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.

My Visit to the Tapestry in 2014

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

Witches

witches panel of The Great Tapestry of Scotland

Some early inspiration for THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, perhaps?

Glencoe

Glencoe

War

war

Happier Events

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

Calm

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.

Learn more about the Great Tapestry of Scotland on the official website here.

Great Tapestry

Chosen Sisters, Romans and Romance

sisters collage

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.

ballet feet of Ailish Sinclair

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Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle

Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle in Aberdeenshire

I love Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle. Really love it. I know I’ve talked about how Aikey Brae is my favourite, and that is true. But this one comes in a close second. It’s another circle that I’ve been visiting for decades, often starting a day out with a quick walk round the stones.

Castle in the woods

The approach is through woodland and I like the wee castle that has appeared in recent years.

play castle in Daviot woods

The path then leads up the hill and out to the stones.

Loanhead of Daviot

Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle

It’s a happy feeling circle, this one. They all have their own distinct atmosphere. Of course, maybe it’s just my own response to these places that I’m feeling. But then, isn’t everything that? A bit, at least. I once felt so happy at Daviot that I danced around in my bare feet and broke a toe on a hidden stone in the grass!

Loanhead of Daviot Recumbent Stone Circle

It always seems to be sunny there when I visit.

I picked up a fallen oak leaf from the adjacent ring of small stones that was used as a cremation cemetery in the distant past. The leaf is on my desk now as I write.

Daviot has been quite well excavated, with many cremation burials found (see the Historic Environment Scotland site). And there is, or was, a second circle across the valley. Only the large recumbent and flankers remain now. You can just make them out below, by the densest part of the tree line. You should be able to click the image to see a larger version.

As is my way (see the older post Things I Stole from Castles), I took these two circles and put them in SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.

Quote from the book

We hold hands as we walk down and then up the short grassy valley that lies between the two circles. The stones we arrive at are overgrown with all manner of plant life. There are healing herbs that I recognise, wee flowers too, and spiny stems that look rather forbidding. Keep out, they say. Stay away. Leave the stones in peace.

Review

Reviews are coming in for Sisters. 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.”

See the whole review here.

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…

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Read the article Aberdeenshire in Roman times takes centre stage in author’s latest book from AberdeenLive.

ballet novel, TENDU, by Ailish Sinclair

See my About Page here

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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

SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD cover

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. It features a neurodiverse main character, the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes, and some rather complicated romance!

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 kindleAmazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

About Page

See it here

Writer’s Tip Jar

Leaving Easter Aquorthies Stone Circle

Purple flowers at Easter Aquorthies

Easter Aquorthies Circle

Easter Aquorthies, also known as East Aquorthies, is sometimes described as a ‘show circle’ and recommended as a good first stone circle to visit. This is due to its near perfect condition and position: all stones are present and upright; the grass always seems to have been manicured to a close shave, and the views of the surrounding countryside are magnificent. It’s also very clearly signposted from the nearby town of Inverurie, making it easy to find and then park in its small car park.

Blue skies over a stone circle

Bennachie

The Mither Tap of Bennachie is apparent wherever you walk in and around the circle, looming majestic and large over your shoulder.

cows at Easter Aquorthies

The Recumbent Stone

The recumbent stone is unusual in that it has extra supporting stones on the inner side. I wonder what led to this arrangement. Did it fall and crush someone in Neolithic or Bronze Age times, causing new health and safety measures to be put in place? It is on a slope, so maybe it was just hard to make secure. I hope no one got crushed!

recumbent at Easter Aquorthies stone circle

Name Origin

The name is thought to derive from Gaelic and means either ‘field of prayer’ or ‘field of the stone pillar’. Most of the stones are granite but one, below, is red jasper.

The red jasper stone at Easter Aquorthies stone circle

Leaving Easter Aquorthies…

There are numerous tales of people finding it hard to exit Easter Aquorthies stone circle. Some describe walking away as being like trying to wade through treacle and report feeling as if the circle wants to keep them there. There are also stories of enticing music coming from under the ground.

On the day I visited, I really didn’t want to leave. I would rather have stayed sitting in the sun with my back up against one of the recumbent flankers, staring out over Bennachie.

I knew the next circle on my list to visit was going to be contrastingly tricky to find. And it was. But that’s a post for another day (see Tyrebagger here).

Leave I did, reluctantly, and a little later than planned. I encountered no treacle or music… but I have been left with a strong desire to return. Soon.

straight line of stones

All my books feature a stone circle

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

Review from Tonya Ulynn Brown: “Before I go any further, I just have to say, this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read…

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

ballet novel, TENDU, by Ailish Sinclair

See my About Page here

Newsletter

Go here to sign up for my (roughly monthly) newsletter. It’s a more intimate space than the blog and always includes some exclusive photos.

