack” of rock was the inspiration for the dramatic rescue in Ride Like the Wind?) and details of a walk you can take in the area.
UPDATE: My parents pointed out that I spent some time nearby too, although I was too young to remember. We stayed in a holiday cottage called Skerinish just up river from Talisker Bay. It’s the two-storey building on the right here. I dedicated a lot of time to trying to reach the farmer’s bull in the field nextdoor.