Dunnideer Vitrified Hill Fort and Leith Hall Garden

tree at the base of Dunnideer vitrified hill fort

This beautiful tree sits at the foot of Dunnideer vitrified hill fort near Insch in Aberdeenshire. It’s a short but steep climb to the top of the hill. When you see the remains of the medieval castle and prehistoric fort you know you’re nearly there.

The Vitrified Hill Fort

The vitrified forts of Northern Scotland are a bit of a mystery. About 2000 years ago the stones of many of these defensive buildings reached a high enough temperature to melt. Theories as to how this happened are varied. Battles? Ancient building techniques? Aliens? I’ve written a dramatic stone melting event into SISTERS (no aliens involved) but don’t pretend to have the answer to this piece of prehistory.

vitrified hill fort rock and medieval castle

The views from the hill make all exertion of the climb worthwhile. Click the pano for a larger version:

panorama of view from Dunideer vitrified hill fort

View from the other side:

Dunnideer vitrified hill fort

Nestled, and almost completely hidden, under a tree at the bottom of the hill are the remains of Dunnideer Recumbent Stone Circle.

recumbent and flankers of Dunnideer stone circle at the base of the vitrified hill fort
stone under tree
split flanker of Dunnideer stone circle

Leith Hall

A few miles further west is Leith Hall with its wonderful walled garden.

colourful borders of Leith Hall garden

Stone guardian at the gate:

lion at Leith Hall

I love the Moon Gate, and in retrospect wish I had gone through it and taken a photo from the other side too. Oh well, next time…

moongate at Leith Hall

My Books

The Mermaid and the Bear cover

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations, a handsome Laird, an ancient stone circle and a love story.

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

And coming soon…

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.

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.  More…

Writer’s Tip Jar

Stone Circles, Henges, Hills and a Barrow

Aikey Brae, one of my favourite stone circles

It’s no secret that I love stone circles and other old stony places. I visit them. A lot. I hug them. Quite a bit. And I write about them. Aikey Brae, above, is my absolute favourite. The circle in my books is loosely based on this one. I’ve blogged about it here in the snow and here after the trees were felled.

Today I’m sharing some older photos of ancient sites that I’ve not used before, so they may not be too perfect, but I hope they capture the spirit of these special places.

First, I’m going back in time, deep into the family photo archives, and journeying out of Scotland to Wiltshire in England.

Avebury

Avebury stone circle

The great henge of Avebury, a circle with a village built right in the middle of it, is another of my favourites.

Peeking round a stone at Avebury
Avebury

West Kennet and Silbury

Nearby is West Kennet Long Barrow where I once found a candle burning (very naughty, such things could cause damage):

candle in West Kennet Long Barrow
West Kennet

Across the road from the barrow is the mysterious Silbury Hill.

Aberdeenshire Stone Circles

We have a nice wee henge in Aberdeenshire too at Broomend of Crichie, and the shape of the stones really remind me of Avebury. As does the fact that there was once an avenue of stones leading to the circle.

Broomend of Crichie stone circle

And just down the river, in the old graveyard, is the Bass of Inverurie.

The Bass of Inverurie

The Bass is a natural hill that has been shaped. It’s been home to a Motte and Bailey castle and there have been older worked flint objects found there too.

Did someone create a diminutive complex similar to that of Avebury? I wonder…

Some lovely Pictish stones stand beside the Bass today, un-huggable in their new glass case.

Pictish stones by the Bass of Inverurie

The countryside of the Inverurie area is rich in standing stones and circles too. Easter Aquorthies lies a couple of miles away from the Bass. I’ve blogged about it here.

Easter Aquorthies Stone Circle

And, not too far away, is Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle, one that I’m writing about just now as it plays a part in the story of SISTERS.

At Daviot:

Ailish at Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle

Wonderful Blogs

The Wee Writing Lassie asked me 7 intrusive questions! Go to her blog to see them.

