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!

drained

snow and ice on the loch

Beautiful isn’t it? Yet, I felt panicked when I saw the loch was being drained. I stood like an angry lorax at the side, pointing at trees that had been felled to carve an ugly canal in the bank, asking irate questions: Why? When will it be fixed? Why?

It didn’t look quite like that then.

mud banks

The freshness of the change was jarring. A conversation made things better. It wasn’t mindless destruction. There was talk of a loch-improving grant. There will be an island to encourage wildlife. There are to be oxidising plants to improve the water quality.

Swans started spending the night in the new shallows of the loch:

whooper swans over the loch

They left a feathery tide:

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Sunrise still happens.

sunrise on the shore of the loch

Clouds still gather in dramatic formations.

clouds

I walk out onto the frozen floor of the loch and examine long-hidden tree branches, pine cones, old boat jetties and numerous wine bottles (who?). I like getting to know the space in this new way, looking back at the shore, seeing it from a different angle. Nature doesn’t take long to smooth over the tracks of human intervention. There’s been mist, there’s been ice and now there’s snow.

What will Spring look like? I’m not sure, but there’s going to be beauty. There always is.

snow on the loch at sunrsie

shadows and light at the beach

st combs beach

We know extremes of light and dark in Scotland. At the height of summer it never gets properly dark; around the time of the winter solstice it barely gets light. But just now, in Autumn, the low sun illuminates spaces and objects from an angle that highlights both shadows and glorious brightness. Oh, the photo-taking opportunities!

River running into the sea at St. Combs:

river

White frothy waves crash against grey rocks:

waves

More rocks and sand and sky and a bonfire all ready to burn:

rocks

The break in the clouds is brief, the sand darkens under a blue and white patchwork sky:

clouds

Culloden and Clava

Macduff, anchor and church

A bright blue sky day. Good for a journey up the coast and into the past. Above: I stopped to take a picture of the anchor on the hill in Macduff.

A couple of hours and many miles later, the skies had clouded. Culloden Moor:

Culloden Battlefield

The visitor centre at Culloden is high-tech, swish, clean and pristine, all the things the bloody battle of the past was not. The contrast always gets me. I sit on a soft red sofa looking out at the battlefield, eating my delicious lentil soup and enjoying decadent chocolate cake in comfort and warmth. Compare that to being one of the Jacobite clansmen, having marched across boggy rough terrain in the dark all night, exhausted, starving, about to be slaughtered in a fight so unfairly matched that it was all over in one hour. What would he think of Culloden Moor today and the nice day out it provides for families and tourists?

Out on the battlefield, things feel more authentic, more memorial. Red flags mark the government line:

flag

Stones are placed over mass graves:

clans stone field of the English

Old Leanach Cottage is dated about 1760, several years after the battle, but is said to stand on the site of an earlier cottage that was used as a field hospital for government troops:

cottage

People leave offerings:

tartan offering

After a little look at the peaceful, cud-chewing, Highland cattle, it’s off to the nearby Clava Cairns:

Victorian Grove

Here ancient burial cairns (estimated at about 4000 years old) are surrounded by circles of stone and trees. It’s the perfect peaceful place to visit after Culloden.

Clava Cairns

You can walk right into two of the three cairns, though the entrance tunnel would have been covered in the past: you would have had to crawl.

into the cairn

Some of the standing stones are high and shaped, rather like enormous graves:

standing stone rectangular

Let’s finish with one of the aforementioned Highland Coos. There’s four of them in a field next to Culloden.

Highland Cow

A Tower, a Chapel, a Kitchen and the Sky

the wine tower

I mentioned a visit to The Wine Tower, Fraserburgh’s oldest building, in a previous post here. During a recent Doors Open Day it was… open! Inside we go:

wine tower interior

There was no humming and hawing from our guide as there sometimes is in official written histories of the place. The topmost room of the wine tower was a 16th century (post Reformation) Catholic Chapel owned by the Frasers of the nearby castle. The carving you can see above depicts Christ’s hands and feet. The one below is the Fraser crest, held by an ostrich.

Fraser crest

There seems to have been little or no exploration of the two lower rooms, the middle one can only be reached via this hatch:

trap door!

The old castle kitchens were also open for dark and creepy viewing:

15192168309_056bffa029_z meat hook

Further up the coast on the way to Rattray beach, we came upon another church. The 13th century St. Mary’s Chapel had these very interesting steps. I skipped up them…

pirate steps

and down the other side…

smugglers steps

I later found out that they are known as ‘Pirate steps’. Pirates and smugglers were not permitted to pass through the gates of a kirkyard, but presumably were allowed to attend church.

Let’s end on an Autumnal painted sky sunset.

sunset

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: