Neil Gunn's novel, 'Highland River', explores a northern river and its impact on a boy's life. Poet Kenneth Steven sets off to find the source of the river and Gunn's inspiration.
'Highland River' is set in Caithness in the far north of the Scottish mainland. The actual river on which the story is based is Dunbeath Water, and the novel explores the lives of those who live in and around the area. Kenneth Steven has always been fascinated by the story, and travels to Dunbeath to retrace the steps of the central character of the novel, himself called Kenn.
This is a wild and extraordinary landscape, where the sheltered corners of the strath soon give way to open peatland moors, known in Caithness as the 'flow country'. In Gunn's novel, Kenn makes a journey from the coast inland, to find the source of the river in the flow country. It becomes symbolic of both what has been lost and what has endured.
With its imaginative depiction of Kenn's childhood in Dunbeath, the horrors of the First World War, and his return to Caithness, this is a story which has deep resonance for communities across the highlands of Scotland.
Kenneth Steven explores the lasting significance of 'Highland River', whilst setting himself the challenge of reaching the river's source.