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!

Here we go a-castle-ing!

Delgatie Castle

Yes, it’s another post about castles! I do seem to find it difficult to write anything without one, or three, as in this case. The first, above, is Delgatie Castle, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire. I met one of the quines there last week and we walked the woods and gardens and encountered these little Shetland ponies looking as if they were waiting for the tearoom to open. From there, we went on to the Auld Kirk-yard in Turriff to see the grave of the late owner of the castle, Captain John Hay:

grave stone

And then, on the other side of Turriff, the beautiful River Deveron:

River Deveron

Let us pass through a door to another day and another castle…

door at Craigievar

Craigievar:

Craigievar Castle

Near Alford, this beauty is rumoured to be the source for Walt Disney’s fairy-tale castle. It is wonderfully pink and turreted and full of colourful ghost stories. Red John Forbes is supposed to have forced his daughter’s lover, a Gordon and hence an enemy, to jump to his death from The Blue Room window. The window is now hidden behind a headboard but you can make out light through a pinhole. Both Red John and the Gordon boy are said to haunt the castle.

Photos were allowed up on the roof!

the roof of Craigievar

But it’s time to skip across the stone mushrooms…

stone mushrooms at Craigievar

and on to: Corgarff.

Corgarff Castle

A bit more out of the way, near Tarland, but still in Aberdeenshire, is the fortress that is Corgarff Castle. Originally home to the Forbes, it was then burnt by the Gordons and left derelict. After the battle of Culloden the tower house was gutted and rebuilt as barracks for government soldiers (Redcoats).

Corgarff

Inside the star shaped perimeter:

coutryard of Corgarff

This is how the soldiers’ barracks room would have looked in 1750:

18th century barracks room

And that’s it. Off out the door you go, but do come back soon!

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Gight Castle and the Hagberry Pot

gight castle

Gight Castle may be one of the lesser known castles of Aberdeenshire but it has a rich, if somewhat bleak, history with many of its owners dying prematurely. Built in the 15th century by the Gordon family, it was the ancestral home of Lord Byron. A ghostly piper is said to haunt the ruins. The nearby Hagberry Pot in the River Ythan is said to be bottomless and full of treasure!

The quines took a walk. We started in Methlick and strolled through the Braes of Gight woods, across fields and along roads. This was the long way to do it: there is a car park relatively near to the castle. First view:

Gight through the trees

The castle was surrounded by barbed wire and there were ‘enter at your own risk’ signs. In we went:

interior of Gight Castle

Great windows:

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We were careful not to wake Sleeping Beauty. Or the ghostly piper.

ivy

I was most impressed by this brave little tree:

tree

Then, taking the circular route, we headed off down to the river and tried to work out which bit was the Hagberry Pot. Nowhere looked very bottomless or a good hiding place for jewels, but this seemed the most likely site by the bridge:

Hagberry Pot

The 7th Laird of Gight threw his jewels in there when the castle was sacked by the Covenanters. The poor diver who was sent down to retrieve them floated back up to the top in four pieces. There is a more involved version of this story here, featuring the devil. We did not go in.

The walk back along the river was pleasant, if a bit boggy, with glimpses of the Castle up on the hill.

gight5

an t-Eilean Dubh (The Black Isle)

The Black Isle is a peninsula near Inverness in The Highlands of Scotland. The towns and villages of the ‘Isle’ boast many excellent museums, hotels and shops, there’s castles too, making a quick drive over the Kessock Bridge well worthwhile. Dismantled oil rigs can be seen on the Cromarty Firth side, as can dolphins sometimes.

Cromarty

Inland there are older places, prettier places. We took a wrong turn while searching for The Clootie Well, an ancient, possibly Celtic, shrine and then spent some time wandering among trees.

pines

Ah Ha! We were on the right track:

cloots

People hang cloots (cloths) beside the well and in the surrounding woodland to ask for wishes or healing. As the cloot disintegrates, healing occurs or wishes come true.

hillside

It’s an unusual but peaceful place; despite the modernity of many of the hanging items, the well feels timeless. The number and variety of cloots is impressive. They extend right down the hill to the roadside.

the well

A few miles on there is The Fairy Glen, another beautiful woodland, this time with waterfalls. Children used to dress a pool within the glen to keep the fairies happy.

waterfall

Coins are pressed into a dead tree, by some for wishes or luck, but in older tradition these tree coins are an offering to the fairies to ask them not to exchange babies for changelings.

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The atmosphere of The Fairy Glen is joyful; it’s easy to imagine fairies dancing and flying and giggling over the pools and streams.

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For more information see The Black Isle Community website or Black-Isle.info

A Little Autumn Love

Buchan pano

Golden mornings follow bright sunrises and the low sun does things to the sky:

pitsligo

Leaves lie among patches and lines of light…

leaf

lineoflight

and rainbows form over the Witches Stone (Forres).

witchesstone

three circles

Drum Castle

On our last visit to Drum Castle it was raining, so on the way to explore circles, we took a walk through the gardens. They were filled with the bright sights and scents of summer, the castle peeking round corners and through trees everywhere we went.

medieval tower

Next up: Cullerlie Stone Circle, unusual for Aberdeenshire in that it is not a recumbent circle. There’s only one photo as we were distracted by an elderly dog from the farm that wanted us to throw a stick.

