Sparks of Light

Buchan Ness Lighthouse

Buchan Ness Lighthouse in Boddam, Aberdeenshire, shining its light out into the sunrise.

We’ve reached the point in the year, here in Northern Scotland, where light is scarce. It arrives late in the day and leaves early, by about 4pm. But that low sun does some special things, especially at the beach:

a walk on the beach

And the low temperatures play with ice and colours…

Tiger Hill

Above is the large sand dune on Fraserburgh beach known as Tiger Hill. Below, a puddle.

ice and leaves

Rivers and lochs seem to reflect back more light than you can see in the sky. Morning reflections at Pitfour:

relections

The sun sets in the woods… What sparks of light have you spotted in winter?

woodland sunet

Here we go a-castle-ing!

Delgatie Castle

Yes, it’s another post about castles! I do seem to find it difficult to write anything without one, or three, as in this case. The first, above, is Delgatie Castle, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire. I met one of the quines there last week and we walked the woods and gardens and encountered these little Shetland ponies looking as if they were waiting for the tearoom to open. From there, we went on to the Auld Kirk-yard in Turriff to see the grave of the late owner of the castle, Captain John Hay:

grave stone

And then, on the other side of Turriff, the beautiful River Deveron:

River Deveron

Let us pass through a door to another day and another castle…

door at Craigievar

Craigievar:

Craigievar Castle

Near Alford, this beauty is rumoured to be the source for Walt Disney’s fairy-tale castle. It is wonderfully pink and turreted and full of colourful ghost stories. Red John Forbes is supposed to have forced his daughter’s lover, a Gordon and hence an enemy, to jump to his death from The Blue Room window. The window is now hidden behind a headboard but you can make out light through a pinhole. Both Red John and the Gordon boy are said to haunt the castle.

Photos were allowed up on the roof!

the roof of Craigievar

But it’s time to skip across the stone mushrooms…

stone mushrooms at Craigievar

and on to: Corgarff.

Corgarff Castle

A bit more out of the way, near Tarland, but still in Aberdeenshire, is the fortress that is Corgarff Castle. Originally home to the Forbes, it was then burnt by the Gordons and left derelict. After the battle of Culloden the tower house was gutted and rebuilt as barracks for government soldiers (Redcoats).

Corgarff

Inside the star shaped perimeter:

coutryard of Corgarff

This is how the soldiers’ barracks room would have looked in 1750:

18th century barracks room

And that’s it. Off out the door you go, but do come back soon!

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Gight Castle and the Hagberry Pot

gight castle

Gight Castle may be one of the lesser known castles of Aberdeenshire but it has a rich, if somewhat bleak, history with many of its owners dying prematurely. Built in the 15th century by the Gordon family, it was the ancestral home of Lord Byron. A ghostly piper is said to haunt the ruins. The nearby Hagberry Pot in the River Ythan is said to be bottomless and full of treasure!

The quines took a walk. We started in Methlick and strolled through the Braes of Gight woods, across fields and along roads. This was the long way to do it: there is a car park relatively near to the castle. First view:

Gight through the trees

The castle was surrounded by barbed wire and there were ‘enter at your own risk’ signs. In we went:

interior of Gight Castle

Great windows:

gight8  gight2

We were careful not to wake Sleeping Beauty. Or the ghostly piper.

ivy

I was most impressed by this brave little tree:

tree

Then, taking the circular route, we headed off down to the river and tried to work out which bit was the Hagberry Pot. Nowhere looked very bottomless or a good hiding place for jewels, but this seemed the most likely site by the bridge:

Hagberry Pot

The 7th Laird of Gight threw his jewels in there when the castle was sacked by the Covenanters. The poor diver who was sent down to retrieve them floated back up to the top in four pieces. There is a more involved version of this story here, featuring the devil. We did not go in.

The walk back along the river was pleasant, if a bit boggy, with glimpses of the Castle up on the hill.

gight5

Walking with the Quines

Haddo House

Quine is the Doric word for girl. The Quines (or Super Quines as we have become recently) are a group of women that met on Twitter. I can’t recall the exact ways in which we all first started chatting, though these has been much hilarity from the start. I follow many local people as well as those who share various interests, and there’s a mix of that among The Quines. Last year some of us met up in person, out in the wider world, and we hope to meet our more distant living Quine one day too.

There’s been tea. There’s been talk. And walks, lots and lots of walks.

snowy beach

The most recent walk was on a snowy beach. Beaches feature quite a bit. Back in the summer we walked barefoot along golden sands and through a river to see a shipwreck:

sands

St Combs

Other coastal Quine walks have already been documented: Crovie (where we got lost in a pea field) and another day when we searched for Lord Pitsligo’s Cave.

Summer continued with Huntly Castle and a much thistled stroll along the River Deveron:

Huntly Castle

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A tall tower and a stone circle (Drinnie’s Wood Observatory and Louden Wood Circle):

tower

sun and stone

Autumn returned us to the Deveron. Alvah Bridge and the Earl’s Love Nest within (more on that here):

The Bridge of Alvah

Gothic window

The Lake at Pitfour Estate was nice and mellow, the old Temple of Theseus thankfully no longer housing crocodiles!

Pitfour

Sometimes social media isn’t all that social; it can be taken over by constant ads and spam and passive aggressive Facebook memes. But good things happen too. I deeply appreciate the caring and non-demanding friendship of The Quines. I value many others I’ve got to know along the Twitter path too.

So take a minute. Listen. Laugh. Tap those screens and sit and chat.

bench

The first picture in this post was of Haddo House; the one above was taken in the country park there too.

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

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

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

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

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

Waters of Philorth

Philorth River

*Dons Scottish tour guide cap, yet again* Let’s wander along the River Philorth.

philorth 005 (700x525)There’s a small nature reserve there, created by the dunes, which in turn were inadvertently created by man during WW2. Large coils of barbed wire and concrete blocks were laid along the coastline to deter enemy invaders. Sand built up on them, plants grew, and the river changed course.

Wildlife flourishes at Philorth today. There’s a rather nice PDF about it here.

A gull fishing

A gull fishing

I love the tall grasses.

philorth reeds

The scenery grows more and more beach-like as you progress along the riverside path.

philorth sands

washed up fishing net

washed up fishing net

limpet

limpet

We reach the sea, Fraserburgh in the distance…

Fraserburgh and the sea

…and return by the higher dune path:

dune path

Exiting onto the main road, you just catch a glimpse of Cairnbulg Castle through the trees (read about it on the website of Lady Saltoun, Chief of the name and arms of Fraser.)

Cairnbulg Castle