Abi Elphinstone: I discovered my very own Narnia behind a blue door in Scotland | Journey
N.o Moment in literature influenced me like the moment when eight year old Lucy pushes Pevensie through that closet to Narnia. It showed me that one of the most important ingredients of childhood is curiosity: Lucy may be the youngest and often overlooked, but she notices the wardrobe and finds her way into a magical kingdom in the process.
Childhood is full of doors, most of which are invisible, and by the age of eight you begin to understand that the world is big and varied and full of wonder, provided you are not made to grow up too early. The possibilities are endless. I remember a door from my own childhood and I often wonder if the reason I believed in Narnia so fully was because the landscape behind the blue door in the wilderness of Scotland was just as magical.
“You go through a forest and a few fields before you cross an old stone bridge and there is a little blue door in a stone wall on your left.” Photo: Courtesy Visit Scotland and Visit Angus
I grew up near a village called Edzell between Aberdeen and Dundee in Angus. The weekends were spent camping in the valley, climbing over the moors, and jumping into icy rivers. But of all the wild places I’ve explored, one stands out. After leaving Edzell, you will pass a forest and some fields before crossing an old stone bridge. On the left there is a small blue door in a stone wall.
You might miss it if you didn’t know it was there, but my parents knew about it and came across it. What lay behind it could have been Narnia. On one side the North Esk River thundered through a steep gorge, browned by peat from the moors, and on the other side a small path wound its way through rhododendrons, silver birch, beech, and long-forgotten folly. The gorge eventually opens, then the moors take over and lead to Loch Lee and the cave where the sixth Earl of Balnamoon (a Jacobite who returned from Culloden with a price on his head) hid for over a year.
The North Esk River. Photo: Courtesy Visit Scotland and Visit Angus
As a kid, I saw salmon leap out of the brilliantly named fishing pools behind the blue door (Kitbog, Witch’s, Badger) and played hide and seek at Doulie Tower (a folly that was built around 1780 when Lord Adam Gordon, commanding officer) – chief of the army in Scotland, acquired the property and transformed it from “the wildest state of sterility” to forests of Scots pine, oak, mountain ash and silver birch. I saw ladles glide through the Rocks of Solitude (a picturesque narrow stretch of North Esk) and heard my father’s tales of trolls living under the gnarled roots of beeches. It felt impossible that all of this should exist on the other side of that little blue door, but it did.
Sometimes when you return to a childhood meeting point, the landscape feels smaller and less exciting. Not so with the blue door: whenever I step over the threshold, I feel the magical movement: river spray hangs in the air; Beech leaves glow; The moss is a creeping fairytale carpet. And when I started my Unmapped Chronicles series, I thought about the thrill of stepping through the blue door and how I feel every time.
Each book in The Unmapped Chronicles follows a child who finds a door to a secret land whose fantastic creatures conjure weather for our world. In Rumblestar, Casper Tock opens a grandfather clock and discovers a kingdom of heaven ruled by wizards with endless pockets. In Jungle Drop, the twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble squeeze through a closing train door and are led into a rainforest, glowing in the dark, with intertwined trees and golden panthers.
As we near this tense New Year, I want kids who read The Unmapped Chronicles to feel like there is still wonder, joy, and hope out there. Because as Casper says in Rumblestar: “That’s the thing with locked doors: you never know exactly what’s on the other side …”
Jungle Drop (Simon & Schuster) is available now. A new edition of Everdark will be released on January 7th. Unmapped Chronicles books start at £ 6.99 in the Guardian Bookshop