Duff House Mausoleum in Autumnal Aberdeenshire

steps of Duff House Mausoleum

I wandered through the woods to the 18th century Duff House Mausoleum.

It’s about a mile away from the majestic Duff House, now an art gallery, and about two miles from the Bridge of Alvah. When I was a child the house was in quite a rough state but still open to the public. A lot of the furniture was covered in sheets, paint peeled off the walls and spooky music floated up from the lower levels.

I loved it.

I still do.

Duff House

The front of Duff House Mausoleum:

Duff House mausoleum

And round the back…

knight at Duff House Mausoleum

To an effigy of a knight. Sadly it is not Robert the Bruce as once purported by the Earl who built the mausoleum. The skulls, crossbones and wheat are quite common on older graves in Aberdeenshire.

Below: the interior of the mausoleum taken through the metal door.

inside Duff House Mausoleum

During autumn in Scotland the days seem to be either golden or grey, sunny or dreich. It didn’t get properly light at all on this day, but autumn added its gold regardless.

The River Deveron:

River Deveron

I came upon an old dog grave in the lower parts of Wrack Wood. The dogs had lovely Dickensian sounding names.

dog grave

Grey and golden, the colours of the day:

grey and golden leaf

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Sometimes books like to dress up and have their photo taken. Sometimes writers have to work very hard to resist a wafting scent of chocolate (medical condition/special diet. 8 months in people, 8 months).

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Scottish author Ailish Sinclair's historical  novels

And a wee quote from Mermaid:

excerpt from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR by Ailish Sinclair

Deer Abbey and the Man Trap!

A copper beech tree at Deer Abbey
Copper beech at Deer Abbey

Deer Abbey in Aberdeenshire is a beautiful sprawling ruin. It’s a peaceful place to visit. Reflective. A place to peer through old doorways into the past.

Doorway at Deer Abbey
Into the kitchen…

If I look back a year into my own past I see myself in quite a state, just about to go into hospital and become monstrous. I am better this year. Better than that anyway. Able to go out and about to places other than my doctor’s surgery.

Which brings me to the man trap:

man trap at Deer Abbey
Man trap!

You would definitely need some medical intervention after stepping in that! It’s a hideous contraption that was designed to catch poachers, widely used in the 19th century by local Lairds. It’s not known how it came to be at Deer Abbey.

From one of the informational plaques, the man trap in use:

Caught in the man trap!
Ouch!

For 340 years the Abbey housed a Cistercian community. The monks of Deer wore white robes and no underwear, a brave choice given Aberdeenshire’s low temperatures and the strong gales of winter!

Cloisters at Deer Abbey
Cloisters

After the reformation the building became the property of the Keith family. Mrs Keith dreamed of angry monks coming to destroy her home, Dunnottar Castle. And more recently, there have been sightings of a ghostly monk on the main road outside the Abbey. Maybe the old Cistercians do not rest easy yet.

Yew Tree at Deer Abbey
A boundary of yews.

I love the ancient trees of the Abbey grounds. And the pink hue of the crumbling walls. The hillside beyond is satisfyingly timeless, and probably offers quite a similar view to the one that the white robed monks looked out on.

Deer Abbey in Aberdeenshire

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the novels of Ailish Sinclair
My books!

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Set mainly in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic and a love story.

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Tarlair Open Air Swimming Pool, Aberdeenshire

Tarlair outdoor swimming pool

I recently explored Tarlair open air swimming pool with my husband and children. Despite having fallen into serious disrepair over the years, it retains a certain beauty, and is evocative – for me anyway – of times past.

It was the scene of many halcyon days one summer; I was fifteen, and due to head off to college that September. I recall lying on the grass in the sun, messing around in the boating pool, buying sweets from the shop and chatting with friends. The hazy, golden hue of these bright points in memory is augmented by the nature of other events from that time.

There was a face off with the girl who used to beat me up in primary school. There was an abusive incident with an older family member, he was much respected and I didn’t feel able to tell anyone. An older boy grabbed me on a bus and kissed and bit my neck; actually that’s not a dark memory; non-consensual and unexpected as it was, I found it rather exciting at the time… There were other daily disappointments, but it can be bitter to dwell too deeply; some things are over when they’re finally over, and they are now.

Tarlair as seen from the cliffs above today

But Tarlair remains bright, both as it is now, and as it appears in my nostalgic image of the past. Three girls on the brink of being women laughed together and talked of their hopes for the future. We swam in the water of the North Sea with all our clothes on and got changed in the only one of our homes that was free from adult disapproval. We ate chocolate in an abandoned campervan. We drank White Russians in a local nightclub where no one questioned our age; hangovers were revelled in the next day by the pool.

