Aquhorthies Stone Circle

When we were up in Aberdeenshire a few weeks ago we perused the map and I noticed that there were standing stones marked on it, very close to where we were based. I can’t resist standing stones or stone circles – so off we went to find the Aquhorthies Stone Circle.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle info board

Aquhorthies Stone Circle isn’t right by the roadside as many are, but there’s a small car park close by and from there we walked the 400 metres or so to the field with the stones. They’re quite impressive, not on the same scale as the ones in Orkney but still very good.
Aquhorthies Stone Circle

It’s thought that these stones were an aid to farming, with the moon being a guide to the ancient farmers, telling them when it was a good time to plant their seeds. However, I think that’s just one of many theories over the years. I’m fairly sure that the Victorians would have looked at that massive recumbent stone and said – aha, that’s obviously a sacrificial altar stone.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

As you can see from the tractor in thhe background this region is still a farming area.
Aquhorthies Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, neolithic monument

Whenever I visit standing stones I can’t resist patting them, but as yet I’ve never had anythig close to an Outlander moment, although some of them definitely do seem to hum and buzz, and they’re all incredibly atmospheric.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle, standing stones, Aberdeenshire, neolithic monumnent, Scotland

And – no I haven’t a clue how Aquhorthies should be pronounced!

An Autumn Walk

Just over a week ago we were in Aberdeenshire, visiting Fyvie Castle and remarking on how hot it was for the time of year. It turned out that it was 18 celsius at Fyvie and I know that because that night the weather man on the BBC said that Fyvie Castle had been the hottest part of Britain that day – amazing for late October. Just a week later and back home in Fife we had our first frost of the season. There was a time when we used to have a proper autumn which lasted for weeks but those days seem to have gone.

Anyway on one of my recent autumn walks I took some photos of the surroundings on the edges of the Balbirnie estate, get your flat shoes on and come with me!
path south

I’d like to know who put this hill here, it’s just a wee bit too steep to be enjoyable, until you get used to it!
hill near Balbirnie, Fife

Phew – we’ve reached the top and it’s downhill for a while now.
looking south from hill
So called civilisation with a road in the background, but the cars don’t seem to bother the horses in the field which you should be able to see – just.
horses

If you look carefully below you should be able to see an orange and black beetle, near the centre of the photo below, it’s a Burying beetle, that’s only the second one that I’ve seen and I saw my first one just a month previously as it was in the act of burying a shrew’s carcass – life must go on I suppose, for the beetle anyway.

Burying beetle

path west
Through some trees.
woodland path
In the winter the ground here is usually really boggy, it doesn’t help that mountain bikers use it too.
woodland path

woodland path

Back on to the gravel path, there’s a busy road to the left of this path but trees and a stone wall hides the traffic. You might think that it looks like the photos were taken on different days as the sky goes from bright blue to whitish grey – but that’s our constantly changing weather!

gravel path south
The berries below are on Viburnums or Guelder rose.
Viburnum berries

They’re so bright and shiny they almost look like plastic.

Viburnum berries

I love the roots of the tree below, look closely and you’ll be able to see a short blue nylon rope hanging from the left of the tree. Local kids are obviously using it as a rope swing and you can also see that they’ve been making stepping stones over the burn. I’ve never seen anyone playing there but I’m so happy that kids are still doing things like that and aren’t always glued to some electronic gadget.
tree roots

I also love the fact that people have been working and living around this area for thousands of years, well about 5,000 years anyway, and below is the evidence they left behind in the shape of standing stones and burial areas.

standing stones 2

Well, that should have burned off a few calories, so it’s a good excuse to put the kettle on, put your feet up and have some tea/coffee and biscuits. That’s what I did next anyway.

Cove, Scottish Borders

Cove harbour

One day last month we went to visit Eric and his family and that always means a lovely walk to the wee harbour at nearby Cove. The water was so tranquil, but there were no scuba divers around.

cottages at Cove

The cottages are still standing despite no doubt being pounded by storms at times, these are the only ones left of what was once quite a large fishing community.

harbour and headland

harbour and headland

This wee harbour is almost like a secret, you really need to know someone who knows the place as you have to walk through a dark tunnel which was created by digging through a hillside. It’s still quite easy to imagine how it must have been when it was home to lots of families though. If you’re interested you can read more about the history of Cove here.

Balgonie Castle in Fife

Balgonie Castle

Way back in June we visited Balgonie Castle for the first time. The local history group was having its last talk of the season before breaking up for the summer, and that talk is always at the castle apparently.
Balgonie Castle
It’s a wee bit touristy for my liking but as you can see by one of the signs on this door it has been used as a film location for Outlander – as has just about everywhere that we’ve visited recently! Balgonie Castle is over 700 years old.
Balgonie Castle
The owners do live in the castle and it’s a popular venue for weddings, but quite a lot of it is a ruin.
Balgonie Castle
It all adds to the atmosphere I suppose.
Balgonie Castle

Balgonie Castle

I have to say that I’m quite glad I don’t live in a castle, it was freezing inside although it was a lovely mild June evening.

