Over the Sea to the Fairies

The Isle of Skye. That’s the Old Man of Storr in the hills above, a beautiful rock formation visible for miles around. The island is a place of fairies: there’s a castle and a glen and a bridge… but first, back to another rock formation, specifically the one spied from the bedroom window of our holiday house.

‘That’s an interesting rocky outcrop,’ said I to husband.

‘Aye, we should walk up to it,’ he replied.

So we did.

And there was Dun Hallin, an Iron Age broch we had intended visiting but thought would be hard to find. Duns, or brochs, were a complex form of roundhouse, probably defensive, precursors to castles.

I loved Dun Hallin and the surprise of finding it like that. And the wonderful views of Trumpan Point.

Trumpan Kirkyard held surprise too. An ancient standing stone, Clach Deuchainn, the Trial Stone:

Trial stones were used to try a person. In this case if the accused could put their finger in the hole located on the stone while blindfold they were innocent. The stone is undoubtedly far older than this use; it is also known as the Priest Stone and the Heaven Stone.

There were some interesting graves too; these, and the gruesome history of the church can be read about here.

But back to the fairies. Firstly the Fairy Glen, an unusual land formation, which sadly does not have any old fairy folklore associated with it but it does feel otherworldly when you walk round it.

The rocky peak is known as Castle Ewen:

But it’s Dunvegan Castle we need for fairy legends!

Displayed inside the castle, so no photos, is the ancient and tattered Fairy Flag. There are many stories and traditions surrounding this relic and its origins. The tale favoured in the information provided to visitors is the one in which the Chief of Clan Macleod marries a fairy. The couple have a child together but the fairy knows she has to return to her people in Fairyland. She leaves the magical flag, imbued with protective powers, wrapped round the baby, and this she does a few miles away at the Fairy Bridge:

There are also Fairy Pools on Skye but we did not get to them this trip. We did manage a quick visit to Kilt Rock:

We also took in the Museum of Island Life, one of the few places on the island with good mobile internet which meant I was distracted by a sudden barrage of Twitter notifications!

Near to the museum is the memorial to Flora MacDonald:

One more fairy mention: the house we stayed in was previously owned by the writer Aileen P. Roberts, and full of books, so I read her novella Fairy Fire while there which was set in Skye and surprising and perfect.

The sun rises over Dun Hallin:

And sets at Trumpan Point:

Goodbye Skye! We’ll be back!

dancing in the rain

Chanonry

I skirted round the edges of Aberdeen on a rainy day in search of bright spots and green corners. Above is The Chanonry, a cobbled street in Old Aberdeen. Cobbles are called ‘cassies’ up here, a word I had long forgotten until I was reminded of it on Twitter.

I ran the grass maze in the Cruickshank botanic garden:

grass maze

…then caught sight of the Duncan Rice library – ooh, research! – where I found a dolphin (others previously blogged here):

dol (480x640)

He’s a Doric dolphin that one, Doric being the dialect spoken in these parts. We do have some great words and phrases:

Quine ~ girl. Loon ~ boy.Doric dolphin

Flycup ~ a quick cup of tea, often served with a ‘piece’ (biscuit) or if you’re very lucky, a ‘funcy piece’ which might involve chocolate, cream or jam.

Fit like? ~ How are you doing? The accepted answer is ‘Nae bad, fit like yersel?’

 

The Winter Gardens at Duthie Park are an excellent place to visit when the weather is damp. I remember going there as a child with my Grandmother. She would have loved these colours:

archway

14829367500_63b880f5ff_z  the Victorian corridor

A group of people huddled in the entrance hall, clinging to a vain hope that the rain might go off. I ran across the grass to the bandstand and was immediately reminded of a scene in The Sound of Music (16 going on 17) and indulged in some similar dancing. I am fortunate to have such open, non-judgemental people in my life. They joined in. We had all forgotten about the audience at the door who had quite a good view of the bandstand:

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Having provided enough entertainment for one day, we headed home for a chocolate based fly cup and funcy piece.

memorial

Cowdray Hall

Aberdeen’s Cowdray Hall doubles as a war memorial and a venue for classical concerts. I visited it recently during a ‘Let’s do all the free museums!’ day; the marble hall is accessible via The Art Gallery.

Leaving grand places behind, I journeyed on to The Tolbooth Museum, a 17th and 18th century gaol.  Unlike the war memorial, the prison exhibits the dark nature of its origin for all to see. The small cells are stifling and scary. They smell stale. There are a few of those terrifying pretend people; some of them talk, regaling you with tales of their mistreatment.

leg fetters 14664614637_302ae8f2e2_z

The 18th century record of prisoners reveals many debtors, a murder spree and one intriguing entry of unspecified ‘outrages’:

outrages

An interesting fact gleaned behind the bars and bolts and padlocks of the jail was that women accused of witchcraft were once imprisoned in the steeple of St. Nicholas Kirk. Out the door I went…

door

… and into the present day serenity of the Kirk (open to visitors in the afternoons). The steeple sits just above the part pictured below, those boards on the left display a detailed history of  the church,  no mention of witches:

church

There is excavation happening in the East part of the building, lots of skeletons have been uncovered:

archaeology

The 12th century St. John’s Chapel houses a memorial to those killed in the Piper Alpha oil disaster. These amazing chairs are part of it:

carved furniture

Window depicting the history of Aberdeen (paid for by the oil and gas industry):

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I walked down steps and cobbled streets in search of comfort, hot chocolate and books:

research

Unfortunately there’s not much comfort to be found in researching The Witchcraft Act and all that followed. The Witches stone at Witch Hill near Fraserburgh:

witches stone

It is said that witches were tied to the stone and burnt. The landowner questions whether this was the case as no documentation exists on the subject. But such evidence was often destroyed, or omitted from written history, after the burnings and ‘dookings’ and other well specified outrages against those who were different in some way had ended. People were ashamed. And where’s the memorial in that?

