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.
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.
We know extremes of light and dark in Scotland. At the height of summer it never gets properly dark; around the time of the winter solstice it barely gets light. But just now, in Autumn, the low sun illuminates spaces and objects from an angle that highlights both shadows and glorious brightness. Oh, the photo-taking opportunities!
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.
The front of Duff House Mausoleum:
And round the back…
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.
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:
I came upon an old dog grave in the lower parts of Wrack Wood. The dogs had lovely Dickensian sounding names.
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).
The start of the title is a bit of a lie. In fact it’s a total fabrication. There’s no derring-dos on the high seas recounted here. I do have crutches, so am a bit peg-legged and I like to think there’s an (imaginary) parrot on my shoulder. I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, so my body has basically been trying to kill me. I’m now on medication to stop those efforts, but I have to be checked once a week in case the drug makes its own attempts to kill me. So there are elements of a thriller genre at work in my life.
During my month of cannulas, needles, tests and scary procedures I sought beauty where I could find it. Through the hospital windows. I woke the first morning to a beautiful pink sunrise and a rather wonderful view of St Nicholas Kirk steeple, the church that features in THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. Despite the fact that I wrote of truly terrible events involving that steeple, I found it somewhat comforting to see it there. I felt a connection to the place. It lit up in the evening sun too.
But I was soon moved. This was something that was being done due to Covid. Constant rearranging of patients between wards. Decisions made by ‘bed managers’, not medics. It didn’t make any sense to me, and the medical staff were pretty unimpressed by it too.
However, I saw through many different windows. This next ward had the worst view, just a small box of buildings, but the best bed. Air mattresses are magical things; lying in them is a little bit like being hugged as they inflate and deflate to maximise your comfort.
I was soon off to sparkling chimney sunrises and sunsets:
Then, finally, the last of the hospital windows. At first I was quite annoyed about this move. Diagnosed and treated, just awaiting final tests, I was shunted away to what felt like a far flung area of the hospital, and I no longer had my own room. I posted a somewhat morose quote from Lord of the Rings about the sunrise that morning on Instagram.
But, it really worked out very well. The other three ladies I was with were lovely. There was kindness and understanding between us all and we shared frequent laughing conversations, our room being referred to as the party room by the nurses.
And it had a swashbuckling sea view… just.
While I was in, a rather wonderful review went up on The Rose and the Thistle blog. Reading the opening line cheered me up instantly! “Before I go any further, I just have to say, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Yes, it is written in one of my favorite time periods, and yes it takes place in one of my favorite places in all the world, but when you combine that with the almost poetic style of Sinclair’s writing—sigh!”See the whole review here.
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.
I skirted round the edges of rainy Aberdeen in search of bright spots and green corners. Above is The Chanonry, a cobbled street in Old Aberdeen. Cobbles are called ‘cassies’ up here, a word I had long forgotten until I was reminded of it on Twitter.
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.
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