Playing with Geography at Cullykhan Bay

I love Cullykhan Bay.

Near the village of Pennan in Aberdeenshire, it’s a place that has long been appreciated by people, so it has a rich history. To the left of the sandy and sheltered beach is an impressive promontory.

It’s been home to an Iron Age fort, now vitrified, and a medieval castle. Excavations uncovered Neolithic and Roman finds there too (see Canmore).

From the promontory you can see the Deil’s Lum (meaning devil’s chimney), a cave which is also sometimes called Hell’s Lum. It shoots sea spray with a roar during stormy weather.

The Deil's Lum, a cave at Cullykhan Bay.

It’s a place – promontory, bay and caves – that I write about quite a lot.

In THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, Isobell, Jasper and Ian have to cross the inside of the Deil’s Lum before following a tunnel to the castle. The tunnel is fictional and so is my description of the interior of the cave, or rather it’s stolen from just around the corner.

As is my way, I have explored every tunnel and cave that is remotely accessible by land at Cullykhan. In we go…

cave entrance at Cullykhan Bay

Through to this dark and seagull filled space… and it’s this space that I made my characters traverse, after struggling across it myself, of course!

Cave opening at Cullykhan Bay

Isobell, at least, did not enjoy it:

The truth was that caves and tunnels were more fun when told of beside a fireside, in dry clothes with a full belly. The reality of them – the cold, the wet, the dripping and the echoing, and the smell of decay – was only startling. The roof looked as if a huge ogre had wielded a knife inside the cliffs, cutting and carving to his heart’s content, but the idea contained no mirth, nor even any interest. And what lay ahead in this new life of ours?


Staring at the entrance of the Deil’s Lum from across the divide wasn’t enough for me so I slid down the hill and climbed up into it. This is foolhardy behaviour and not recommended, but I made a short video so you can see the cave without risking life and limb!

Now I’m back in my Iron Age manuscript (see below), Cullykhan features much more heavily, and I love that too. Trying to capture the essence of the place in words, its magnificence, its beauty, and swirl all that round with the terrible things that I have happen there.

Cave opening at Cullykhan
Light and dark at Cullykhan…

I was honoured to appear on two wonderful websites recently: in an interview on Sue’s Musings here and on Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore.

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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



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

THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features three real women who were accused of witchcraft during the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic. There’s also a love story.



And, coming soon… (body allowing, this year surely?!):


When Morragh speaks to another person for the very first time, she has no idea that he is an invader in her land. 

What she does next constitutes a huge betrayal of her people, threatening her closest relationships and even her way of life itself.

As the conflict between the Caledonian tribes and the Roman Sons of Mars intensifies, can she use her high status in the community to lessen the coming death toll or even prevent outright war?

Set in 1st century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love.

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