Duffus Castle looms, majestic and huge against the skyline as you approach. It’s imposing and impressive… dramatic too…
On the day I visited – Easter Sunday – it was busy, really busy, and the air contained a mysterious hint of sulphur. This medieval fortress of the Moray family, one of Scotland’s most beautiful motte and bailey castles, had become a giant playground for the seasonal pastime of ‘egg rolling’.
The Women’s Land Army was formed in 1917, and then again in 1939 when WWII broke out. Women as young as 17 signed up for the duration of the war and took on all forms of farming and food production. The Army was eventually disbanded in 1950. There’s lots more information about the Land Girls here.
The memorial at Clochan in Moray is a joyous piece of art, paying tribute to the women who served in the Land Army throughout Scotland. Stones from various farms across the country have been incorporated into the ground around the gate. The fact that the memorial is surrounded by working farmland feels perfectly fitting too.
If you visit on a Sunday morning, as I did, there’s a small car boot sale going on just down the road in Clochan, with pancakes and tea being served in the village hall. It’s rather lovely and feels a bit like stepping back into a simpler time.
I ran through St Nicholas Kirkyard, and down and round Correction Wynd, an old medieval lane in Aberdeen, to see this recent street art. I was due to meet people for breakfast, but determined to see the ‘Quine Shrine’ first. The reason being? That first part, on the left, honours those who were persecuted for witchcraft in Aberdeen, and one tile names a few of them, including the three women I chose to write about in The Mermaid and the Bear.
The spellings are different, because spellings weren’t set back then, not like they are today. I chose to go with the way the names are recorded in the Survey Of Scottish Witchcraft from Edinburgh University. It was there that I learned, contrary to popular belief, that only a tiny proportion of those accused were midwives or folk healers; a mere 9 of the 3837 ‘witches’ in Scotland were midwives, and only 141 had some mention of healing in their cases (see the background page of the database).
In my fictional account of these women’s lives, one of them is a midwife and healer, but this is not the reason for the accusations brought against the three quines.
Beautiful Aikey Brae. Of the 150 or so recumbent stone circles in the North East of Scotland, this is my favourite.
I used to live close by and enjoyed many a summer picnic and winter stroll there. One year I watched a solar eclipse, with my children, sat right in the middle of the circle. The setting made it feel timeless and magical.
It’s mainly set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire.
It incorporates the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic.
There’s a stone circle.
There’s 16th century Christmas.
And there’s a love story.
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.
For years I passed by the road signs for Findlater Castle on my way to other places, joking that ‘I must find that later’. I’m so glad I finally did! I’ve been a few times now and it’s always stunning.
On this day it was exceptionally warm and still for Northern Scotland which emboldened me to go a bit further down onto the ramparts than I’ve been before.
Off I went, past the gorse which was warmed by the sun and smelled all coconutty…
There’s been a lot of barefoot walking along beaches this summer, with friends, with family, much of it between St Combs and Scotstown. And that’s where there do be many shipwrecks to see! Aye, aye, me hearties! Prepare yersels for the photos!
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.
Broadsea is the older part of Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire, having been the site of a Pictish settlement and later a fishing community. It still feels distinctly different from the surrounding town, more like a small village, and is a great place for a walk!
From Fraserburgh, we’re heading down Broadsea Road, past all the wee hoosies, right to the end.
Sky. Sea. Sand. It’s been a summer of these. Even on dull days it’s been warm and walks on the beach, beautiful. But I’m donning the tour guide hat again and we’re heading along the Aberdeenshire coast, starting up North and working our way round the corner and down.