Cullerlie Stone Circle

More animals awaited at Sunhoney; an excited herd of cows ran alongside the path with us…

path to Sunhoney

and then jostled and jiggled for the best view at the perimeter of the circle enclosure.

lineup of cows

I fear we were a disappointment. There were signs that other visitors may have danced (trampled grass) and provided snacks (rolled oats all over the place) whereas we mainly sat quietly and took photos.

Sunhoney Stone Circle

The recumbent stone at Sunhoney has many carved cup marks but lichen and light conditions were not helpful in capturing them on camera (note rolled oats though).

cupmarks

The cows gave us doleful looks as we left and did not follow us back down the path. There were no animals to greet us at Midmar Kirk Circle which is situated in a churchyard.

Midmar

While it was common for churches to be built on older sacred sites, it is unusual for the originals to have been left intact (almost, there are a few stones missing).

standing stone and graves

church and stones

Finishing with an apology to the cows – we’ll try harder next time – and the view from the roof of Drum:

window in Drum Castle roof

The Bridge of Alvah

The Bridge

As a child, the task of walking to the 18th century Bridge of Alvah, near Banff in Aberdeenshire, was presented as something akin to travelling to Mordor: a journey of such length and difficulty as to render it impossible to your average mortal.

top of bridge

The walk from Duff House (a place with easy parking, swings, art gallery, tearoom and gift shop) to Alvah is actually comprised of just over two miles of well maintained track.

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The other fact about Alvah recalled from childhood is that it is a place of great natural beauty. That is true.

River Deveron

The bridge stands huge and majestic – it is a bit ‘Lord of the Rings’ after all – over a deep gorge and the River Deveron.

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I was most intrigued by the Gothic window (visible in first and last pics) and the many little hooks, just about discernible below.

side of the bridge

Googling revealed that there was a room for a toll collector within the bridge which explains the window, though how he got in there is not so clear. Either the door has been sealed or there was something Rapunzel-like going on. Local legend has it that the room was used by the Earl to entertain young ladies so perhaps it was kept semi-secret. The hooks remain a mystery.

In summary: go visit the Bridge of Alvah; it’s well worth the two mile trek. Not an Orc in sight!

bridge from below

See the earlier post Mausoleum for more on the grounds of Duff House.

Update: we revisited the bridge in Autumn and were given access the Earl’s secret room. It’s beautiful.

earlsroom (540x540)

earlsroom2

windows and doors

courtyard view

Drum Castle has lots of them, from small, dark hidey-holes…

little window

to windows and doors that reveal where you are.

pink castle

chapel door

On this day there was torture in the dungeon.

a Scold's Bridle

A knight in the medieval great hall:

armour

A walk on the roof:

castle rooftop

Soup by the old fireplace in the kitchen…

range

and unrelenting rain.

Drum Castle

Pitsligo Castle and Peathill Kirk

Pitsligo Castle

Crows nest in the old keep of Pitsligo Castle near the village of Rosehearty in Aberdeenshire. Dating from 1424, it’s an impressive and atmospheric place. The Forbes family who built it, staunch Jacobite supporters, lost their lands and titles after the battle of Culloden. The castle was then ravaged by Hanoverian soldiers and fell into ruin. Read more on the Pitsligo Castle Trust website.

The oldest part of the castle, the keep or tower:

the towerhouse tower

Many of the rooms round the rubble filled courtyard remain intact. The evening sun added bright effects on this visit.

gun hole

A large bird flew out of here. It was all very ‘Game of Thrones’…

dark room

Here and there the sky shows through chimneys, windows and decayed stairwells.

the kitchen chimney

window

stairway

The gateway:

daffodils

sungate

Just up the hill is Peathill Kirk where old and new towers stand side by side (and phone reception is great).

phone tower, bell tower

Ghosts of Jacobites lurk here too.

grave

plaque

And who knows what lurks underground? It’s locked…

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The two sites make a trip up Peathill most worthwhile; they would been used and inhabited at the same time and offer an evocative glimpse into the past.

After writing this post I read up on Lord Pitsligo, whose castle this was and who is buried under the place pictured in that last photo and I wrote some more: In Search of Lord Pitsligo’s Cave and then over on The Witch, The Weird and the Wonderful!

stone circles in winter

Aikey Brae stone circle

I love the way Aikey Brae stone circle seems to materialise as you step out of the dark woodland path. It’s my favourite circle; it feels like my ‘home’ one. I did used to live nearby so have visited it more than any other. This was Boxing Day.

frost and sun

It was bright and frosty and enchanted. There was chocolate.

A few days later, on the way to see a friend, I stopped by Loanhead of Daviot:

Daviot circle

The day was damp and dark and cold. The circle felt calm and steadfast. Timeless.

The double recumbent:

split stone

And then, in the new year, many weathers happened at Berrybrae circle. First there was sun (pictured below) before a gale blew up and brought horizontal sleet…

Berrybrae

Let 2015 hold more timeless enchantment (and chocolate) for us all than horizontal precipitation!