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 Map of Witches is a brand new resource from the University of Edinburgh, utilising the extensive data collected in their Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database. See it here. It’s a visual and clickable map of over 3000 people accused of witchcraft in Scotland, and is both fascinating and terrible, as this subject always is. My three quines from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR are included (see Isobell’s entry above) as are a disturbing Witch Pricker’s Journey and various other stories. You can choose to view a modern map or a historical one, the latter suiting it better, I think.
After peering back into the dark like that, I need to look at beauty, so here’s some from recent days:
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.
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
A little more Deer Abbey will be dropping into my mailing list next week. Go here to sign up if you like.
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.
Easter Aquorthies, also known as East Aquorthies, is sometimes described as a ‘show circle’ and recommended as a good first circle to visit. This is due to its near perfect condition and position: all stones are present and upright; the grass always seem to have been manicured to a close shave, and the views of the surrounding countryside are magnificent. It’s also very clearly signposted from the nearby town of Inverurie, making it easy to find and then park in its small car park.
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.
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.
Aviemore stone circle is unusual, though not unique, in that it is situated in the middle of a housing estate. On the day I visited, the summer solstice, roses were blooming at the edge of the circle, adding to the magical atmosphere of the place. The houses don’t detract from that, bushes and trees lending some privacy to the ancient stones.
This beautiful tree sits at the foot of the Hill of Dunnideer near Insch in Aberdeenshire. It’s a short but steep climb to the top; when you see the remains of the prehistoric vitrified fort and medieval castle you know you’re nearly there.
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.
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.
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