None of our lives turned out quite how we hoped, we trailed far off those teenage maps we drew for ourselves that summer. We’ve all tasted despair but known great joy too. Maybe we couldn’t have had one without the other.

Strong emotion increases our capacity to feel and to live and to love, surely the greatest experience of all.

Below: looking out to the wider ocean through The Needle’s Eye, a rock formation beside Tarlair.

through the Needle's Eye

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The Mysterious Lang Stane of Aberdeen

Inscription on the Lang Stane
The Lang Stane, Aberdeen

The Lang Stane (long stone) of Aberdeen is situated close to busy and bustling Union Street. Many places in the city are named after this stone, but most people don’t know that it’s there. It’s hidden away on the corner of Langstane Place and Dee Street. The Music Hall can be seen in the background of the above photo.

Continue reading “The Mysterious Lang Stane of Aberdeen”

Stone Circles, Henges, Hills and a Barrow

Aikey Brae, one of my favourite stone circles

It’s no secret that I love stone circles and other old stony places. I visit them. A lot. I hug them. Quite a bit. And I write about them. Aikey Brae, above, is probably my absolute favourite. The circle in my books is loosely based on this one. I’ve blogged about it here in the snow and here after the trees were felled.

Today I’m sharing some older photos of ancient sites that I’ve not used before, so they may not be too perfect, but I hope they capture the spirit of these special places.

First, I’m going back in time, deep into the family photo archives, and journeying out of Scotland to Wiltshire in England.

Avebury stone circle
Continue reading “Stone Circles, Henges, Hills and a Barrow”

The White Horse on Mormond Hill

Ear of the white horse on Mormond Hill
The White Horse on Mormond Hill as seen from the distance

The white horse on Mormond Hill in Aberdeenshire can be seen for miles around. Constructed of white quartz, the horse is said to have been built by a Captain Fraser in the 1790s after the Flanders campaign. His own horse was shot from under him in battle and his sergeant offered his mount as replacement and was shot in the process. The white horse is a memorial to Sergeant Henderson.

I have visited the horse a few times, by car a long time ago, and also by walking. It’s quite a long walk! From the village of Strichen you head up Hospital Road and keep going. The road becomes a track which leads to fields. You cross a stile at one point. Then there’s a wee path and it all gets rather steep.

But it’s worth it. Look at the views!

Continue reading “The White Horse on Mormond Hill”

Some Eighteenth Century Letter Seals

Eighteenth Century Letter Seals

Those are the letter seals of Lord Pitsligo, a man I have written about before:

letter seals

His forward thinking ways inspired aspects of the Laird in THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR and a similar set of letter seals feature in FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE.

Excerpt from FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE featuring letter seals.

The seals were shown to me by a direct descendant of Lord Pitsligo. I got to hold them and turn them on their hinges, which was wonderfully informative (and exciting!).

Label on Lord Pitsligo's letter seals

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE will be out now!

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Blurb:

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out April 2021

Elizabeth craves adventure… excitement… love…

For now though, she has to settle for a trip from her family’s castle, to the port in Aberdeen, where her father has promised she’ll be permitted to buy a horse… all of her own.

Little does she suspect this simple journey will change her life, forever. And as she dreams of riding her new mount through the forests and glens of the Manteith estate, she can have no idea that she might never see them again.

For what lies ahead is danger, unimagined… and the fearful realities of kidnap and slavery.

But even when everything seems lost, most especially the chance of ever getting home again, Elizabeth finds friendship, comfort… and that much prized love, just where she least expected it.

Set in the mid eighteenth century, Fireflies and Chocolate is a story of strength, courage and tolerance, in a time filled with far too many prejudices.


It’s all getting a bit too exciting for me again… I need a nice calming walk in the woods below the witch’s brooms (growth abnormalities caused by a fungus in the trees)!

woodland walk

Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, features an often overlooked event in history, the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, and a love story.

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The Mermaid and the Bear

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Walking on Balmedie Beach in my Slippers

Balmedie Beach, walking on the beach

I crossed the boardwalk slowly, being careful not to catch my slippers in the gaps between wood. My foot is a lot better, though I still can’t wear proper shoes or put my heel right down on the ground, but I was determined to walk on the beach. So, on the way home from a hospital visit, I stopped at Balmedie.

Continue reading “Walking on Balmedie Beach in my Slippers”