The 18th Century Letter Seals of Lord Pitsligo

Eighteenth Century Letter Seals

Those are the beautiful letter seals of Lord Pitsligo, a man I have written about before:

letter seals

His forward thinking ways inspired aspects of the Laird in THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, and a similar set of letter seals feature in FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE.

Letter Seals Quote from FIREFLIES:

Excerpt from FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE featuring letter seals.

Research

The seals were shown to me by a direct descendant of Lord Pitsligo while I was researching FIREFLIES. I got to hold them and turn them on their hinges, which was wonderfully informative and exciting. It was great to connect to the time of the book like that too.

Label on Lord Pitsligo's letter seals

The Book

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

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“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

Jacobite wine glasses at Culloden visitor centre
More research: Jacobite symbolism on wine glasses at Culloden

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The Fairy Glen by Rosemarkie on the Black Isle

waterfall at the Fairy Glen

The Fairy Glen, on the Black Isle, is an enchanting woodland with stunning waterfalls and pools. Not to be confused with the Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye (see it here).

Keeping the Fairies Happy

Children used to dress a pool within the glen to keep the fairies happy.

Coins are pressed into a dead tree, today for wishes or luck. In older, darker tradition these tree coins were an offering to the fairies to ask them not to exchange babies for changelings.

coins in a tree at the fairy glen on the Black Isle.

Walking in the Fairy Glen

The atmosphere of the Fairy Glen is joyful and light. It’s easy to imagine fairies dancing and flying and giggling over the pools and streams. There are nice clear paths and bridges through it all, making it a wonderful place to walk.

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Also see: The Clootie Well on the Black Isle

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The Mermaid and the Bear

The Mermaid and the Bear on the pink bench in the snow

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.

See the press release here

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A delight from end to end.” Undiscovered Scotland

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

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The Clootie Well on the Black Isle

Bring your cloots! And let’s go make a wish at the Clootie Well on the Black Isle.

The Black Isle

The Black Isle is a peninsula near Inverness in The Highlands of Scotland. The towns and villages of the ‘Isle’ boast many excellent museums, hotels and shops. There are castles too, making the quick drive over the Kessock Bridge well worthwhile. Dismantled oil rigs can sometimes be seen on the Cromarty Firth side, as can dolphins.

Cromarty

Searching for the Clootie Well

Inland there are older places, special places.

We take a wrong turn while searching for the clootie well, an ancient, possibly Celtic, shrine, and then spend some time wandering among trees.

pines near the clootie well

Ah Ha! We’re on the right track now.

cloots showing the way to the clootie well

People hang cloots (cloths) beside the well and in the surrounding woodland to ask for wishes or healing. As the cloot disintegrates, healing occurs or wishes come true.

hillside of the clootie well

It’s an unusual but peaceful place. Despite the modernity of many of the hanging items, the well feels timeless. The number and variety of cloots is impressive. They extend right down the hill to the roadside.

Let’s hang our cloots now, in imagination.

Let’s make our wishes.

And may they all come true!

the clootie well

In SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, Morragh ties a cloth above a sacred spring.

Excerpt

I tear a small piece of fabric from the bottom of my dress and tie it to a smaller branch of the tree above to thank the spirit. She needs it not, but it is a mark to me, a sign of my reverence, and a reminder of the blessing received on this day.

The Romans called it the edge of the world

Set in 1st century Scotland, my latest novel, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!

See the press release here

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Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

Ailish Sinclair stares out to sea

See my About Page here

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Drinnie’s Wood: Rapunzel Tower and Stone Circle

tower in Drinnie's Wood

The Tower in Drinnie’s Wood

Rapunzel’s Tower appears over the trees in Drinnie’s Wood, dark and mysterious, a fairytale setting at the top of a hill. No hair is let down in answer to my call. Maybe the newly installed CCTV reveals me to be neither prince nor abusive mother figure, so I am ignored? Or maybe the words on the council sign are true, and the Drinnie’s Wood Observatory really is only open May-September.

Onwards and upwards. And downwards. Up the wrong path and back again. Up another, almost identical, path and… ta-da!

The Elusive Loudon Wood Stone Circle

Loudon Wood Stone Circle by Drinnie's Wood

It evaded me for years, this place. The entry to the narrow path is hidden by low hanging pine branches, and it wasn’t until the advent of Google Earth that I finally pinpointed its exact location.