Writer’s Tip Jar

Balgorkar Stone Circle and Castle Fraser

Balgorkar Stone Circle
On the way to Balgorkar Stone Circle

This post details a day in 2014 when we set off to find Balgorkar Stone Circle and visited two castles and another circle too.

We headed off to look for the stones. But first, there was a quick stop at Fraserburgh beach where the haar (Scottish word for mist that rolls in off the sea) hung low and filtered the sunlight in a silvery way. A seagull flew by as I took the photo.

Balgorkar Stone Circle

Inland we travelled, to bright sunshine and summer colours and the stones of Castle Fraser.

To the left in the picture below (click to see larger image) are two standing stones and to the right, in the distance by the trees, is Balgorkar Stone Circle (also known as Castle Fraser Stone Circle). The stones were visible from the road, so quite easily found.

standing stones and a Balgorkar stone circle

Up the side of the field we walked.

Balgorkar Stone Circle in Aberdeenshire

I thought we’d have to just view the stones from there, but no, some naughty person had trampled a pathway through the crop, so we did no further damage by walking it.

illicit path to Balgorkar stone circle

The recumbent and flankers, dark against the field:

Balgorkar stone circle

Castle Fraser

Next we visited Castle Fraser, where I was meant to be doing research for writing on heraldry, historic dates and architecture. This took the form of running about taking photos:

Castle Fraser

I loved the rooftop and later wrote about it here.

turrets

Kildrummy Castle

Then, after picnicking, with only half the day gone, we decided to head to ruinous Kildrummy Castle, a few miles further on.

more serendipity at Kildrummy Castle - Ailish Sinclair, author

There in the reception was an old friend who I hadn’t seen for years. There was hugging and much talking. Other people got fed up waiting to be served… We kept saying it was amazing. My friend is currently doing a PhD in history, so some of our conversation became spontaneous research.

We finally moved on to look around:

great hall

I do appreciate the use of the adverb ‘treacherously’ there; without it we might think Osbourne the Blacksmith to have merely made a mistake or had an unfortunate accident such as tripping with a pot of molten metal or dropping a freshly forged sword.

window

Broomend of Crichie Stone Circle

The day ended with a visit to Broomend of Crichie stone circle, Pictish stone placed in the middle.

Broomend of Crichie

This blog post is ending in a rather unrelated way, with some ballet. It’s beautiful and romantic and only two minutes long. It’s Scottish Ballet performing at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Historical Fiction featuring a castle and a stone circle!

Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair
Fireflies and Chocolate by Ailish Sinclair, out 2021

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

There’s love. There’s derring-dos on the high seas… And there’s chocolate!

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Waterstones

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

ailish's feet

My About Page

Writer’s Begging Tip Jar

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

My books:

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

feet

See my About Page here

Newsletter

Go here to sign up for my occasional emails. They’re a more intimate space than the blog and always include some exclusive photos.

Writer’s Tip Jar

Turn Left for Tyrebagger Stone Circle

Tyrebagger Stone Circle in the distance, misty trees beyond

Tyrebagger Recumbent Stone Circle is near Aberdeen, situated on the hill behind the airport and overlooking the Kirkhill Industrial Estate.

The search for Tyrebagger

So, when my family and I went seeking this circle we thought it would be easy to find. Yes. Well. Google maps took us close. Very close in fact. But there’s nowhere to stop a car and get out on the dual carriageway, so no possibility of taking the app’s advice to ‘walk the rest of the way to your destination’.

We turned to directions found on the internet which took us up the side of the industrial estate and into the woods. But the last instruction, to turn right along the line of trees… there was no right there. We ended up lost and peering over gates and up tracks and across fields. But then, Google maps pinpointed the exact location of the stones and we retraced our steps.

‘”It’s somewhere in that direction…”

“Just the other side of those trees…”

“But how can we get through there?”

Continue reading “Turn Left for Tyrebagger Stone Circle”

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

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 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

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, 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

“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

feet

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My Witchy Debut Novel is Published, 2019

The Mermaid and the Bear Christmas

2019 got off to an exciting start for me when I signed a contract with GWL Publishing for my debut novel, The Mermaid and the Bear. It’s out in both paperback and Kindle NOW!

Amazon UK

Amazon Worldwide

Waterstones

Aspects of the book:

  • It’s mainly set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire.
  • It incorporates the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic.
  • There’s a stone circle.
  • There’s 16th century Christmas.
  • And there’s a love story.

Cover:

Cover of Ailish Sinclair's debut novel THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR

Blurb:

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.

 Further insight:

I made a wee aesthetic for it, because: oh the fun!

Aesthetic for The Mermaid and the Bear, Ailish Sinclair's debut novel

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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…

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