The wind was luffing over the tablelands of Skye as a storm built up at sea, but its slow passage promised hours more of sunshine and that the lakes would stay blue. Toward the end of a morning that for September was quite warm, a boy of Kilmuir was cutting across the open land on his way to Staffin. The way was long, with neither road nor path, but the more empty the places in which he travelled and the more space to separate him from all else, the more, in his eyes, he achieved.

At the northern tip of the Isle of Skye are mountains resting in a skirl of cloud risen from the firth. Here, storms are seen from far off and cannot surprise. They mount in black even as the sun shines upon the oceans of purple heather over which they will sweep. Sometimes, if the west wind is slow, the storms stay still and their bright thunderbolts flash like neon lights against unmoving walls of dark cloud.

One such storm had risen at sea and was at the back of the boy from Kilmuir. Like the farmer who fills the bin of his combine with a golden stream of grain, he had a sense of adding to his riches, not with every second that passed but with every step he took that carried him away from the settled world. He was fourteen and did not tire: his strength only grew as he crossed the flatland and climbed to the plateaux. Though the storm behind him billowed higher and higher, he was confident that were he not to slacken but rather to build strength upon strength and speed upon speed, he could outrun it. What a triumph not to have taken the road but to have crossed the landscape with no engine save his own heart.

With rhythmic ease, he ascended a wide apron of broken rock to what seemed the highest and most deserted plain in all of Scotland. For a moment, with his senses attuned to wind and sky, everything was perfect. But then perfection broke, when he saw, as if in a magazine advertisement come to life, a green Land Rover parked on a rise and facing west. Unlike most military Land Rovers, it gleamed . . .