Sally Cronin reviewed FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE on her wonderful Smorgasbord Blog Magazine: “This book is well researched, bringing history to life and the writing flows smoothly like hot chocolate as it warms on a cold day. It is a coming of age and love story which will have you holding your breath on occasion as Elizabeth comes to terms with her future.See the whole review here.

Tyrebagger stone circle
Tyrebagger Circle near Aberdeen

I hope you’ve enjoyed my wee journey into the ancient past. Sign up to my mailing list if you would like more of this ilk in your inbox.

Books (stone circle included!)

Set in a castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

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

Castle Fraser Circle
Path through crop to Castle Fraser stone circle

About Page 

Aviemore Stone Circle in the Scottish Highlands

Roses bloom in Aviemore stone circle

Aviemore Stone Circle is unusual, though not unique, in that it is situated in the middle of a housing estate. On the day I visited, the summer solstice, roses were blooming at the edge of the circle, adding to the magical atmosphere of the place. The houses don’t detract from that, bushes and trees lending some privacy to the ancient stones.

Aviemore stone circle in the sun

The sun was newly risen and bright; patches of ground seemed almost luminescent. There’s often a special light quality at stone circles, whether they’re in an open urban setting like this, or tucked away within dark forests. Maybe the mind just tends toward mysticism among these mysterious old standing stones.

Under the rowan tree

People had left mementos or offerings in the Rowan tree, perhaps treating the site like a clootie well?

ribbons tied to a tree by the stone circle

Clouds gathered overhead as I left the circle, on my way to an utterly amazing breakfast just round the corner at the Mountain Cafe (no longer there, sadly).

Aviemore stone circle and house

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My books

Ailish's books

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Aberdeenshire and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

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

And coming soon…

Sisters at the Edge of the World
Sisters at the Edge of the World

Writer’s Tip Jar

The Hanging Stone on Gallows Hill, Rosehearty

the hanging stone, Rosehearty
Mounthooly Doocot

A couple of years ago, I decided to search for the Hanging Stone near Rosehearty, here in Aberdeenshire. It’s another witch stone, a place of historical execution and, according to local folklore, ‘dooking’ as well.

I’ve reached the stage in my current malady of being able to sit at my desk for short times, but obviously I’m not able to run around the countryside visiting interesting places. But I can write about the ones already visited. So here we go.

I knew the stone was in the vicinity of the Mounthooly Doocot (pigeon house), pictured above and below, so headed there. *experiences mild jealousy of past self, so gung ho in the ability to just get up and go out*

Mounthooly Doocot

Turning 360 degrees, searching the skyline, the stone was finally spotted, embedded in a dry stane dyke. That’s a dry stone wall; there’s a great art and skill to building these traditional field boundaries.

The Hanging Stone on the horizon.

I walked from the Mounthooly car park, along narrow roads and then up the field.

The Hanging Stone on Gallows Hill, Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire

And there it was. Quite tall, much taller than me, wrapped round with barbed wire, which seemed somehow fitting given the stones dark past.

The Hanging Stone on Gallows Hill, Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire

The Hanging Stone is quite possibly an ancient standing stone which later came to be used in the way it’s named for now. It’s very square. Carved that way, I think.

Nearby is The Pit, which was used for lesser punishments than death. The dooking, I imagine, as it is said to have been ‘for witches’. Dooking involved testing someone in water to see if they would sink or float and thereby prove if they were a witch or not. I did not see The Pit, and, as I walked away, focused my attention on the great beauty of the ocean views.

Canmore details on stone.

The Hanging Stone on Gallows Hill, Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire

And back here, today, at my desk, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD has a blurb:

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.


Already published books:

the novels of Ailish Sinclair

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, a stone circle, and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

Culloden Battlefield and the Clava Cairns

Fraser Clan Stone on Culloden Moor

This post details a 2014 trip to Culloden Battlefield and the nearby Clava Cairns.

A bright blue sky day. Good for a journey up the coast and into the past. I stopped to take a picture of the anchor on the hill in Macduff.

