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!

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.

loch

misty loch

Clouds of mist swirled over the surface of the loch last night. An unexpectedly hot day led to unexpectedly beautiful conditions. Well, not completely unexpected, it’s always beautiful, always different.

Summer brings lush green foliage and colour to the loch*, it’s not very deep so swimming can be warm.

summer loch

That glassy ‘stand and stare’ stillness can happen at any time of year. Sunsets are pink, silver or even purple. Whatever the sky is doing is intensified in reflection.

sunset

Winter is fierce. One year layer upon layer of ice and snow built up so thick that people and dogs ran about on it. It was at once surreal and yet so very real, unconnected from civilisation as it feels up there in the woods. No TV, no computers, just life and joy and fun on a natural huge flat screen among the trees.

snow

I feel the need to go for a walk and wonder what awaits me today. A liquid mirror? Slow moving ripples? The slightest change in airflow, made visible by water. There’s blue in the sky so there will be in the loch. Maybe there’ll be swans, or an otter leaping about on the banks (happened once), a boat, a dog, an owl… Excuse me, I need to go.

* I freely admit to having overused the word ‘loch’ in this post. The word ‘lake’ is not a suitable substitute. If you don’t come from Scotland you can have no idea how very wrong that notion is. And while we’re at it, make sure you’re saying/thinking the word right. The ‘ch’ sound is like a Scottish wildcat (something I once saw up by the large expanse of water, but no one believes me) hissing in the back of your throat. There you are, got it.

a little bit of snow

pine cones

How could I have forgotten what proper cold feels like? It pulls you up short as you realise that just breathing in the sub zero air is going to chill you, no matter how well wrapped up you are. And the dark, the days that don’t begin until half way through the morning and seem to end at 3 in the afternoon. This is the truth of December in Scotland.

tree

I complain (this was especially evident during the five hour power cut we had last week), but I love it. It’s a time of hibernation, of books and log fires, and writing, writing, writing; no hot sun to distract and lure, only the occasional frosty bright sunrise.

sunrise

I’m also enjoying all the Christmas cookies and hot chocolate of the season, sparkly tree lights, nostalgia made real.

It’ll all be over soon. The Solstice will herald the lightening of the nights, that’s always noticeable quite quickly. But for now I appreciate the views of winter: the loch is frozen and my neighbour forgot to take in his boat, now also frozen.

boat

And the field makes me think of chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar…

fields

of Mountains, and Circles, and Russian Dolls

Cairngorm

Above is a picture taken from the top of the  Cairngorm Mountain, which in no way captures how windy it is up there. Loch Morlich can just be made out in the distance.

Gales aside, the mountain is always grounding. It is so huge and so solid and high. Worries recede. Ridiculous dramas can be seen for the trivial nothings that they are. And I was wearing my new, very cheerful dress:

russian dolls dress

There’s a scene with Russian dolls in my book, so I love this. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most appropriate clothing for hill walking, but I did wear sensible boots and a good coat and felt great solidarity with the man who had teamed shorts and plimsolls with a furry hat. We both attracted what I like to think were admiring looks.

Loch Morlich

Everything was serene down below by the loch, amid the sand and the trees.

loch waters

It was warm enough to paddle before heading to the stone circle at Aviemore:

Aviemore stone circle

This circle is rather unusually situated in the middle of a housing estate, but a peaceful and energising place nonetheless. *enters tour guide mode* There are over 150 stone circles in the Grampian region, more than the rest of Britain put together, but this is the most urban one I’ve encountered. They’re more commonly nestled on the brows of hills, sometimes surrounded by trees, sometimes overlooking open countryside. *reverts to ‘woman wearing a silly dress’ mode* I have a definite ‘thing’ for them; I write about them, I kiss them, I dance round them.

Aviemore stone circle

Yesterday I needed to soak up the calm, to absorb it from the stones and carry it with me into the week to come. However: I’ve already made one critique partner cry; I’ve got myself into a horrible manuscript formatting tangle and I have eaten too much chocolate. And it’s only Monday…