I need dance to calm me down. 70 years since D-Day, BalletBoyz pay tribute to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives with a specially commissioned short film for Channel4:

serendipity and stones and a little dance

seagull

The first serendipitous happening of the day was the haar (Scottish word for mist that rolls in off the sea) and its silvery filtering of the sunlight. Then there was the seagull that flew by as I took the photo.

Inland we travelled, to bright sunshine and summer colours and the stones of Castle Fraser. I’ve made the picture below clickable to a larger version; to the left are two standing stones and to the right, in the distance by the trees, is Balgorkar stone circle.

standing stones and a circle

I thought we’d have to just view it from the side of the field, but no, some naughty person had trampled a pathway through the crop, so we did no further damage by walking it:

illicit path

Recumbent and flankers:

stones

On to Castle Fraser itself, where I was meant to be doing research for writing on heraldry, historic dates and architecture. This took the form of running about taking photos:

Castle Fraser

Love the rooftop:

turrets

Then, after picnicking, with only half the day gone, we decided to head to ruinous Kildrummy Castle a few miles further on.

Kildrummy

In the reception was an old friend who I hadn’t seen for years. There was hugging and much talking. Other people got fed up waiting… but it was good. We kept saying it was amazing. My friend is currently doing a PhD in history, some of our conversation became spontaneous research. We finally moved to look round:

great hall

I do appreciate the use of the adverb ‘treacherously’ there; without it we might think Osbourne the Blacksmith to have merely made a mistake or had an unfortunate accident such as tripping with a pot of molten metal or dropping a freshly forged sword…

window

The day ended with a visit to Broomend of Crichie stone circle, Pictish stone in the middle:

Broomend of Crichie

This blogpost is ending in a rather unrelated way, with some ballet. It’s beautiful and romantic; only two minutes long. Scottish Ballet performing at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow earlier this week:

You can watch the entire ceremony here on the BBC iplayer, ballet is 1 hour and 27 minutes in.

Dolphins and Leopards

Bon Accord shopping centre

There’s a public art project going on in Aberdeen for the next ten weeks: Wild Dolphins

Fifty life size beasties lurk in streets, parks, museums and shopping centres. My twitter stream is full of them; I excitedly tweeted and scanned (there’s an app) my way round the city so will try to post mainly different pictures here. This first one is a collage of Aberdeen’s Leopard magazine, I love its eye below.

Aye Aye min

The next two are near Marischal College, previously part of Aberdeen University, the building now houses Aberdeen City Council, which means I can’t wander in to look at the mummies in the museum anymore. Those are its spires behind this dotty boy:

on top of st. nicholas centre

Glad they’ve kept the old gate though, seems suitably forbidding and ‘keepy-outy’:

gate

In front of the College sits a dolphin called ‘Bon Accord Beauty’; he displays the city coat of arms with its three castles and two leopards (more on it here). To the right is Provost Skene’s house, closed just now due to the surrounding demolition. Shame, I could have done with a cup of tea in the dungeon-esque cellar cafe.

dolphin

On we go, past the leopards of Union Bridge…

leopards

…into the Victorian amphitheartre of Union Terrace Gardens, where there are two dolphins. The statue of William Wallace looks down from above, in front of His Majesty’s Theatre. You may have to look hard to spot the leopards in this photo but they are there, as, less fortunately, is the rear end of a park attendant.

union terrace gardens

Finally, we head off to the beach to look at nautical creations:

octopus

One inspired by the fauna of the riverside:

Riven Don

And, contrary to the title though it is, let’s end on the beautiful detail of the dolphin’s nose: moths.

moths

The Great Tapestry of Scotland

first pioneers to Scotland

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is a beautiful trail through history and, at 143 metres long, the longest tapestry in the world. Its soft sewn artworks filled three large rooms of Aberdeen Art Gallery and photography was allowed. Yes. I was happy. May you be too.

Despite the earliness of my visit, the gallery was crowded; I was not quite so happy about the angle of this next pic. Lovely, lovely stone circles though:

stone circles

Some of Scotland’s past is sad and terrible:

witches

Glencoe

war

Happier happenings:

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‘Fiction is to grown men what play is to the child.’ RLS

Robert Louis Stevenson

and strange ones…

Dolly the Sheep

There was something calm and nourishing about walking round this exhibition. Whether it was the gentle and warm art of needlework that hung everywhere in the rooms – there was also a lady demonstrating sewing techniques – or the many different styles from the 1000+ stitchers marking the constant change of the world, I don’t know. The overall feeling was reflective yet hopeful: happy.

The Tapestry is touring , mainly in Scotland at the moment but other UK and overseas venues are planned, see the website for details.

Great Tapestry