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:

16003772401_3a504d3d9e_z

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):

14664648327_339113ba52_z

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:

A Lighthouse in a Castle, and a Love Story, and the Sky

old lighthouse, new lighthouse

That’s the sixteenth century Kinnaird Castle on the left, it was converted into a lighthouse in 1787 and now houses the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. On the right is the modern automated lighthouse. Quite why they seem to be leaning towards one another I don’t know; I may have been transfixed by the sky when I took the photo (a frequent and increasing occurrence, should I be worried?)

Before we go in, let’s walk on a bit to the wine tower, the oldest building in Fraserburgh. The photo may not be the best of the tower, but look up!

wine tower and sky

Not much is known about the wine tower, other than the obvious use suggested by its name, but it does have this sad story attached to it. Strain your eyes and you will see the red paint on the ground there. Beneath the sky.

(Update: we visited the tower again on Doors Open Day and saw inside! Go here to read about it.)

love story piper laird's daughter

A better photo, I do love the uneven bricks and studded door of the solid little building:

wine tower

Back up the hill to castle walls…

castle walls

and lots of stairs…

spiral staircase

and, ooh look, my Granny had a television just like the one in the lighthouse keeper’s quarters! Interesting use of books.

television from the 70s

Out onto the wider deck:

lighthouse

It’s scary on the top balcony, I can’t keep the skyline straight.

sky

Into the main museum to examine things, some of which feel quite steampunk.

14300955380_d80a282c48_z lenses

We end this trip and post with a walk on the golden sands of Fraserburgh beach, as the colour blue tantalises from above.

beach, it's the sky, of course it's the sky!

London, baby!

Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Lion

My daughter and I took a little trip. It was a heady mix of excitement, fun, sore feet, poignant memories, ballet and food. This post is a veritable photo bomb, so continue reading only if you posses extreme picture viewing fortitude.

Continue reading

I love the beach

view out to sea

I nearly blew over taking this photo, a high speed wind was hurtling through the sea cave, but it was worth it to capture that combination of dark and light and blue.

New Aberdour beach is never busy, being a bit far from main roads and civilisation, but I recommend seeking it out if you are in the area. It has sandy bits for summer picnics and sunbathing, stony bits that noisily orchestrate the retreat of the waves and then the magnificent caves. The almost hidden entrance to the one above:

entrance to the cave above

This next one I always avoid; I once overheard a highly respected educational psychologist, who I knew from my time working in schools, emotionally blackmailing a small child to defecate in there. Such knowledge is off-putting, plus, the roof is rather head-bangingly low…

the pooping cave

But the beach as a whole is lovely. Apart from the car park, there is no sign of the modern day, you could be meandering through any time, any era.

rock pools

Some specific points in history and local folklore are marked. St. Drostan is said to have landed at New Aberdour in 580AD. His well:

St Drostan's Well

And the heroic actions of one Jane Whyte, who rescued fifteen men from a shipwreck in 1886, are commemorated in the remains of her little cottage:

beach 003 (550x399)

When the tide is out there are exceptional rockpools displaying all manner of sea life from minnows to sea slugs, starfish, pipefish and anemones. Tide allowing again, you can walk for miles round bay after bay. Do watch the sea though, there’s no mobile phone reception down there if you get stranded. Sometimes you catch sight of dolphins and whales…

I sound like a guidebook, a representative of Scottish tourism… but I’m not. I’ve visited this place at times of trauma and felt negativity drain away into the pink rocks. I’ve lain on the sand reading books during hot relaxing summers while my children explored the pools and searched for cowrie shells. I’ve introduced all my friends to the beach, so memories of New Aberdour are mixed up with those of my favourite people.

I love the beach.

beach 011 (550x413)

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright…

I just sat in the hot place. It was good, it was sunny and bright, though it offered only a vague warmth today.

The ‘hot place’ is a point on our property that is sheltered from both North and East winds by walls and situated next to large windows that reflect the sunlight and bestow a sort of ‘double sunning’. It is rather like a portal to another country, a warmer clime or different season. In summer it can reach unbearable temperatures. In the deepest months of winter the sun doesn’t touch it at all. This was the first time it lit up this year, fitting then that it’s Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Imbolc.

Feeling the sun on my face, without the usual buffeting wind, was a good reminder that the Earth is turning and Spring is on its way. More good reminders, brave little snowdrops:

snowdrops

It’s been an odd winter, very dark but with none of the usual bright and dramatic snow of Scotland. The continual rain, mud and roof leakages have made the season seem long and arduous. Grey. Dull. No enchanted snowy moonlit walks where surprised owls fly low overhead, no snow angels or sledging. I almost miss having to dig my way into the woodshed (almost, not really, it was fairly tortuous, nasty when ice dripped down your neck too). Solstice 2010:

wood shed in the snow

The wind has been notably fierce, bringing an ancient beech tree crashing to the ground one night. I heard it from my bed half a mile away, three loud cracks as its branches broke. How disorienting to stand among high boughs and look through to what was the ground, upended like the tree:

snowdrops 017 (750x563) (700x525)

The world on its side. An oliphaunt fallen.

So winter: snow properly, or let Spring through. The sun is nice today; I’d like more of that please, I’m ready to laze in the hot place with a book. But if this saying be true, so be it:

If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, winter will have another bite.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter is gone and won’t come again.

snowdrops

of towers and stones

tower

Rapunzel’s Tower appears over the trees, dark and mysterious, a fairytale setting at the top of a hill. No hair is let down in answer to my call. Maybe the newly installed CCTV reveals me to be neither Prince nor abusive mother figure so I am ignored? Or maybe the words on the council sign are true and the Drinnie’s Wood Observatory really is only open May-September.

Onwards and upwards. And downwards. Up the wrong path and back again. Up another, almost identical, path and ta-da! The elusive Louden Wood Stone Circle:

deerforest 049 (700x525)

It evaded me for years, this place. The entry to the narrow path is hidden by low hanging pine branches, and it wasn’t until the advent of Google Earth that I finally pinpointed its exact location.

I do like the white tree that stands opposite the large recumbent stone:

deerforest 024 (500x375)

Most stone circles in Aberdeenshire are imbued with a  deep peacefulness. This one seems alive somehow, buzzing with an undercurrent of ancient energy, like a radio still tuned to the past. Carved stone:

deerforest 030 (488x650)

Back to the present and a newly planted wind turbine, another tower I would like to look inside; see the inviting steps and door at the bottom? Surprisingly large up close – diagonal was the only way to get the whole thing in shot – and surprisingly quiet, whoosh-whooshing us gently into the future.

deerforest 055 (413x550)