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?

Excerpt from THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR

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!

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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.

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

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD cover

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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Memorial: the History of Witchcraft in Aberdeen

leg fetters
The Steeple of St Nicholas Kirk

Aberdeen has quite a brutal history of witchcraft accusations (and other dark events such as mass kidnappings). This post details the start of my research into those areas.

Memorial

Cowdray Hall War Memorial and the history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

Aberdeen’s Cowdray Hall doubles as a war memorial and a venue for classical concerts, and it’s where I started my wee tour of the city on this day.

Gaol!

Leaving grand places behind, I journeyed on to the Tolbooth Museum, a 17th and 18th century gaol.  Unlike the pristine war memorial, the prison exhibits the dark nature of its origin for all to see. The small cells are stifling and scary. They smell stale. There are a few of those terrifying pretend people; some of them talk, regaling you with tales of their mistreatment.

leg fetters: history of witchcraft
bars in the 17th century gaol

The 18th century record of prisoners reveals many debtors, a murder spree and one intriguing entry of unspecified ‘outrages’.

outrages

History of Witchcraft Accusations

An interesting fact gleaned behind the bars and bolts and padlocks of the jail was that people accused of witchcraft were once imprisoned in the steeple of St. Nicholas Kirk. Out the door I went.

door to the cells: history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

The present day kirk is serene and beautiful and open to visitors in the afternoons. The steeple sits just above the part pictured below. It’s not the same one that was used as a prison in the 16th century, but it is situated in exactly the same place.

Those boards on the left display a detailed history of  the church,  but there was no mention of witchcraft.

church and history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

There was an excavation happening in the east part of the building. Lots of skeletons were uncovered along with a metal ring that ‘witches’ were once tied to.

archaeology: history of witchcraft in Aberdeen

The 12th century St. John’s Chapel houses a memorial to those killed in the Piper Alpha oil disaster. These amazing chairs are part of it. They sit right underneath the steeple.

carved furniture as a memorial

This window depicts the history of Aberdeen. It was paid for by the oil and gas industry so those themes dominate.

14664648327_339113ba52_z

I walked down steps and cobbled streets in search of comfort, hot chocolate and books.

research

Unfortunately there’s not much comfort to be found in researching The Witchcraft Act and all that followed.

The Witch Stone

History of Witchcraft: the witch stone near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire

It is said that witches were tied to the witch stone near Fraserburgh, and burnt. The landowner questions whether this was the case as no documentation exists on the subject. But such evidence was often destroyed, or omitted from written history. After the burnings and ‘dookings’ and other well specified outrages by church and state had ended, people were ashamed. And rightly so. But where’s the memorial in that?

Memorial through Dance

70 years since D-Day, BalletBoyz pay tribute to the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives with a specially commissioned short film for Channel 4:

More Witch Related Posts

The book that eventually sprang from all this is out in both paperback and Kindle now!

See the publisher’s press release here.

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.

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Daffodils in Snow, and History Lessons

A line of daffodils in snow
Daffodils in snow

Originally published April 2021.

At first I thought there was only a single line of daffodils in the snow. I stopped to take photos. Like I would do on any other day out. A day out just for fun. Not that there have been many of those lately.

I walked along the path and headed down the steps where I was met with this stunning bank of yellow.

Continue reading “Daffodils in Snow, and History Lessons”