Macduff, anchor and church

A couple of hours and many miles later, the skies had clouded.

Culloden Moor

Culloden Battlefield

The visitor centre at Culloden is high-tech, swish, clean and pristine, all the things the bloody battle of the past was not. The contrast always gets me. I sit on a soft red sofa looking out at the battlefield, eating my delicious lentil soup and enjoying decadent chocolate cake in comfort and warmth.

Compare that to being one of the Jacobite clansmen, having marched across boggy rough terrain in the dark all night, exhausted, starving, about to be slaughtered in a fight so unfairly matched that it was all over in one hour. What would he think of Culloden Moor today and the nice day out it provides for families and tourists?

Out on the battlefield, things feel more authentic, more memorial. Red flags mark the government line:

flag on Culloden Moor

Clan stones over mass graves:

clans stone
field of the English

Old Leanach Cottage is dated about 1760, several years after the battle, but is said to stand on the site of an earlier cottage that was used as a field hospital for government troops:

cottage at Culloden

People leave offerings:

tartan offering at Culloden

After a little look at the peaceful, cud-chewing, Highland cattle, it’s time to visit some ancient standing stones.

The Clava Cairns

Victorian Grove

Here ancient burial cairns (estimated at about 4000 years old) are surrounded by circles of stone and trees. It’s the perfect peaceful place to visit after Culloden.

Clava Cairns

You can walk right into two of the three cairns, though the entrance tunnel would have been covered in the past: you would have had to crawl.

into the cairn

Some of the standing stones are high and shaped, rather like enormous graves:

standing stone rectangular, at Clava

Let’s finish with one of the aforementioned Highland Coos. There’s four of them in a field next to Culloden.

Highland Cow

Also see the post about the Cumberland Stone.

Cumberland Stone, by Culloden in the Scottish Highlands

My Books

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE, out April 1st, is set at the time of Culloden and 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

Waterstones

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

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 UK

Amazon Worldwide

Waterstones

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Writer’s Tip Jar

Finding Loudon Wood Stone Circle

Loudon Wood Stone Circle

Loudon Wood Stone Circle is so deep in the woods that it is almost impossible to find. There are many little paths that look like they might lead into it from the main track, but the one that actually does? Virtually hidden. I succeeded in finding it again in 2020. And it was wonderful.

One stone from the circle in Loudon Wood

Within the circle glade, it was peaceful. It was warm. It was calm.

sunshine over Loudon Wood Stone Circle

There was a brief rain shower while I was there, and even that felt gentle and soft, in direct contrast to the horizontal in-the-face precipitation we often get here.

Loudon Wood Stone Circle

I didn’t want to leave. Surrounded by dense trees, the circle felt separate from the somewhat crazed world outside. It made me think of the person who commented on a recent Instagram post, saying that the image freed them from ‘all the bullshit’ for a moment. This was that picture:

ox-eye daisy

Loudon Wood Stone Circle is like that too. Free of things that can maybe be symbolised by this beer made by a local brewery:

Brewdog's Barnard Castle beer

The stones are old. True. Dignified and simple.

Recumbent stone in Loudon Wood

And the pathway out? Easy to find.

pathway through the woods

You can read an interview I did recently on The Trainee Journalist blog: Novels by North-east author tell unheard stories from the past.

And there’s a nice review of THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR over on Goodreads here. “The ending is gorgeous and deeply moving. I had a hard time putting the book down. Highly recommended for readers of historical fiction, love stories, tragedies, and the resilience of love, kindness, and faith.”

The Mermaid and the Bear

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.

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Waterstones

Scottish author Ailish Sinclair at Berrybrae Stone Circle
At Berrybrae…

Explore more stone circles with me by signing up to the mailing list.

See the About Page here.

The Mysterious Lang Stane of Aberdeen

Inscription on the Lang Stane
The Lang Stane, Aberdeen

The Lang Stane (long stone) of Aberdeen is situated close to busy and bustling Union Street. Many places in the city are named after this stone, but most people don’t know that it’s there. It’s hidden away on the corner of Langstane Place and Dee Street. The Music Hall can be seen in the background of the above photo.

