THIS is how the story has usually been told. A young woman, burned by her failure to become a pop star, meets a boy at the tail end of the 1960s. They are both unconventional people who have a dream together. They find a horse and cart and set off on the road from London to the Outer Hebrides on a grand romantic quest, a journey that takes them two years. The girl makes an album about the journey that no one hears but later becomes a cult success.

Over the years the story has been told and retold, burnished up as one of the great hippy dream narratives.

Some of it is even true.

But this is Vashti Bunyan’s story. And after half a century she has finally decided to tell it herself, to reclaim it from all the other versions that have been told over the years.

It’s a story that she has wanted to tell for her kids, to explain to them what their mother had gone through. But maybe it is also an attempt to reclaim her origin story for herself

“Very much so,” Bunyan admits. “The story of the wagon journey has been told by quite a few people. But I never felt it was quite right. It was so romanticised. Because it is a romantic story, and I can’t get away from that. And I didn’t want to completely burst that bubble.

“But maybe a bit,” she says, smiling.

February 2022 and Vashti Bunyan is sitting in her beautiful home in Edinburgh, where she has lived in with her partner Al Campbell for the last 29 years. Campbell is off making us some tea and Bunyan is talking to me about Wayward, the new book she has written, the music she has made and the life she has led. She is 76 and yet remains a delicate beauty, sharp bone structure under silver hair.

But hers is a story that is about durability not fragility.

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It begins in the 1950s and the first flush of pop. Bunyan, born in 1945, the youngest of three, fell hard for pop music. She even dreamed of pop stardom.

“Oh, it was all I wanted. That kind of music and to be able to sing it. I wanted it from really quite early on, probably 14, 15, whenever the TV shows started happening – Oh Boy and Six Five Special – I wanted to be a pop singer. It was everything to me.”

Bunyan even made a go of it. She signed up with Andrew Loog Oldham, the manager of the Rolling Stones. Jagger and Richards even wrote her first single, Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind, relegating her own song to the B side, much to her displeasure.

But soon she realised that Loog Oldham saw her as a replacement for Marianne Faithfull and that was not how she saw herself at all. Not that it mattered. Soon the phone stopped ringing and her pop career was over before it started.

Looking back, she says, she lacked the ability to put herself forward. “I just thought I wasn’t up to it, which was probably true.”

Life became a struggle. She was prescribed antidepressants. Her mum had a stroke. Her father said that her dog Blue had to go. She took the dog and left home herself. She and Blue joined Robert Lewis in the summer of 1968 and the idea of the journey in a horse and cart was hatched.

Was it a romantic idea to begin with? “It’s hard to remember, looking back, whether I thought it was a romantic idea or something I had to do because I didn’t have any other choice at the time.

“No money, mother ill, father desperate. I had no other means of support, really.”

Bunyan had been told throughout her teens and into her twenties to be a secretary or a nurse. “And I didn’t want to do any of those. So, it was as if it was the only choice I could make was to live outside of all of that.”

Were you running away?


From what? “Disapproval. I think because most of my family had conformed and most of my friends had conformed and the fact that I hadn’t made me an outsider and made me feel like an outsider. And so why try to be like everyone else? Because I wasn’t.”

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There were darker currents too. “With the music not getting anywhere I did go into a terrible nosedive. I’ve tried not to call it what it definitely was, which was post-traumatic stress syndrome. But I would not have had any kind of thought of then. Or depression, or any of those words that are so common now. I would not have applied that to myself. But clearly, that was what was going on. I couldn’t get up in the morning.

“Of course, my father threw me out but, also, I needed to keep my dog. I haven’t really said it in the book, but he did in many ways save my life. When I came close to that terrible, terrible despair my dog did keep me going.”

Shortly after her mother died and grief was also thrown into the mix.

But by then she had started on her journey with Lewis, drawn by one horsepower (the horse in this case being called Bess). They had chosen their course and they stuck to it. This is the key to the story.

“I didn’t feel it at the time, but, yes, when I look back, I was very determined. I think I came across as a wispy, weedy person. But I wasn’t. I carried on through it and I was very determined that I would live the way I wanted to.”

The goal had been to reach a commune set up by Donovan on Skye. But when they arrived after more than a year’s travelling there was no room for them. But by then it didn’t matter.

“By the time we got there we had changed so much. It didn’t worry me at all because we had become so much stronger during the journey, so much more aware of what we were and what our abilities were and what our … vision was I suppose. And it was a shared vision, and we did carry on and we found that vision on Berneray.”

But Berneray was unwelcoming, and Bunyan discovered she was pregnant and in the end they didn’t stay.

"I think we might have carried n a bit longer had I not been six months’ pregnant by the time we left there and I was getting worried at the idea of a helicopter taking me to Inverness."

In many ways the book is an account of kindness. The kindness of strangers willing to help a young couple out as they travelled.” I think some people really enjoyed what we were doing and celebrated and helped us.”

Shortly after moving to Berneray, Bunyan returned to London for a short time and recorded an album with Joe Boyd. Just Another Diamond Day, a collection of songs she had written on the journey. She was unhappy with the experience and the album Just Another Diamond Day released in 1970 did nothing. As a result, she couldn’t listen to it for decades. Couldn’t listen to any music, actually.

“I didn’t sing to my kids. Any music there was, they brought into the house. It was something that I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

There were more wanderings after Berneray. The couple travelled to Ireland before coming back and settling in Stirlingshire where Bunyan, as well as raising three children, started a new life restoring and selling old furniture. That part of her life sounds like pure Bargain Hunt, I tell her.

“It really was. It was so exciting to find something in a barn – an old dresser that had a tractor engine on it – to take it away, clean it up and sell it. Most of it went to America.”

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The point of all this is that Bunyan made things work for her. She found her own way, structured her life the way she wanted it to be and raised her kids in that structure.

“Which they, in a lot of ways, had to dismantle and make their own idea of it. It was quite hard being a hippy kid in Kinbuck.”

Were you making their clothes? “Yes. I think the worst one was the crisps. I made crisps in some deep fat and put them in an envelope to take to school. They will never forgive me for that.”

Lewis and her eventually split up. Life changes. She eventually moved to Edinburgh to be with Campbell 29 years ago. He reintroduced her to music, “for which I will always be grateful.”

How does she look back on the younger version of herself, I wonder? Which one, she asks?

“The one who was dreaming of pop stardom? And that’s what I wanted. I definitely wanted that life. And when I didn’t get it, I blamed myself.

“And that’s what took me off into that other person who rejected everything that had gone before and started to try to make a different kind of life. I’m really proud of her. I’m proud of both of them. Well, I’m not so proud of the one who gave up. But I’m quite proud of the one who carried on, because I did. I carried on right the way through until Robert left and that kind of life ended.”

Just Another Diamond Day was rereleased in 2001 and suddenly Bunyan’s music began to get the attention it deserved. She has made another two albums in the years since, Lookaftering and Heartleap, both framing her featherlight voice and supple song writing. Both a reminder that strength is not necessarily about rigidity.

You could say the same about her life. Vashti Bunyan has had to bend over the years, but she has never broken.

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Wayward by Vashti Bunyan is published by White Rabbit on Thursday, £16.99