I do like the white tree that stands opposite the large recumbent stone:

Loudon Wood by Drinnie's Wood

Most stone circles in Aberdeenshire are imbued with a  deep peacefulness. This one seems alive somehow, buzzing with an undercurrent of ancient energy, like a radio still tuned to the past. Carved stone:

stones in Drinnie's Wood

Back to the Future

Back to the present and a newly planted wind turbine, another tower I would like to look inside; see the inviting steps and door at the bottom? Surprisingly large, up close – diagonal was the only way to get the whole thing in shot – and surprisingly quiet, whoosh-whooshing us gently into the future.

a modern tower by Drinnie's Wood

Also see:

Finding Loudon Wood Stone Circle

The Alligators and Follies of Pitfour Estate

Latest book

Bullet points about SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

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The Alligators and Follies of Pitfour Estate

Summer at Pitfour Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

I’ve visited Pitfour Estate many times over the years. It’s a great place to walk, though less well known than the nearby Aden Park. I have photos from various years and various seasons. That’s summer above. Remember summer?

History of Pitfour Estate

 Autumn at Pitfour Estate.

The estate was purchased  in 1700 by James Ferguson of Badifurrow, who became the first Laird of Pitfour. He and his descendants developed the land, building various bridges and follies. The observatory in Drinnie’s Wood used to be part of the estate too, having been built to watch horse racing on the nearby race track (now a forest).

The Temple of Theseus

One of the follies was a bathhouse built to look like a Temple of Theseus, seen from across the lake below.

Temple of Theseus

The fifth Laird, an extravagant man who liked his luxuries, is said to have kept pet alligators in it. The interior:

The inside of the Temple of Theseus at Pitfour Estate. Home to alligators?

Looking out over the lake from behind the pillars of the temple, on another summer’s day:

Pitfour Lake

Pitfour in the Mist

Pitfour Lake in the mist

The lake is used by a local fishing club today. You often see jumping fish.

Trees at Pitfour Estate

I have a great many pictures, so I intend to share some more of them in my next newsletter: swans, another folly and some more mist. Hopefully that’ll go out in the next few days, if my current writing project releases me for long enough to do it! Go here to sign up for the newsletter.

Mermaid and Fireflies Reviews

Mallee Stanley shared reviews of THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR and FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE on her Read and Write blog recently. “”What makes both these books fascinating reads, is that they are based on dark historical events relating to Aberdeen.” See the whole review here.

Latest Book

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD features some forbidden romance.

He’s a Roman. She’s a Celt.

Set in 1st century Scotland, this is a story of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and love.

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The Romans called it the edge of the world

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The Castles of My Life and Two Fire Engines

Brodie Castle and fire engines, one of the best castles

Brodie Castle

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.

Tolquhon

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

Drum

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!

Fyvie

We watched Shakespeare at Fyvie:

fyvie castle

Huntly

And attended educational events at Huntly:

huntly castle

Ballindalloch

We admired the beautiful 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

New Slains Castle

The scariest of the castles has to be Slains Castle, 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 really 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:

Castles: Slains near Cruden Bay

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

My books always seem to feature a castle (time period allowing)

Sisters at the Edge of the World cover

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance!

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

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

Taking place mainly in a castle, 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.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

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The Witch Stone in Winter

Frosty hill leading up to the Witch Stone. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

The ground is solid, all the ruts and bumps hard and crunchy under my feet as I climb the hill. And there on the top, small from this angle, is the Witch Stone.

It’s said that witches were burned there in the past.

It’s quiet now. Cold. Peaceful.

Ladybirds are hibernating on the Witch Stone today! I hope they survive the season.

Ladybirds hibernate on the Witch Stone. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

Chosen Sisters, Romans and Romance

Sisters at the Edge of the World cover

Set in 1st century Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD includes the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes. The book features a neurodiverse main character and some rather complicated romance.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Review from Terry Tyler: “It’s a fabulous story, a real page-turner and so well written. It made me think about the passage and circle of time, of the constancy of the land on which we live and the transient nature of human life. Loved it.

Read the article Roman Aberdeenshire features in author’s new book from Grampian Online.

Witchcraft and a Handsome Laird

The Mermaid and the Bear cover

Taking place mainly in a fictional castle, 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.

See the press release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

A delight from end to end.” Undiscovered Scotland

From the Press and Journal: New book by Fraserburgh author highlights horrific extent of witch trials in Scotland 

Kidnapping, Slavery and Friendship

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

See the publisher’s Press Release here

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society Editor’s Pick

Newletter

Go here to sign up for my occasional emails that include exclusive photos and news of my writing and life. They’re a more intimate space than the blog.

