The 18th Century Letter Seals of Lord Pitsligo

Eighteenth Century Letter Seals

Those are the beautiful 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.

Letter Seals Quote from FIREFLIES:

Excerpt from FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE featuring letter seals.

Research

The seals were shown to me by a direct descendant of Lord Pitsligo while I was researching FIREFLIES. I got to hold them and turn them on their hinges, which was wonderfully informative and exciting. It was great to connect to the time of the book like that too.

Label on Lord Pitsligo's letter seals

The Book

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

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“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

Jacobite wine glasses at Culloden visitor centre
More research: Jacobite symbolism on wine glasses at Culloden

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The Fairy Glen by Rosemarkie on the Black Isle

waterfall at the Fairy Glen

The Fairy Glen, on the Black Isle, is an enchanting woodland with stunning waterfalls and pools. Not to be confused with the Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye (see it here).

Keeping the Fairies Happy

Children used to dress a pool within the glen to keep the fairies happy.

Coins are pressed into a dead tree, today for wishes or luck. In older, darker tradition these tree coins were an offering to the fairies to ask them not to exchange babies for changelings.

coins in a tree at the fairy glen on the Black Isle.

Walking in the Fairy Glen

The atmosphere of the Fairy Glen is joyful and light. It’s easy to imagine fairies dancing and flying and giggling over the pools and streams. There are nice clear paths and bridges through it all, making it a wonderful place to walk.

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Also see: The Clootie Well on the Black Isle

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The Mermaid and the Bear

The Mermaid and the Bear on the pink bench in the snow

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and the Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

See the press release here

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Amazon Worldwide

A delight from end to end.” Undiscovered Scotland

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Writer’s Tip Jar

The Clootie Well on the Black Isle

Bring your cloots! And let’s go make a wish at the Clootie Well on the Black Isle.

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 are castles too, making the quick drive over the Kessock Bridge well worthwhile. Dismantled oil rigs can sometimes be seen on the Cromarty Firth side, as can dolphins.

Cromarty

Searching for the Clootie Well

Inland there are older places, special places.

We take a wrong turn while searching for the clootie well, an ancient, possibly Celtic, shrine, and then spend some time wandering among trees.

pines near the clootie well

Ah Ha! We’re on the right track now.

cloots showing the way to the clootie well

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 of the clootie well

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.

Let’s hang our cloots now, in imagination.

Let’s make our wishes.

And may they all come true!

the clootie well

In SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, Morragh ties a cloth above a sacred spring.

Excerpt

I tear a small piece of fabric from the bottom of my dress and tie it to a smaller branch of the tree above to thank the spirit. She needs it not, but it is a mark to me, a sign of my reverence, and a reminder of the blessing received on this day.

The Romans called it the edge of the world

Set in 1st century Scotland, my latest novel, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!

See the press release here

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Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

Ailish Sinclair stares out to sea

See my About Page here

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The Alligators and Follies of Pitfour Estate

Summer at Pitfour Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

I’ve visited Pitfour Estate many times over the years. It’s a great place to walk, though less well known than the nearby Aden Park. I have photos from various years and various seasons. That’s summer above. Remember summer?

History of Pitfour Estate

 Autumn at Pitfour Estate.

The estate was purchased  in 1700 by James Ferguson of Badifurrow, who became the first Laird of Pitfour. He and his descendants developed the land, building various bridges and follies. The observatory in Drinnie’s Wood used to be part of the estate too, having been built to watch horse racing on the nearby race track (now a forest).

The Temple of Theseus

One of the follies was a bathhouse built to look like a Temple of Theseus, seen from across the lake below.

Temple of Theseus

The fifth Laird, an extravagant man who liked his luxuries, is said to have kept pet alligators in it. The interior:

The inside of the Temple of Theseus at Pitfour Estate. Home to alligators?

Looking out over the lake from behind the pillars of the temple, on another summer’s day:

Pitfour Lake

Pitfour in the Mist

Pitfour Lake in the mist

The lake is used by a local fishing club today. You often see jumping fish.

