My Hols

From the Hebrides to the Rockies, Sally Beauman feels the call of the wild

" My favourite place in the world is in the Hebrides. Alan's great-uncle, the writer Compton Mackenzie, built a house there, where Alan went for holidays as a boy, but which later got turned into a factory: so what had been Compton Mackenzie's wonderful library was completely ripped apart to put in a huge machine. Finally, after 40 years, the owners closed the factory, and a friend rang me up and told me the house was for sale. It was in a pretty bad state when we saw it, and we said, no,no. Then we walked along the beach, with a view of islands and aquamarine sea, and we decided we would have to, so we spent 2½ years restoring it. The house is between two seas, the wild Atlantic and a very calm inland sea.

Sally Beauman

Sally Beauman, 59, is the author of Destiny and four other bestselling novels. Her sixth novel, Rebecca's Tale, which explores the events of Daphne fu Maurier's classic from Rebecca's viewpoint, is published in paperback by Little, Brown. She has lived with the actor Alan Howard for 28 years and they have one son. They divide their time between London, Gloucestershire and a house in the Hebrides.

I like extreme places. I fell in love with the Highlands of Scotland when Alan took me there for the first time in winter. People think it always rains there, but it doesn't, and if you see Scotland on a cold, clear, brilliant winter's day, as I did, driving across Sutherland from the east to the west coast, with these spectacular mountains, it's so beautiful. We go to the Hebrides that way, to Ullapool and across to the islands.

We always have to cram in holidays around Alan's work. They're planned at the last minute as a result. Sometimes, I would phone up the Landmark Trust and say: what have you got left for next week? And they would say: "Well, there's something in Derbyshire." You'd wonder if you wanted to go to Derbyshire, but it would be the only thing they had, and then it would turn out to be wonderful.

The Landmark Trust also has a good standard of furnishing, which I am quite twitchy about. It jangles me if I go into a rented cottage and there is a puce cover on the chair and a horrible lime-green rug on the floor. I like to be somewhere that looks pretty good.

It is such a joy taking small children on holiday, and so difficult taking teenagers. But my son and I once had a wonderful holiday in Venice, just after his GCSEs, when he had been working very hard. We stayed at the Danieli, which I thought would be full of literary ghosts - Browning and Henry James and so on. Instead, it was full of Japanese tourists, but it was still lovely. We walked a lot, and took vaporettos everywhere. I like the light in Venice, which is something I also like about the Hebrides. It is the light on water, and water vapour in the air, which does something to the quality of the sun.

The best holidays I've ever had in Italy have all been in Rome. There's a hotel I used to stay in, the Hotel d'Inghilterra, which has an extraordinary view over the roofs of Rome, and was very romantic. It used to be rather bohemian, and unsmart. I don't like luxury hotels, glass, chic and glitter.

When I was a child, we had West Country holidays in Devon, Cornwall or Somerset. We nearly always stayed on a farm, so I associate holidays with the private pleasures of discovering a place at close hand by walking around it, not always moving on. My father was terribly knowledgeable about plants and birds, and walking with him has been a strong influence on me. I can't beat that attitude of zip around a gallery, sit down in a square and get on a bus to the next place. You need to be in a place and feel its spirit.

I love ruins, I have a terrible weakness for semi-ruined houses. I like things in a state of decay and collapse, if they're still disregarded. I remember travelling in Turkey and going to Pergamon, where, in those days, virtually nobody went. There were no signs or facilities for tourists. It was just heat and dust and old stones. I love that, trying to work out how the city fitted together, how the temple functioned, who lived there. It just sets your imagination going.

When I lived in America, I travelled round nearly every state, and I would very much like to go back to New Mexico and Colorado, which has a strange, wonderful landscape. It's between the desert and the Rockies, and many of the smaller canyons are as spectacular as the Grand Canyon: indeed, more so, because their scale is more easily assimilated. One was completely red. There was just this red, red dust and spectacular cactuses, strange cave dwellings and adobe houses. It is Nevajo territory, and you can glimpse the Native American culture. Ted Hughes wrote several poems about it: they capture the strange, resonant, frightening landscape. He feels the gods are very close in that landscape and I think he's right about that - it's quite threatening, and therefore exciting."

Sally Beauman talked to Clare Colvin.

The Sunday Times, 16.3.03.