Playing with Geography at Cullykhan Bay

I love Cullykhan Bay.

Near the village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire, it’s a place that has long been appreciated by people, so it has a rich history. To the left of the sandy and sheltered beach is an impressive promontory.

It’s been home to an Iron Age fort, now vitrified, and a medieval castle. Excavations uncovered Neolithic and Roman finds there too (see Canmore).

From the promontory you can see the Deil’s Lum (meaning devil’s chimney), a cave which is also sometimes called Hell’s Lum. It shoots sea spray with a roar during stormy weather.

The Deil's Lum, a cave at Cullykhan Bay.

It’s a place – promontory, bay and caves – that I write about quite a lot.

In THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, Isobell, Jasper and Ian have to cross the inside of the Deil’s Lum before following a tunnel to the castle. The tunnel is fictional and so is my description of the interior of the cave, or rather it’s stolen from just around the corner.

As is my way, I have explored every tunnel and cave that is remotely accessible by land at Cullykhan. In we go…

cave entrance at Cullykhan Bay

Through to this dark and seagull filled space… and it’s this space that I made my characters traverse, after struggling across it myself, of course!

Cave opening at Cullykhan Bay

Isobell, at least, did not enjoy it:

The truth was that caves and tunnels were more fun when told of beside a fireside, in dry clothes with a full belly. The reality of them – the cold, the wet, the dripping and the echoing, and the smell of decay – was only startling. The roof looked as if a huge ogre had wielded a knife inside the cliffs, cutting and carving to his heart’s content, but the idea contained no mirth, nor even any interest. And what lay ahead in this new life of ours?


Staring at the entrance of the Deil’s Lum from across the divide wasn’t enough for me so I slid down the hill and climbed up into it. This is foolhardy behaviour and not recommended, but I made a short video so you can see the cave without risking life and limb!

Now I’m back in my Iron Age manuscript, Cullykhan features much more heavily, and I love that too. Trying to capture the essence of the place in words, its magnificence, its beauty, and swirl all that round with the terrible things that I have happen there.

Cave opening at Cullykhan
Light and dark at Cullykhan…

I was honoured to appear on two wonderful websites recently: in an interview on Sue’s Musings here and on Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore.

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE, inspired by the kidnapped children of Aberdeen, is out now. The story follows the adventures of Elizabeth Manteith from the castle and her determined efforts to get back home. There’s love. There’s proper derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!



Barnes and Noble


Cover of Ailish Sinclair's 'The Mermaid and the Bear'

THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features three real women who were accused of witchcraft during the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic. There’s also a love story.



Barnes and Noble


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41 Replies to “Playing with Geography at Cullykhan Bay”

  1. ‘So wonderful to see these beautiful pictures. Now we can see that your description of the cave in The Mermaid and the Bear was spot on. I finished reading Fireflies and Chocolate, and it was such a beautiful love story too. It happens that I lived in that part of PA between 1995 and 2003 in a rural, historic town still celebrating the arrival of Rev. George Weiss, first Reformed pastor to that area near Philadelphia, in 1727. My husband was a Protestant pastor there, and we found the ancestors of the people who arrived with their first pastor in 1727 are still the people who fill that rural church. Yes, in the 18th century they had African slaves even in Pennsylvania. ‘Story is told of a pastor’s wife who willed freedom to her slaves, and also willed her house which was church property to her freed slaves. It made for an awkward court case they haven’t forgotten.

  2. I love seeing the real places you use in your tales. Isobel’s take on the cave was apt for a young lady her age. All of your descriptions were lovely and drew me deeper into the story. Poetry amidst the prose.

  3. Wonderful – and the Border’s open at last…

    In novels and films, I ‘m fascinated by fictional geography – the world of locations. A former classmate found her dream job – sourcing locations…

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