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

dancing in the rain

Chanonry

I skirted round the edges of Aberdeen on a rainy day in search of bright spots and green corners. Above is The Chanonry, a cobbled street in Old Aberdeen. Cobbles are called ‘cassies’ up here, a word I had long forgotten until I was reminded of it on Twitter.

I ran the grass maze in the Cruickshank botanic garden:

grass maze

…then caught sight of the Duncan Rice library – ooh, research! – where I found a dolphin (others previously blogged here):

dol (480x640)

He’s a Doric dolphin that one, Doric being the dialect spoken in these parts. We do have some great words and phrases:

Quine ~ girl. Loon ~ boy.Doric dolphin

Flycup ~ a quick cup of tea, often served with a ‘piece’ (biscuit) or if you’re very lucky, a ‘funcy piece’ which might involve chocolate, cream or jam.

Fit like? ~ How are you doing? The accepted answer is ‘Nae bad, fit like yersel?’

 

The Winter Gardens at Duthie Park are an excellent place to visit when the weather is damp. I remember going there as a child with my Grandmother. She would have loved these colours:

archway

14829367500_63b880f5ff_z  the Victorian corridor

A group of people huddled in the entrance hall, clinging to a vain hope that the rain might go off. I ran across the grass to the bandstand and was immediately reminded of a scene in The Sound of Music (16 going on 17) and indulged in some similar dancing. I am fortunate to have such open, non-judgemental people in my life. They joined in. We had all forgotten about the audience at the door who had quite a good view of the bandstand:

15016012785_5c18ab631c_z

Having provided enough entertainment for one day, we headed home for a chocolate based fly cup and funcy piece.

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:

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.

Dolphins and Leopards

Bon Accord shopping centre

There’s a public art project going on in Aberdeen for the next ten weeks: Wild Dolphins

Fifty life size beasties lurk in streets, parks, museums and shopping centres. My twitter stream is full of them; I excitedly tweeted and scanned (there’s an app) my way round the city so will try to post mainly different pictures here. This first one is a collage of Aberdeen’s Leopard magazine, I love its eye below.

Aye Aye min

The next two are near Marischal College, previously part of Aberdeen University, the building now houses Aberdeen City Council, which means I can’t wander in to look at the mummies in the museum anymore. Those are its spires behind this dotty boy:

on top of st. nicholas centre

Glad they’ve kept the old gate though, seems suitably forbidding and ‘keepy-outy’:

gate

In front of the College sits a dolphin called ‘Bon Accord Beauty’; he displays the city coat of arms with its three castles and two leopards (more on it here). To the right is Provost Skene’s house, closed just now due to the surrounding demolition. Shame, I could have done with a cup of tea in the dungeon-esque cellar cafe.

dolphin

On we go, past the leopards of Union Bridge…

leopards

…into the Victorian amphitheartre of Union Terrace Gardens, where there are two dolphins. The statue of William Wallace looks down from above, in front of His Majesty’s Theatre. You may have to look hard to spot the leopards in this photo but they are there, as, less fortunately, is the rear end of a park attendant.

union terrace gardens

Finally, we head off to the beach to look at nautical creations:

octopus

One inspired by the fauna of the riverside:

Riven Don

And, contrary to the title though it is, let’s end on the beautiful detail of the dolphin’s nose: moths.

moths

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!

Bennachie

Bennachie in the distance

Bennachie is a large hill that can be seen for miles in Aberdeenshire. Its craggy peaks seem to loom out of nowhere as you drive round twisty corners of country roads. I once climbed it three times in one day for charity; complainers of sore legs were reminded of that fact yesterday. The top of Harthill Castle, which was owned and restored by the late American writer Ann Savage, is just visible over the trees.

The start of any Bennachie climb – we took the easiest ‘Rowan Tree’ route – starts with a misleading forest stroll:

woodland walk

Then you’re out into the baking sun (sometimes; you are equally as likely to emerge into a dense Stephen King-esque mist) and views expand.

rock

Parts of the path are pure exposed rock, it feels like standing on the bare face of the planet. I like to kneel and kiss the stone; you do see some strange people on Bennachie…

steeper

The ascent gradually gets steeper, the sun gets hotter, but the Mither Tap nears. Big cairn, little cairn:

cairns

There’s a Pictish hillfort on the top, you pass between its walls…

hillfort

and then cling, terrified, to the side of the uppermost rocks as the wind buffets you. That bit is over quickly. The landscape soon owns your attention.

views

The Maiden Stone stands near the foot of the hill, a ninth century Pictish stone displaying a good example of the mysterious, much debated, ‘Pictish beast’. Swimming elephant? Dolphin? Kelpie?

The Maiden Stone

A few miles further on is Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle, the first recumbent circle I ever visited, beautifully cared for by Historic Scotland.

Daviot

uprights at Daviot

between the recumbents

Will I stop now? No, one more, then we can put our feet up.

circle