The Lang Stane in Langstane Place
From Google Street View

History of the Lang Stane

There’s not a lot of documented history on the stone or how it came to be placed in the wall, though I have heard that this event happened in the 1960s. It’s shown as a solitary standing stone on a map from 1746, before Langstane Place was built.

The Lang Stane in its alcove

Battles and Boundaries

The Lang Stane may have originally been part of a stone circle. The carved base is consistent with this idea, that anchor shape being common in the stones of Aberdeenshire recumbent circles. It is also thought to have been used as a boundary marker along with another old and mysterious stone, the Crabstane. Both stones may have borne stony witness to the 1571 Battle of Craibstone between Clans Forbes and Gordon.

Who carved the words onto it, or when, I don’t know. There is also a faint six pointed star just below the text.

Visiting the Stone

I like to pay the stone a wee visit when I’m in the vicinity, all tucked away and squished into its alcove as it is. There’s no scenic rolling hillsides or lush forests for the Lang Stane as enjoyed by its contemporaries!

The opening scene of FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE takes place in a stone circle, the story then travelling the old cobbled streets of Aberdeen before leaving Scotland’s shores.

There’s a lovely new review of the book up on Pink Quill Books here: “This is a love story that transcends colour, race, and class, as Elizabeth grows from being a spoilt lady of the castle to a young woman who fiercely defends her closest friends.

the novels of Ailish Sinclair

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

Set in a castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

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

ballet feet of Ailish Sinclair

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Writer’s Tip Jar

One Castle, Three Circles, lots of Cows

the one castle of the post: Drum Castle

The One Castle: Drum

On our last visit to Drum Castle, the one castle of this post, it was raining. So on the way to explore circles, we took a walk through the gardens, having missed them before. They were filled with the bright sights and scents of summer, the castle peeking round corners and through trees everywhere we went.

Originally posted 2015.

medieval tower in the one castle

Circle 1: Cullerlie

Cullerlie Stone Circle is unusual for Aberdeenshire in that it is not a recumbent circle. There’s only one photo as we were distracted by an elderly dog from the farm that wanted us to throw a stick.

Cullerlie Stone Circle, next up from the one castle

Circle 2: Sunhoney

More animals awaited at Sunhoney; an excited herd of cows ran alongside the path with us…

path to Sunhoney

They then jostled and jiggled for the best view at the perimeter of the circle enclosure.

lineup of cows

I fear we were a disappointment. There were signs that other visitors may have danced (trampled grass) and provided snacks (rolled oats all over the place) whereas we mainly sat quietly and took photos.

Sunhoney Stone Circle

The recumbent stone at Sunhoney has many carved cup marks but lichen and light conditions were not helpful in capturing them on camera (note rolled oats though).

cupmarks

The cows gave us doleful looks as we left and did not follow us back down the path.

Circle 3: Midmar Kirk

There were no animals to greet us at Midmar Kirk Circle, again an unusual site, situated in a churchyard.

Midmar

While it was common for churches to be built on older sacred sites, it is unusual for the originals to have been left intact (almost, there are a few stones missing).

standing stone and graves
church and stones

Finishing with an apology to the cows – we’ll try harder next time – and the view from the roof of Drum:

window in Drum Castle roof, one castle

My Books (also featuring one castle!)

Scottish Historical Fiction from Ailish Sinclair

Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story. Her second book, FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE, was inspired by the kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

one castle more, Delgatie!
One castle more, Delgatie!

Amazon UK

Amazon worldwide

Waterstones

Come past the unicorns and through the castle door to sign up for my occasional emails. They contain exclusive photos and news of my writing and life.

My About Page

Bennachie: Craggy Peaks, Picts and Standing Stones

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 on the climb detailed below (done some time ago, obviously).