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Dark and Brooding Skies

Dark and brooding skies over the loch

There’s brooding skies over the loch now. You can see the wee island that the landowner is building for wildlife. But the snow has turned to sleet, so things are about to get less pretty. Will these little daily blogs continue? I don’t know. Perhaps. Other scenic things may happen.

It’s Mermaid Time!

The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair. Christmas image.

Everyone knows about the Salem witch trials that took place in seventeenth century America, but less well known are the instances of witch hunting that occurred across Scotland.

Ailish Sinclair painstakingly researched this fascinating and terrible subject for more than a year, before blending it with a love story in her debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR. Featuring three real women who were accused as part of the Aberdeen witchcraft panic of 1597, the book is set against the beautiful backdrop of the Aberdeenshire countryside and tells the story of Isobell, and her desperation to escape London and an arranged marriage, to find a better life.

Upon landing in Scotland, Isobell’s dreams of faery castles, ancient woodlands and misty lochs seem to be coming true, as she finds herself kitchen maid to a handsome Laird, who offers not only safety but also the hope for a brighter future, filled with love and kindness. All is not how it seems, however, and enemies, both from the past and the present, conspire to test Isobell to the limits of endurance, and beyond.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Signed copies

The Mermaid and the Bear Christmas

Updates

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Deer Abbey and the Man Trap!

A copper beech tree at Deer Abbey
Copper beech at Deer Abbey

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.

Doorway at Deer Abbey
Into the kitchen…

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:

man trap at Deer Abbey
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:

Caught in the man trap!
Ouch!

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!

Cloisters at Deer Abbey
Cloisters

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.

Yew Tree at Deer Abbey
A boundary of yews.

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.

Deer Abbey in Aberdeenshire

A little more Deer Abbey will be dropping into my mailing list next week. Go here to sign up if you like.

the novels of Ailish Sinclair
My books!

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.

Paperbacks and kindle: http://author.to/mermaid

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The Neolithic Stone Balls of Scotland

stone balls
neolithic stone balls from Aberdeenshire
They’re about the size of tennis balls.

The Neolithic stone balls of Scotland are a bit of a mystery. They’re mainly found in Aberdeenshire, sometimes buried beside stone circles. The carvings on them are varied and some of them have knobs. Yes, we could have a lot of fun with the balls and knobs of this post, but let’s not go there 😀

The use of the balls is unknown. There’s not much wear and tear on them, so they’re not generally thought to have been weapons.

The above stones are in the Arbuthnot Museum in Peterhead. I took the picture in 2020, right before lockdown, having just become well enough to go out and about again. I posted on Twitter about including such a stone in my – then – work in progress.

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is set well after the date of these balls. They’re thought to be about 5000 years old. But Morragh knows that it’s an old object. She calls it the ancestor stone, and sometimes it travels about with her.

Excerpt

I am before the Calgach and we look into one another’s eyes. It does not hurt too much, this looking, this time. He does not question me or try to interrupt what I am doing. I lay the knife in front of him, still looking into his eyes, and then the stone ball which makes a large hollow echoing sound as it connects with the table, silver sickle encircling it.

Further Reading

You can read more about the Neolithic stone balls on the National Museum of Scotland site here. Below is the stunning Towie ball which is part of their collection.

Neolithic stone balls: the Towie Ball

Recent Reviews

Sisters at the Edge of the World cover

SISTERS is an unusual book with an unconventional narrative voice, as is noted by the following two men in their reviews.

Tom Williams: “Is it a romance? Well, there’s a boy and a girl but, if they’d had Facebook in the Bronze Age, their relationship status would best be described as ‘complicated’.” See whole review here.

Andrew G Lockhart: “Morragh walks in a mystic and magical realm, but one which recaptures the wild simplicity and beliefs of the peoples of pagan Scotland.” See review here.

The Mermaid and the Bear cover

And then MERMAID got a great review from Louisa Blackburn: “I really, really like the way the accents are written. I talked about them enough to where my mom asked me, “Are you reading the story, or are you listening to it?” I read the book, but the accents were written in a way that I knew what everyone sounded like.” See the whole review here.

We’ve had balls and knobs, so why not baubles too?

My historical novels all involve dark events, romance and a little magic…

  • SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD opens on the winter solstice.
  • THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR has 6 chapters of medieval Christmas.
  • FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE features Christmas in Colonial Pennsylvania.

They’re all available in paperback, kindle and on kindle unlimited.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Signed copies from me

Novels by Ailish Sinclair

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