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…

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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!

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“Filled with excitement and suspense…” Historical Novel Society

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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

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The Great Tapestry of Scotland

The Great Tapestry of Scotland in Aberdeen Art Gallery
first pioneers to Scotland

Originally posted in May 2014.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is a beautiful trail through history and, at 143 metres long, the longest tapestry in the world. 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

Some of Scotland’s past is sad and terrible:

witches panel of The Great Tapestry of Scotland
Glencoe
war

Happier happenings:

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

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.

The Tapestry is touring , mainly in Scotland at the moment but other UK and overseas venues are planned, see the website for details.

Great Tapestry

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The Mermaid and the Bear Christmas

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.

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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

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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

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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!

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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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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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Over the Sea to Skye, and the Fairies

Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye

Over the sea to Skye. These days you don’t have to catch a boat or ferry and can drive straight over the large Skye bridge. That’s the Old Man of Storr in the hills above, a beautiful rock formation visible for miles around. This post details a holiday I took with my family in 2015, before chronic illness put paid to such things as holidays. For now. I have to believe, for now. But enough of that, over the sea to Skye we go!

Dun Hallin

The island is a place of fairies: there’s a castle and a glen and a bridge, much smaller than the one taken to get to the island. But first, back to another rock formation, specifically the one spied from the bedroom window of our holiday house.

‘That’s an interesting rocky outcrop,’ said I to husband.

‘Aye, we should walk up to it,’ he replied.

So we did.

Dun Hallin on the Isle of Skye

And there was Dun Hallin, an Iron Age broch we had intended visiting but thought would be hard to find. Duns, or brochs, were a complex form of roundhouse, probably defensive, precursors to castles.

I loved Dun Hallin and the surprise of finding it like that. And the wonderful views of Trumpan Point.

The Trial Stone

Trumpan Kirkyard held surprise too. An ancient standing stone, Clach Deuchainn, the Trial Stone:

The Trial Stone on the Isle of Skye

Trial stones were used to try a person. In this case if the accused could put their finger in the hole located on the stone while blindfold they were innocent. The stone is undoubtedly far older than this use; it is also known as the Priest Stone and the Heaven Stone.

There were some interesting graves too; these, and the gruesome history of the church can be read about here.

John Bowlby's grave on the Isle of Skye

Fairies

But back to the fairies. Firstly the Fairy Glen, an unusual land formation, which sadly does not have any old fairy folklore associated with it but it does feel otherworldly when you walk round it.

The rocky peak is known as Castle Ewen:

Castle Euan on the Isle of Skye

But it’s Dunvegan Castle we need for fairy legends!

Dunvegan Castle, Skye

Displayed inside the castle, so no photos, is the ancient and tattered Fairy Flag. There are many stories and traditions surrounding this relic and its origins. The tale favoured in the information provided to visitors is the one in which the Chief of Clan Macleod marries a fairy. The couple have a child together but the fairy knows she has to return to her people in Fairyland. She leaves the magical flag, imbued with protective powers, wrapped round the baby, and this she does a few miles away at the Fairy Bridge:

There are also Fairy Pools on Skye but we did not get to them this trip. We did manage a quick visit to Kilt Rock:

We also took in the Museum of Island Life, one of the few places on the island with good mobile internet which meant I was distracted by a sudden barrage of Twitter notifications!

Near to the museum is the memorial to Flora MacDonald:

One more fairy mention: the house we stayed in was previously owned by the writer Aileen P. Roberts, and full of books, so I read her novella Fairy Fire while there which was set in Skye and surprising and perfect.

The sun rises over Dun Hallin:

And sets at Trumpan Point:

Trumpan Point on Skye

We’ll be back over the sea to Skye again one day!

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My 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

Ailish's feet

My About Page

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!

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Amazon worldwide

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