Trees at Pitfour Estate

I have a great many pictures, so I intend to share some more of them in my next newsletter: swans, another folly and some more mist. Hopefully that’ll go out in the next few days, if my current writing project releases me for long enough to do it! Go here to sign up for the newsletter.

Mermaid and Fireflies Reviews

Mallee Stanley shared reviews of THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR and FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE on her Read and Write blog recently. “”What makes both these books fascinating reads, is that they are based on dark historical events relating to Aberdeen.” See the whole review here.

Latest Book

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD features some forbidden romance.

He’s a Roman. She’s a Celt.

Set in 1st century Scotland, this is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and love.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

The Romans called it the edge of the world

Writer’s Tip Jar

The Castles of My Life and Two Fire Engines

Brodie Castle and fire engines, one of the best castles

Brodie Castle

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.

Tolquhon

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

Drum

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!

Fyvie

We watched Shakespeare at Fyvie:

fyvie castle

Huntly

And attended educational events at Huntly:

huntly castle

Ballindalloch

We admired the beautiful 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

New Slains Castle

The scariest of the castles has to be Slains Castle, 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 really 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:

Castles: Slains near Cruden Bay

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

My books always seem to feature a castle (time period allowing)

Sisters at the Edge of the World cover

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

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

Taking place mainly in a castle, 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.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

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The Rocking Stones of Auchmaliddie

The rocking stones of Auchmaliddie

The Rocking Stones of Auchmaliddie, situated near the village of New Deer in Aberdeenshire, are thought to be the remnants of a recumbent stone circle. Only the large recumbent and one flanker remain. They are made of white quartz which lights up under the moon and sparkles in the sunlight. What an impressive circle it would have been when whole! Most recumbent circles in the Grampian region are aligned to moon cycles so moonlight quite possibly featured in their use.

They are still beautiful, I think. Even in driving hail, as they were when I visited recently.

close up of the quartz of the rocking stones of auchmaliddie
The quartz.

The black line there is comprised of straw bales wrapped in plastic. The stones are located at the edge of a field.

The rocking stones of Auchmaliddie.

Folklore of the Rocking Stones

Local folklore suggests that the stones, also known as the Muckle (huge) Stanes of Auchmaliddie, were once placed on top of one another. It is said that if a person were to stand on them and tell a lie the top stone would tip.

The rocking stones of Auchmaliddie

A Stone Circle, Destroyed

The rocking stones have fared better than the stone circle that stood on the hill, just a mile or so away, at the other side of the village. In the 18th century it was smashed up and used in the foundations of the new manse. Bad luck is said to befall anyone who lives on the surrounding lands. The nearby farm is called Standing Stones. Below is the hillside where the circle would have been, Culsh Monument to the right.

The Culsh Monument, New Deer, Aberdeenshire

In other news, I did a wee interview over on Relationships are Complicated.com here.

Quote from interview: My next historical novel explores the relationship between two chosen sisters who flee abuse together as young children. They are as close as two people can be and I am still working on conveying that closeness and the deep understanding that exists between these young women as they negotiate their own romantic liaisons with men, both approved and unapproved by their community, and as their Bronze Age society marches into war. (Now published. See SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD).

If you liked this article on the Rocking Stones of Auchmaliddie, you might like to explore my other stone circle posts here.

Or maybe my books, all of which feature a stone circle:

Sisters at the Edge of the World cover

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

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

Taking place mainly in a castle, 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.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

feet

See my About Page here

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Go here to sign up for my occasional emails. They’re a more intimate space than the blog and always include some exclusive photos.

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The Witch Stone in Winter

Frosty hill leading up to the Witch Stone. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

The ground is solid, all the ruts and bumps hard and crunchy under my feet as I climb the hill. And there on the top, small from this angle, is the Witch Stone.

It’s said that witches were burned there in the past.

