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.

Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms: big blog, little blog

The Cairngorm mountains beyond Loch Morlich

Beautiful Loch Morlich, Cairngorms beyond, still with patches of snow in June.

Little Blog

This blog was originally sent from holiday in June 2019. I was completely depleted by my autoimmune conditions, at that point undiagnosed, and spent most of the holiday lying in bed reading books.

books in bed

It seems strange, looking back on it now, that I tried to keep my health problems a secret. Only happy pictures got posted on socials, such as ones of Aviemore Stone Circle and Reindeer in the Cairngorms. The gargantuan effort it took to get to these places, or how I hardly left the car, did not get mentioned.

I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to ‘snap out of it’. I didn’t want that to be the way of me.

I still don’t of course, and it is generally better now, flare ups aside. I guess I’m becoming more open and accepting of the situation, and I like to write honestly everywhere, not just in my books.

Big Blog

From bed I shared the news of my guest post on the official tourism site for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire: 10 Mystical and Magical Places in Aberdeenshire. Below is Pitsligo Castle, one of the sites featured in that post.

Loch Morlich

On the pictured morning I walked very slowly from the car to the loch, and it was wonderful to be out among such beauty. I was on the banks of Loch Morlich before the ducks were up! And probably back in bed before they were too…

Ducks by Loch Morlich

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

The books:

Ailish's books

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

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 cover

Set in 2nd century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a tale of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love. More…

Scottish Castles: here we go a-castle-ing!

Scottish castles: Delgatie

Delgatie

Yes, it’s another post about Scottish castles! I do seem to find it difficult to write anything without one, or three, as in this case. The first, above, is Delgatie Castle, near Turriff in Aberdeenshire. I met one of the quines there last week (post originally from 2016) and we walked the woods and gardens and encountered these little Shetland ponies looking as if they were waiting for the tearoom to open.

From there, we went on to the Auld Kirk-yard in Turriff to see the grave of the late owner of the castle, Captain John Hay:

grave stone

And then, on the other side of Turriff, the beautiful River Deveron:

River Deveron

Let us pass through a door to another day and another castle…

door at Craigievar

Craigievar:

One of the most famous Scottish castles: Craigievar Castle

Near Alford, this beauty is rumoured to be the source for Walt Disney’s fairy-tale castle. It is wonderfully pink and turreted and full of colourful ghost stories. Red John Forbes is supposed to have forced his daughter’s lover, a Gordon and hence an enemy, to jump to his death from The Blue Room window. The window is now hidden behind a headboard but you can make out light through a pinhole. Both Red John and the Gordon boy are said to haunt the castle.

Photos were allowed up on the roof!

the roof of Scottish castle Craigievar

But it’s time to skip across the stone mushrooms…

Scottish castle: stone mushrooms at Craigievar

and on to Corgarff, the last of the Scottish cast;es today…

A Scottish castle: Corgarff

A bit more out of the way, near Tarland, but still in Aberdeenshire, is the fortress that is Corgarff Castle. Originally home to the Forbes, it was then burnt by the Gordons and left derelict. After the battle of Culloden the tower house was gutted and rebuilt as barracks for government soldiers (Redcoats).

Corgarff, a Scottish castle

Inside the star shaped perimeter:

coutryard of Corgarff

This is how the soldiers’ barracks room would have looked in 1750:

18th century barracks room

And that’s it. Off out the door you go, but do come back soon!

door to a Scottish castle...

Keep up to date with all my news, from visits to Scottish castles and stone circles, to books and writing and life, by signing up to the mailing list!

Scottish author 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: Amazon UK or Amazon Worldwide

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

A Loch Through the Seasons: mist, sunsets and snow

loch at sunset
misty Aberdeenshire loch

Clouds of mist swirl over the surface of the loch.

The picture above was taken after an unexpectedly hot day led to unexpectedly beautiful conditions. Well, not completely unexpected. It’s always beautiful, always different.

Summer Loch

Summer brings lush green foliage and colour to the loch*. It’s not very deep so swimming can be warm, though muddy.

summer Aberdeenshire loch

Autumn

That glassy ‘stand and stare’ stillness can happen at any time of year, but it most commonly occurs in Autumn. Sunsets are pink, silver or even purple. Whatever the sky is doing is intensified in reflection.

sunset

The Loch in Winter

Scottish winters are fierce. One year layer upon layer of ice and snow built up so thick that people and dogs ran about on top of the loch. I watched a fox run right across from one side to the other. It was at once surreal and yet so very real, unconnected from civilisation as it feels up there in the woods. No TV, no computers, just life and joy and fun on a natural huge flat screen among the trees.

snowy Aberdeenshire loch

I hope I will be well enough to walk up there soon. And what will await? A liquid mirror? Slow moving ripples? The slightest change in airflow is made visible by water. If there’s blue in the sky, there will be blue in the loch. Maybe there’ll be whooping swans with their yellow beaks, or an otter leaping about on the banks. I love the sound of otters giggling in the evening… I miss it.

whooper swans flying up from the loch
Whooper swans over the loch

* I freely admit to having overused the word ‘loch’ in this post. The word ‘lake’ is not a suitable substitute. If you don’t come from Scotland you can have no idea how very wrong that notion is. And while we’re at it, let’s make sure you’re saying/thinking the word right. The ‘ch’ sound is like a Scottish wildcat (something I once saw up by the large expanse of water, but no one believes me) hissing in the back of your throat. There you are, got it.

fun on the loch
Boating days…

The books:

Ailish's books

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

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 cover

Set in 2nd century Northern Scotland, SISTERS AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a tale of chosen sisters, fierce warriors, divided loyalties and, ultimately, love. More…

Writing Update

I am back editing the manuscript now. My poor characters have moved on from the battle scene at last! Though the phrase ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ springs to mind…

My About Page

Mailing List

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!

