Author Lorna Cook toured the Highlands with her family to research her latest historical novel The Forbidden Promise.

THEY say write about what you know but if you've never been to the Highlands, how are you supposed to convey its magnificence, the beauty of its glorious peaks and glass-like cavernous lochs? Scotland is so utterly beloved, but there's just something that elicits eye-widening excitement at the mention of visiting the Highlands in particular.

A location is often a character in any novel. If anything the real danger lies in not letting the location take over. In my first novel The Forgotten Village, I chose the real location of Tyneham in Dorset and the intriguing history surrounding its requisition in Second World War, so in terms of traversing the lengths of the British Isles I couldn't really have got much further away from the south west for my second novel The Forbidden Promise, which is set in the ever-beautiful Highlands.

The Highlands in the depths of winter is a dramatic and different place to the Highlands when the warmth of the summer sun appears and casts its rays over tall pines, rugged mountains, clumps of gorgeous heather and thistles spring forth with purple flowers crowning. Am I getting carried away? See how easy it is for a writer to wax lyrical about this part of the world?

I'm becoming rather adept at organising research trips that tick boxes for my entire family. For me there were the lochs, mountains, castles and plethora of beautiful towns to visit, from which I could drink in the scenery and atmosphere. For my children there was all of that. (I've brainwashed them into believing a fun day out involves country houses and play trails. I know my days are numbered on this until they grow into teenagers and wise up but for now I'm met with near-zero resistance.)

And for the days when I could see them growing confused. 'Another castle, Mum? Really?' I was ready with, 'We might see the Loch Ness Monster on a boat tour later. And tomorrow we're going on the Harry Potter train.' Both suggestions were met with gasps of excitement. 

For the husband I promised him a week at Canadian-style eco lodge complex Eagle Brae, in a truly amazing luxury lodge. I am notoriously ridiculously picky about accommodation to the point where I will look for days, cost up all the criteria I would ideally like including separate bedrooms for the children (otherwise they talk all night and we all suffer the next day!).

READ MORE: How one woman's Hebridean odyssey helped her heal after mother's death

Then I'll look at the earth shattering cost, click close on my web browser and book absolutely nothing. But not this time! Eagle Brae had everything, including an animal feeding time for the children, a welcome hamper, bottles of wine and two nights of delicious homemade one-pot dinners, which we all devoured. They'll even do your food shop for you from a tick-list you provide a few days earlier. And then they unpack it before you arrive. The dream!

Watching how Eagle Brae was managed (excellently) gave me food for thought for how I'd manage a fictional hotel, which is part of the plot of The Forbidden Promise. I'm not sure I'd be any good, but thankfully my characters know what they're doing.

The highlight for the children was two separate cabins built into the fabric of the wall, which they found enchanting, complete with curtains they could pull closed around their individual bunk rooms. It felt like indoor camping, which meant bed times were a thing of wonder, leaving us grown ups tranquil in the peace and quiet as we sipped wine in front of the log burner or out on the super-sized terrace staring at the peaceful green tranquility of the Glen Affric mountains and listening to the free flowing sounds of the River Glass as it meandered by in the distance.

On our first night a stag, complete with staggeringly large antlers, appeared at our window while I was busy loading the dishwasher. I raised the kids from their bunks and watched their little faces as they saw what I saw. We stood in complete silence watching it eat; the children unsure how this majestic creature which looked like a reindeer could be out and about in the middle of summer and not at Christmas time. We saw him and his kin almost every day in our weeklong stay. Magical.

I'll admit knowing I could sip wine from the terrace of our lodge looking out over Glen Affric from the largest lodge I'm ever likely to sleep in and then curl up on the sofa in front of the log burner did fill me with glee. As did the sauna featured in our bathroom, which the husband and I used when the kids were tucked up in bed.

Eagle Brae was a glorious base from which to explore and explore we did. There was no rhyme or reason to our explorations. We picked beautiful locations from a map and went. No drive was wasted as we cut up and down past the glory of Loch Ness on a near-daily basis.

A fictional loch features heavily in my latest novel The Forbidden Promise. In my novel it's part of the estate of a house called Invermoray. The tourist in me has always been intrigued by the concept of the Loch Ness Monster so we climbed aboard the Cruise Loch Ness boat tour and lapped up the talk from the knowledgeable guide.

READ MORE: How one woman's Hebridean odyssey helped her heal after mother's death

We watched the sonar with wide eyes, ready for a strange blip to emerge that never quite did, and listened intently on hearing there are at least three things in the depths of Loch Ness that are each larger than a great white shark. The general consensus was to leave them alone and it was universally agreed onboard that it was right to have banned hunting for Nessie in the water. The Cruise Loch Ness tour runs throughout the day most days and if you've not been – do.

The children were rewarded for their non-sighting of Nessie with a trip aboard the Harry Potter Train or the Jacobite Steam Train to give it its full name. My eldest daughter who is eight was delighted as we crossed the Glenfinnan Viaduct and she was able to see the smoke plume from the steam engine, making her feel as if she was Hermione on her way to Hogwarts.

I also got a thrill and spent a few hours at the end of the line in Mallaig looking out towards Rum and Skye, eating fish and chips, shopping in the marvellous second hand bookshop and watching a seal play among the fishing boats before we returned home on the train.

I permitted myself three castles, each one an entire day out. We enjoyed the joys of the gardens at Cawdor Castle, its Shakespearian links playing into my English A-Level memory with aplomb. Only a few rooms are open to the public but the gardens are delightful.

Then there was the drive through the peaks and dips of the Cairngorms to reach the stunningly perfect white turreted Blair Castle. There's something incomparable about a long drive like that to be doubly rewarded with a kilted piper standing by the entrance.

But it was Dunrobin Castle that truly took my breath away. If you've yet to lay eyes on it, think Cinderella's castle and you're somewhere near to the perfection that is Dunrobin – the most northerly of Scotland's 'great houses'. It is not a house. It is very much a fairytale castle.

Talking to the guides is a joy and the images dotted around of how the castle used to be, fuelled my mind. I couldn't get enough of hearing how it became a First World War hospital and every detail, including how a large curtain was set up in the grand hall behind which they kept the nursing equipment, helped with scenes in The Forbidden Promise when the house temporarily becomes a hospital.

I loved every detail of Dunrobin. Before this visit the Great War had held no particular interest, but now I'm obsessed. So do excuse me because I need to go and plan my next novel, which may or may not feature a fairytale castle in one of the most northerly points in Scotland.

READ MORE: How one woman's Hebridean odyssey helped her heal after mother's death

With the Highlands I have fallen unexpectedly, madly in love. I've left my heart there but I know I'll be back to collect it soon.

The Forbidden Promise by Lorna Cook is published by Avon, priced £7.99. Editors note: Please follow the latest government advice on coronavirus regarding non-essential travel and enjoy the Highlands from afar.