It’s quiet now. Cold. Peaceful.

Ladybirds are hibernating on the Witch Stone today! I hope they survive the season.

Ladybirds hibernate on the Witch Stone. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

Chosen Sisters, Romans and Romance

Sisters at the Edge of the World cover

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Review from Terry Tyler: “It’s a fabulous story, a real page-turner and so well written. It made me think about the passage and circle of time, of the constancy of the land on which we live and the transient nature of human life. Loved it.

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

Witchcraft and a Handsome Laird

The Mermaid and the Bear cover

Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, 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.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

A delight from end to end.” Undiscovered Scotland

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Kidnapping, Slavery and Friendship

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

Newletter

Go here to sign up for my occasional emails that include exclusive photos and news of my writing and life. They’re a more intimate space than the blog.

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Dark and Brooding Skies

Dark and brooding skies over the loch

There’s brooding skies over the loch now. You can see the wee island that the landowner is building for wildlife. But the snow has turned to sleet, so things are about to get less pretty. Will these little daily blogs continue? I don’t know. Perhaps. Other scenic things may happen.

It’s Mermaid Time!

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair. Christmas image.

Everyone knows about the Salem witch trials that took place in seventeenth century America, but less well known are the instances of witch hunting that occurred across Scotland.

Ailish Sinclair painstakingly researched this fascinating and terrible subject for more than a year, before blending it with a love story in her debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. Featuring three real women who were accused as part of the Aberdeen witchcraft panic of 1597, the book is set against the beautiful backdrop of the Aberdeenshire countryside and tells the story of Isobell, and her desperation to escape London and an arranged marriage, to find a better life.

Upon landing in Scotland, Isobell’s dreams of faery castles, ancient woodlands and misty lochs seem to be coming true, as she finds herself kitchen maid to a handsome Laird, who offers not only safety but also the hope for a brighter future, filled with love and kindness. All is not how it seems, however, and enemies, both from the past and the present, conspire to test Isobell to the limits of endurance, and beyond.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Signed copies

The Mermaid and the Bear Christmas

Updates

If you want to be kept updated about when new books are available, you can sign up for the mailing list (lots of photos there too), or the little newsletter on Twitter, or follow my Amazon author page.

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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

A little more Deer Abbey will be dropping into my mailing list next week. Go here to sign up if you like.

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.

Paperbacks and kindle: http://author.to/mermaid

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Aberdeenshire Stone Circles in Winter

Aberdeenshire stone circles: Aikey Brae stone circle

I love the way Aikey Brae Recumbent Stone Circle seems to materialise as you step out of the dark woodland path. It’s my favourite of the Aberdeenshire stone circles; it feels like my ‘home’ one. I did used to live nearby so have visited it more than any other. This was Boxing Day.

Aberdeenshire stone circles: frost and sun

It was bright and frosty and enchanted. There was chocolate.

A few days later, on the way to see a friend, I stopped by Loanhead of Daviot:

Aberdeenshire stone circles:  Daviot

The day was damp and dark and cold. The circle felt calm and steadfast. Timeless.

The double recumbent:

split stone

And then, in the new year, many weathers happened at Berrybrae circle. First there was sun (pictured below) before a gale blew up and brought horizontal sleet.

Aberdeenshire stone circles: Berrybrae

Let the rest of the year hold more timeless enchantment (and chocolate) for us all, rather than horizontal precipitation!

Winter Reading

My novels all involve dark historical events, romance and a little magic…

  • SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD opens on a snowy winter solstice in 1st century Scotland. The main character is neurodiverse, and has been non-verbal until that first scene of the book.
  • If you like castles, Scotland, history, witches, stone circles and Christmas done medieval-style, you might like THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. There’s also a love story.
  • FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the kidnapped children of 18th century Aberdeen, and features Christmas in Colonial Pennsylvania.

They’re all available in paperback, kindle and on kindle unlimited.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Signed copies from me

Stone circle quote from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR