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

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:

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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

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

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.