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

In Search of Lord Pitsligo’s Cave

craggy coast

I’ve written about Lord Pitsligo before, briefly here in a post about his home, Pitsligo Castle, and then in more detail over at The Witch, The Weird and the Wonderful. He’s an intriguing character who hid around the Buchan countryside for three years following the battle of Culloden, for some of the time in a cave which is still referred to as Lord Pitsligo’s Cave. I had to find it.

floral coastline

A friend and I set off along the coast, heading West from Rosehearty, having read several conflicting accounts of the exact location of the cave. We knew it had been blown up by the home guard in WW2 and the lower entrance made inaccessible. Perhaps the best we would be able to say was that we’d walked near it?

white quartz line

We passed lines of white quartz and rocky plateaus and many craggy cliffs where we stopped and wondered: is this it?

rockpool

Then: yes! We knew we’d found the place. Seagulls flew up, angry about us being so close to their nests, but down we went into the bay.

Lord Pitsligo's Cave

It’s not too easy to discern in my shadowy pictures but there’s a pile of rubble where the lower entrance would have been and a small opening in the cliff above.

beach

My friend went back on a brighter day and zoomed in on the higher entrance:

cave

We walked further, along to Quarry Head, the site of a 16th century shipwreck (interesting story here), and looked back across the various bays:

bluebells

It’s a stunning bit of coastline to explore; the cave is about two miles from Rosehearty. Picture below taken on another day just before a thunder storm, note the tiny white sailing boat in the centre:

stormy sky

Up and Down and All Around

tree at Dunnydeer

This beautiful tree sits at the foot of the Hill of Dunnideer near Insch in Aberdeenshire. It’s a short but steep climb to the top; when you see the remains of the prehistoric vitrified fort and medieval castle you know you’re nearly there.

vitrified rock and medieval castle

The views make all exertion worthwhile. Click the pano for a larger version:

panorama of view from Dunideer

Down the other side:

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Nestled, and almost completely hidden, under a tree are the remains of Dunnideer Recumbent Stone Circle:

recumbent and flankers

stone under tree

split flanker

A few miles further West is Leith Hall with its wonderful walled garden:

colourful borders

Stone guardian at the gate:

lion

I love the Moon Gate, and in retrospect wish I had gone through it and taken a photo from the other side too. Oh well, next time!

moongate

Crovie

Crovie

Crovie is an 18th century fishing village in the North-East of Scotland. People first came to live there after having been cleared away from their inland homes to make way for sheep farming. Today many of the houses are holiday lets and it’s a scenic place to walk. And take photos. Oh yes.

That’s as far as vehicles can go in Crovie:

Crovie and coast

Postbox:

red letter box

The coastline is beautiful and dramatic; light conditions change constantly.

rocks

Myself and a friend set off on what was meant to be a 1.5 mile walk. We got lost. There was torrential rain. The approach of the rain:

clouds gather

We walked on and on. We followed the arrows. We found ourselves in a pea field at one point.

pea plants growing

The pea field led to a gorge; we retraced our many, many steps, eight miles of steps in the end… but then there was soup and pie and cake and all was very, very well 😀

pebbles

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!

Art in the Sand

retreating waves

Bare feet on warm sand. This is rare. In April. In Scotland.

glistening sand

It’s like being in a fairy-tale, everything shiny and magical and new.

surf

The sea is cold as ever, we beat a quick retreat.

reflected dunes

Water reflects dunes and makes art in the sand.

a sand tree, formed naturally by rivulets

We bask in the absence of wind. No need to brace against it or hurry inside.

Relaxed, we walk on.