The top of Harthill Castle, which was owned and restored by the late American writer Ann Savage, is just visible over the trees.

Bennachie and the circle at Loanhead of Daviot both feature in my upcoming book SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, a tale of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love. More…

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD cover

Bennachie, the hill

The start of any Bennachie climb – we took the easiest ‘Rowan Tree’ route – starts with a misleading forest stroll:

woodland walk on Bennachie

Then you’re out into the baking sun (sometimes; you are equally as likely to emerge into a dense Stephen King-esque mist) and views expand.

rock face on Bennachie

Parts of the path are pure exposed rock, it feels like standing on the bare face of the planet. I like to kneel and kiss the stone; you do see some strange people on Bennachie…

getting steeper as we climb Bennachie

The ascent gradually gets steeper, the sun gets hotter, but the Mither Tap nears. Big cairn, little cairn:

cairns on Bennachie

Picts!

There’s a Pictish hillfort on the top, you pass between its walls…

hillfort on Bennachie

And then cling, terrified, to the side of the uppermost rocks as the wind buffets you. That bit is over quickly. The landscape soon owns your attention.

views from Bennachie

Standing Stones near Bennachie

The Maiden Stone stands near the foot of the hill, a ninth century Pictish stone displaying a good example of the mysterious, much debated, ‘Pictish beast’. Swimming elephant? Dolphin? Kelpie?

The Maiden Stone

A few miles further on is Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle, the first recumbent circle I ever visited, beautifully cared for by Historic Scotland.

Daviot
uprights at Daviot
between the recumbents

Will I stop now? No, one more, then we can put our feet up.

circle

Keep up to date with all my news by signing up to the mailing list.

Published books:

Ailish's books

Set in an Aberdeenshire castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, a stone circle, and a love story.

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Pennsylvania.

Paperbacks and kindle: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

The Rocking Stones of Auchmaliddie

The rocking stones of Auchmaliddie

The Rocking Stones of Auchmaliddie are situated near the village of New Deer in Aberdeenshire and thought to be the remnants of a recumbent stone circle. Only the large recumbent and one flanker remain. They are made of white quartz which lights up under the moon and sparkles in the sunlight. What an impressive circle it would have been when whole! Most recumbent circles in the Grampian region are aligned to moon cycles so moonlight quite possibly featured in their use.

They are still beautiful, I think. Even in driving hail, as they were when I visited recently.

close up of the quartz of the rocking stones of auchmaliddie
The quartz.

The black line there is comprised of straw bales wrapped in plastic. The stones are located at the edge of a field.

The rocking stones of Auchmaliddie.

Folklore of the Rocking Stones

Local folklore suggests that the stones, also known as the Muckle (huge) Stanes of Auchmaliddie, were once placed on top of one another. It is said that if a person were to stand on them and tell a lie the top stone would tip.

The rocking stones of Auchmaliddie

The rocking stones have fared better than the stone circle that stood on the hill, just a mile or so away, at the other side of the village. In the 18th century it was smashed up and used in the foundations of the new manse. Bad luck is said to befall anyone who lives on the surrounding lands. The nearby farm is called Standing Stones. Below is the hillside where the circle would have been, Culsh Monument to the right.

The Culsh Monument, New Deer, Aberdeenshire

In other news, I did a wee interview over on Relationships are Complicated.com here.

Quote from interview: My next historical novel explores the relationship between two chosen sisters who flee abuse together as young children. They are as close as two people can be and I am still working on conveying that closeness and the deep understanding that exists between these young women as they negotiate their own romantic liaisons with men, both approved and unapproved by their community, and as their Bronze Age society marches into war.

If you liked this article on the Rocking Stones of Auchmaliddie, you might like to explore my other stone circle posts here.

Or maybe my books, both of which feature a circle…

Ailish's books

FIREFLIES AND CHOCOLATE was inspired by the 18th century kidnapped children of Aberdeen.

Set in a castle, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR features the Scottish witchcraft accusations and a love story.

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

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