Aikey Brae Recumbent Stone Circle

Sunshine and snow at Aikey Brae stone circle

Beautiful Aikey Brae. Of the 150 or so recumbent stone circles in the North East of Scotland, this is my favourite.

I used to live close by and enjoyed many a summer picnic and winter stroll there. One year I watched a solar eclipse, with my children, sat right in the middle of the circle. The setting made it feel timeless and magical.

Fallen stones in the foreground

The snow picks out detail and shape, makes the stones look different.

Down on the ground with the stones

The fallen stone on the right in this next picture must have popped right out of the ground when it fell, because you can see the carved point of the anchoring lower part.

Aikey Brae stone circle in teh sun and snow

This pointy feature can also be seen on the Lang Stane, hidden away just off Union Street in Aberdeen, leading to the theory that it was once part of a stone circle too.

But back to the sun and snow at Aikey, and the smiling recumbent.

The huge recumbent stone at Aikey Brae stone circle.

On another subject, I have made a page for my mailing list sign-up form here – thank you to those who have already signed up! I’ve been thinking about what to put in the newsletters: news about my life and writing, some exclusive photos, and I’d also like to feature other people’s work. So if you have a site or blog that you’d be happy to have included, please feel free to link it up in the comments. I can’t guarantee to use them all in the mailings as they will only be occasional, but it would be great to see your sites here ūüôā

If you have any else you’d like to see in the mailing list, do let me know that too!

Let’s finish up by staring through the stones, to the world beyond.

Looking through the stones to the landscape beyond

The Witch Stone in Winter

Frosty hill

The ground is solid, all the ruts and bumps hard and crunchy under my feet as I climb the hill. And there on the top, small from this angle, is the Witch Stone.

It’s said that witches were burned there in the past.

It’s quiet now. Cold. Peaceful.

Ladybirds are hibernating on it! I hope they survive the season.

A Bookish Post

2019 got off to an exciting start for me with the news that my historical novel, The Mermaid and the Bear, will be published by GWL Publishing this Autumn.

An editing journey lies ahead, but I can tell you these things about the book:

  • It’s mainly set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire.
  • It incorporates the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic.
  • There’s a stone circle.
  • There’s 16th century Christmas.
  • And there’s a love story.

I made a wee aesthetic for it, because: oh the fun!

Walking in the Moonlight

Above: a scene from a moonlit walk, because I so appreciate being able to go on walks now that I can’t wait for it to get light!

It’s been a strange summer. I spent much of it being ill, properly ‘can’t do anything, go anywhere, just have to sit still‘ ill.¬†I feel changed by it. I have such huge appreciation for the good in my¬†world now: the wonderful people I share my life with, the amazing place I live.

Seriously, there was no better place to lie¬†around being ill than in my garden. Bats and giant dragonflies kept coming out of the pond and trees to peer at me. Tall trees rustled protectively around me. And the sun shone and shone this summer, didn’t it?

And books! Films! Netflix! Thank you, thank you, to all those creators: you kept my mind occupied while my body healed.

And the less than good? It highlighted itself with such clarity that I am left so much wiser and, I hope, more able to deflect it in the future.

Things that happened while I was still: the witch stone near Fraserburgh was cleared of gorse so it can now be seen.

I had a wee story published in an anthology.

But summer is over now. Illness is over. So, boots on, off out into the moonlight I go!

Findlater Castle

For years I passed by the road signs for Findlater Castle on my way to other places, joking that ‘I must find that later’. I’m so glad I finally did! I’ve been a few times now and it’s always stunning.

On this day it was exceptionally warm and still for Northern Scotland¬†which emboldened me to go a bit further down onto the ramparts than I’ve been before.

Off I went, past the gorse which was warmed by the sun and smelled all coconutty:

This is as far as I normally dare, just to this first chunk of wall…

And then up the wee path for a peek at the shore beyond.

But with no gusts of wind to blast me off the edge, on I marched (or tentatively crept, to be more accurate).

Look at those craggy walls!

I sat¬†down here and contemplated being really brave and jumping down that hole under the archway. Ah, what photos I would get, what views, what atmosphere… then I remembered the ghost story. A small boy and his nurse were¬†standing near an open window, maybe even one of those in view, when he jumped from her arms and disappeared down the side of the cliff, presumably to his death. She scrambled after him, also¬†to her doom,¬†and her spirit still haunts the castle¬†searching for her errant charge.

So, sorry to disappoint, but after another look over the edge I retraced my steps back up the hill.

This meant I survived to visit the nearby Doocot (pigeon house). It dates from the 15th century as does the castle.

I love its door:

And all the little nesting boxes within:

If you visit Findlater do be careful not to fall to your doom. If it’s muddy or windy it would be much more dangerous than it was for me on this occasion. Look, the council have even written it in great big red letters underneath the history:

Shifting Sands

There’s been a lot of barefoot walking along beaches this summer, with friends, with family, much of it between St Combs and Scotstown. And that’s where there do be many shipwrecks to see! Aye, aye, me hearties! Prepare yersels for the photos!

