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!

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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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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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.

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

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.