A Day Out, A Day Off

Tolquhon Castle
Tolquhon Castle: a good place for a day out

Every so often I take a day off from writing. Not because I want to. I resist and avoid and cling to my desk in a desperate fashion. Friends persuade and entice me outside… and it is always good, always nourishing and refreshing. There’s a planned outing later this week and I can just picture my characters’ reactions when they realise I’m not there at the keyboard…

Justin notices first. He looks up, listens and checks again. “She’s gone out!”

Every character, from the main protagonist to the young police officer who only gets mentioned once, sags with relief. They go back to bed and sleep in till lunchtime. Later they shuffle downstairs to get tea and food and sit in silence in the dining hall.

People who usually snipe and gripe at each other pass the sugar without word. Two of them exchange a wry smile, for without my omniscient presence to keep them busy they can sense what’s coming, not the details, but the shadow of ‘something bad’ ahead, something they would avoid if they could. But like my day out, it cannot be avoided; it has to happen.

They head to bed early, exhausted by the hours of doing nothing, tired from the rest and relaxation.

No arguments. No sex. No laughter.

How boring! These people need me! Maybe I shouldn’t go out after all…

***

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Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

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The Mermaid and the Bear

Over the Sea to the Fairies (and Skye)

Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye

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.

Continue reading “Over the Sea to the Fairies (and Skye)”

Here we go a-castle-ing!

A Scottish castle: Delgatie

Yes, it’s another post about Scottish 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:

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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:

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The Castles of My Life

Brodie Castle and fire engines, one of the best castles

I took that picture standing in my bunny pyjamas on the castle lawn with three kids, three dogs and a budgie. There was no fire or disaster, just a malfunctioning alarm, or maybe it was the ghost. Yes, let’s blame it on ghosts, ghouls and phantoms; I’m sure they were responsible for continually setting off the motion sensors in the middle of the night during my winter sojourn. But that was summer, Brodie Castle was busy with visitors and altogether less creepy. I stayed in the property manager’s flat several times that year, looking after things for her, most efficiently as you can see.

I am fortunate to live in a place that has so many of these large historic buildings dotted about the countryside. Castles take us out of where we are; some transport us into the decadent, usually bygone, lives of rich families, while others encourage imagination to run amok in the ruins.

My earliest castle related memory is of ruinous, rambling Tolquhon:

tolquhon, one of Aberdeenshire's ruined castles

For me it is synonymous with life getting a little bit better. Childhood took an upturn after the birth of my brother; gone were the silent Sundays when my parents read the papers and my sister and I had to be very, very quiet in our room. We went places. Fun things happened, and Tolquhon was one of them.

I do like the bee boles or ‘skeps’:

bee boles

Later, with my own children, just about every castle in Northern Scotland was explored. We ran around the roof of the medieval tower of Drum (safer than it looks):

drum castle, one of the castles where you can go up on the roof!

Watched Shakespeare at Fyvie:

fyvie castle

Attended educational events at Huntly:

huntly castle

Admired the gardens at Ballindalloch, before being greeted by Lady Macpherson-Grant and her extended family, including a new grandchild in a pram, in the entrance hall.

ballindalloch castle, one of my favourite castles

The scariest has to be Slains Castle, not actually very old, built to look Gothic, now ruined. It’s very dangerous out there on the cliffs, someone once fell to their death, so I don’t advise visiting. It inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula, there are plans to turn it into a theme hotel, and umm, I don’t always heed my own advice:

slains1

Great sea views:

Castles have the best views! Here, from Slains.

In summary: castles, they’re great. Get out there. Visit them (the safe ones). They’re so very different from our homes (unless you live in a castle), entirely dissimilar to modern office buildings, television screens and city streets. They can be cold and damp and ancient. Sometimes they’re lavish and royal. They smell of the past. They hold stories in their old walls and can unlock them in us.

Eile an Donnan:

eil ean donnan

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Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.

Amazon

Waterstones

GoodReads

Mermaid blurb