I don’t know the name or date of this first wreck. It’s wooden and relatively small and sometimes entirely covered by the shifting sands that it, no doubt, fell victim to. It’s well bedecked with seaweed!

Closeby¬†is¬†a large metallic boat. It’s usually¬†more submerged than this. I *think* it’s the HMS Erne. She ran aground in 1915 and broke her back ūüôĀ

On this day I got to go right up to it.

And touch the barnacles.

And wonder if that’s a treasure chest…

A bit further on, between Rattray Head and Scotstown, lies a much more well documented ship: the Excelsior of Laurwig,¬†a Norwegian barque wrecked in 1881. It’s rather impressive.

There is another, somewhat different, wreck on this bit of coastline, sometimes to be seen wedged into the sand:

Now, let’s go to Cruden Bay, for the last barefoot walk of the summer!

Trip, trap, trip. trap, across the bridge. To find…

Is it a shipwreck? I’m not sure. It may be part of a defense from WW2. Not very boat shaped!

But it’s a great beach to finish the season and the post on.

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!

A Walk Round Broadsea

Broadsea is the older part of Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire, having been the site of a Pictish settlement and later a fishing community. It still feels distinctly different from the surrounding town, more like a small village, and is a great place for a walk!

From Fraserburgh, we’re heading down Broadsea Road, past all the wee hoosies, right to the end.

From there we’re going left to see the¬†craggy rocks and some paintings. There’s a Lion Rampant on the other side of that outcrop but it’s taken a bit of a bashing from the sea and is rather faded.

Let’s¬†retrace our steps and continue on round the corner to the right towards the cove of Broadsea, the lighthouse at Kinnaird Head just coming into view.

We tiptoe between houses and walk the curving path, passing many old cottages. The new housing development we come to next holds on to hints of the past in the form of various buoys placed along the verge.

On we go. Up to lighthouses, old and new. Great museum and tearoom here if you need a break. Older post with more on the museum and lighthouse here.

A little further along from the lighthouse is The Wine Tower, said to be Fraserburgh’s oldest building. Post on it here.

We can finish there if you like, but I prefer to walk all the way back so as to see Broadsea from the other direction.

So, one last look at The Wine Tower… perhaps a quick run up and down the steps and a peer in the window…

And we return to the wee hoosies.

And Broadsea Road.

The best time of day for a Broadsea stroll definitely seems to be in the morning. Clash with school let out time and you may have sticks and stones brandished at you! For a fascinating read on the 19th century history of the place, I highly recommend The Christian Watt Papers.

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

going coastal

sea at Fraserburgh beach

Sky. Sea. Sand. It’s been a summer of these. Even on dull days it’s been¬†warm and walks on the beach, beautiful. But I’m donning the tour guide hat again and we’re heading along¬†the Aberdeenshire coast, starting up North and working our way round the corner and down.

rainbow

Two generations of quines walked the coast route between Banff and Whitehills back in February. We got rained on, but we got a rainbow. And amazing colours of sky and sea. Below is the Red Well, said to date from Roman times, also said to be haunted by an old lady ghost and to be aligned for sunrise¬†sunbeams on the summer solstice. I lived in Whitehills for a short time as a child and remember the beehive shaped building¬†being called ‘the witch’s hoosie’ and kids shutting each other in there for ‘fun’. It’s now locked.

The Red Well, Whitehills

No time to linger, we’re skipping along into summer¬†to Gardenstown and St John’s Kirk. There it is, up on the hill between cloud shadows.

St John's Kirk, Gardenstown

There is an exciting tale of local ladies winning a battle with the Vikings in 1004 by weaponising their stockings with rocks and sand. Three Viking skulls were subsequently built into the walls of the then under-construction Kirk.

walls of St John's Kirk, Gamrie

Today it’s a peaceful place, though the landscape is probably much the same as it was during the era¬†of battling lassies and Viking warriors.

landscape at Gamrie

Time for a picnic, and an exploration of the various bays at New Aberdour.

New Aberdour

Let’s lie on the ground and gaze up at the red rocks and blue sky above…

rocks and sky

Let’s¬†watch, entranced, as sand martins dart in and out of their nests. Whoops, forget to cover the home made pizza so it’s now covered in sand… ¬†Never mind, just time for a poke around in a rock pool before we go…

rock pool

Okay. Shoes off. We’re going to race along the golden shore¬†at¬†Fraserburgh, getting the sand right up between our toes. If we’re feeling energetic we can climb Tiger Hill, that large dune to the right, and enjoy enhanced views of the beach and town.

reflective clouds

A reflective moment.

Fraserburgh beach

Calming right down now. We turn the corner. Out comes a book and a bar of chocolate as we sit on the rocks at St Combs.

St Combs beach

Walking boots on for this next part…

rocky

On we go, past Peterhead, to seek out mermaids at the Bullers of Buchan. There are folk tales of them being spotted here in the Sea Cauldron:

the sea cauldron

It’s actually quite a dangerous place, cliff edges all round, so do take care.

Bullers of Buchan

We’ve come to the end of our coastal¬†oddessy. Just one more stare at¬†that silvery sea at the Bullers, and it’s home for a cup of tea.

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