Keep up to date with me by signing up to the mailing list to receive exclusive photos and news by email.

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

Findlater Castle: Necessary Risks and a Ghost!

Findlater Castle on the cliffs. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

For years I passed by the road signs for Findlater Castle on my way to other places, joking that ‘I must find that later’. I’m so glad I finally did! I’ve been a few times now and it’s always stunning.

On this day, in 2018, it was exceptionally warm and still for Northern Scotland which emboldened me to go a bit further down onto the ramparts than I’ve been before.

Off I went, past the gorse which was warmed by the sun and smelled all coconutty…

Findlater Castle and gorse on the cliffs. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

This is as far as I normally dare, just to this first chunk of wall…

A chunk of Findlater Castle on the cliffs. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

And then up the wee path for a peek at the shore beyond.

View of the sea from Findlater Castle in Scotland. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

But with no gusts of wind to blast me off the edge, on I marched (or tentatively crept, as is more accurate).

The side of Findlater Castle on the cliffs. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

Look at those craggy walls!

The old crumbling windows of Findlater Castle. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

The Findlater Castle Ghost

I sat down here and contemplated being really brave and jumping down that hole under the archway. Ah, what photos I would get, what views, what atmosphere… then I remembered the ghost story. A small boy and his nurse were standing near an open window, maybe even one of those in view, when he jumped from her arms and disappeared down the side of the cliff, presumably to his death. She scrambled after him, also to her doom, and her spirit still haunts the castle searching for her errant charge.

I didn’t really want to join her.

So, sorry to disappoint, but after another look over the edge I retraced my steps back up the hill.

Peering over the edge at Findlater Castle on the cliffs. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

This meant I survived to visit the nearby Doocot (pigeon house). It dates from the 15th century as does the castle.

Doocot (dove house) in Aberdeenshire. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

I love its door:

Door to the doocot. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

And all the little nesting boxes within:

Window of the doocot. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

Risks!

If you visit Findlater do be careful not to fall to your doom. If it’s muddy or windy it would be much more dangerous than it was for me on this occasion. Look, the council have even written it in great big red letters underneath the history:

Informational board about Findlater Castle on the cliffs. Ailish Sinclair | Writer

Necessary risks only then 🙂

My Books

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 and is set in both Scotland and Colonial Aberdeenshire.

door at Craigievar Castle
Craigievar

Amazon UK

Amazon worldwide

Waterstones

Come 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

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

The Bridge of Alvah and the Earl’s Love Nest

The Bridge of Alvah

As a child, the task of walking to the 18th century Bridge of Alvah, near Banff in Aberdeenshire, was presented as something akin to travelling to Mordor: a journey of such length and difficulty as to render it impossible to your average mortal.

top of bridge

The walk from Duff House (a place with easy parking, swings, art gallery, tearoom and gift shop) to Alvah is actually comprised of just over two miles of well maintained track.

18519059541_6249651afe_z

The other fact about Alvah recalled from childhood is that it is a place of great natural beauty. That is true.

River Deveron

The bridge stands huge and majestic – it is a bit ‘Lord of the Rings’ after all – over a deep gorge and the River Deveron.

18519324271_69d85423bb_z

I was most intrigued by the Gothic window (visible in first and last pics) and the many little hooks, just about discernible below.

side of the bridge

Googling revealed that there was a room for a toll collector within the bridge. This explains the window, though how a person got in there is not so clear. Either the door has been sealed or there was something Rapunzel-like going on. Local legend has it that the room was used by the (married) Earl to entertain young ladies so perhaps it was kept semi-secret. The hooks remain a mystery.

In summary: go visit the Bridge of Alvah; it’s well worth the two mile trek. Not an Orc in sight!

bridge from below

See the post about the Mausoleum for more on the grounds of Duff House.

Update: we revisited the bridge in Autumn and were given access the Earl’s secret room/love nest.

It’s beautiful.

earlsroom (540x540)
earlsroom2
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

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 Land Girls Gate in Clochan, Moray

The Women's Land Army Memorial in Clochan - Ailish Sinclair, author
The Women’s Land Army Memorial in Clochan

The Land Girls Gate in Clochan is a memorial to all those that served in the Women’s Land Army during the world wars. The Army was formed in 1917, and then again in 1939 when WWII broke out. Women as young as 17 signed up for the duration of the war and took on all forms of farming and food production. The Army was eventually disbanded in 1950. There’s lots more information about the Land Girls here.

The memorial at Clochan in Moray is a joyous piece of art, paying tribute to the women who served in the Land Army throughout Scotland. Stones from various farms across the country have been incorporated into the ground around the gate. The fact that the memorial is surrounded by working farmland feels perfectly fitting too.

If you visit the Land Girls Gate on a Sunday morning, as I did, there’s a small car boot sale going on just down the road in Clochan, with pancakes and tea being served in the village hall. It’s rather lovely and feels a bit like stepping back into a simpler time.

Don’t miss a single pancake or post from me: sign up to the mailing list!

The Land Girls Gate in Clochan, colourful farmland beyond
The Land Girls, farmland beyond

My historical novels:

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