A Lighthouse in a Castle, and a Love Story, and the Sky

old lighthouse, new lighthouse

That’s the sixteenth century Kinnaird Castle on the left, it was converted into a lighthouse in 1787 and now houses the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. On the right is the modern automated lighthouse. Quite why they seem to be leaning towards one another I don’t know; I may have been transfixed by the sky when I took the photo (a frequent and increasing occurrence, should I be worried?)

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Bennachie

Bennachie in the distance

Bennachie is a large hill that can be seen for miles in Aberdeenshire. Its craggy peaks seem to loom out of nowhere as you drive round twisty corners of country roads. I once climbed it three times in one day for charity; complainers of sore legs were reminded of that fact yesterday. The top of Harthill Castle, which was owned and restored by the late American writer Ann Savage, is just visible over the trees.

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The Great Tapestry of Scotland

The Great Tapestry of Scotland in Aberdeen Art Gallery

first pioneers to Scotland

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is a beautiful trail through history and, at 143 metres long, the longest tapestry in the world. Its soft sewn artworks filled three large rooms of Aberdeen Art Gallery and photography was allowed. Yes. I was happy. May you be too.

Despite the earliness of my visit, the gallery was crowded; I was not quite so happy about the angle of this next pic. Lovely, lovely stone circles though:

stone circles panel of The Great Tapestry of Scotland

Some of Scotland’s past is sad and terrible:

witches panel of The Great Tapestry of Scotland

Glencoe

war

Happier happenings:

14108971062_74b94ae9bc_b (700x700)

‘Fiction is to grown men what play is to the child.’ RLS

Robert Louis Stevenson

and strange ones…

Dolly the Sheep

There was something calm and nourishing about walking round this exhibition. Whether it was the gentle and warm art of needlework that hung everywhere in the rooms – there was also a lady demonstrating sewing techniques – or the many different styles from the 1000+ stitchers marking the constant change of the world, I don’t know. The overall feeling was reflective yet hopeful: happy.

The Tapestry is touring , mainly in Scotland at the moment but other UK and overseas venues are planned, see the website for details.

Great Tapestry

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The Mermaid and the Bear Christmas

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.

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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

Tarlair

Tarlair outdoor swimming pool

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.

Tarlair as seen from the cliffs above today

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.

through the Needle's Eye

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