The history talk was about William Wallace, quite interesting but when you get right down to it – there’s very little known about him.

Apparently Balgonie Castle was used as MacRannoch’s home, where Dougal and the MacKenzies rest ahead of attacking Wentworth Prison. I’m sure I’ve seen that bit but I can’t say I recognised it.

You can read more about the castle here and see more photos, particularly of the inside of the chapel which we didn’t take any photos of.

Backhouse Rossie Estate Gardens, Fife, Scotland part 2

Although the address of the Backhouse Rossie Estate is given as Collessie it’s actually on the road to Auchtermuchty. In the past the estate was famous for daffodils, something to remember in the spring as I’m sure they’ll have a good show of them.
Information Board, Backhouse Rossie Estate
I have to say that I was most impressed with the design and planting at Backhouse Rossie. I love walled gardens, they always feel so comfortable and safe and although I adore historical places I was pleased to see that there are some beautiful modern and thoughtful designs incorporated in the gardens.

The display of plants in pots is a similar idea to the Auricula ‘theatres’ that were popular in the past, especially with the French Huguenots who came to Britain in the 16th century to escape persecution from the French Catholics.

Wall and pots

The ‘DNA’ path below leads to a modern sculpture.
DNA Path

DNA Sculpture

DNA Sculpture info board
The DNA Path from the side, as you can see climbing roses have been trained over the path, but we were just too late to catch them in bloom. This year the roses have come and gone very quickly due to the unusual hot weather. I live in hope of another flush of blooms soon though.
DNA path

Below is an old gateway leading out of the walled garden.
gate to walled garden

It was such a sunny, hot day that I really needed a bit of a sit down, but all of the benches were in bright sunshine, so after looking around all of the garden areas we decided to have a walk in the surrounding woodland.
We walked there via the orchard and the apples have a decent crop on them this year.

apple tree

Somewhere in woodland there was an old tomb to visit, and I can rarely resist a ruin. So we followed the path to the tomb.

Covenanter's Tomb

As you can see there’s not much left of it now. You can read about the Covenanters here.

Covenanter's Tomb

Covenanter's Tomb

The estate is surrounded by farmland and these young bullocks were interested to see us emerging from the woodland. Actually they were very placid, which is not my usual experience of bullocks, so perhaps these ones have been ‘done’.
bullocks

There’s a wee putting green which is nicely situated with a good view of the East Lomond hill in the distance.
lawn and East Lomond

That’s more or less the view that the owners must have from their house below, but that isn’t open to the public.
Backhouse Rossie House

If you’re interested in gardening, or just having lovely walks and a change of scenery then this is a lovely place to visit. You can read more about it here.

Collessie in Fife – again

The photo below is of a very unusual architectural detail at Collessie Church. I don’t think the church is open but I must admit I didn’t try the door handle. It would be good to be able to see it internally some day.
Collessie Church
But the photo below shows a very unusually angled thatched roof, some extending must have gone over the years I think, but it looks like it has been renewed fairly recently. I know that in England you have to put your name down on a thatcher’s waiting list long before your roof needs to be re-thatched. I’m wondering if they have to come up especially from England as there’s no way that anyone could make a living from thatching in Scotland, there are just too few such roofs.
Thatched Cottage

The pan tiled roof of the cottage in the photo below is the more usual material for cottage roofs in Fife, the tiles were brought over from Holland as ballast in ships.
pan tiled cottage

Below is a close up of some thatch and a wee keek at a back garden.
Thatched Cottage
The cottage below is actually up for sale, I think it has seen better days though. It’ll need a lot of work done on it. The windows of most of these houses are very small. Builders are going back to that way of designing now as they try to make new houses more economical where heating is concerned.
Thatched Cottage

Below is thatch and the more traditional slate roof which must be a Victorian addition I think.
Thatched Cottage

The structure below is partially built into the churchyard wall. It has words carved into it but it’s very difficult to make out. It’s a family tomb for the local high heid yins – the Melville family.
Crypt at Collessie, Fife
Luckily there’s an information board on the stone wall.
Melville Tomb information
And below is the tomb from the other side – within the churchyard.
tomb of Melvilles, Collessie

The surrounding countryside is lovely, the crops are all just about ready for harvesting. Collessie is a lovely village but I imagine it’s a bit of a nightmare living there in the winter – unless you can hibernate!

countryside at Collessie, Fife

Collessie, Fife

One beautiful day last week we decided to visit a nearby estate garden which is open to the public. We had never been before but the address in books was given as Collessie, so we drove to that small village, a place we had never been before despite it being just a few miles from where we live. We never did find the estate garden that day as it’s actually on the rode to another village. I was enchanted by Collessie though so we spent an hour or so walking around the very historic village. Below is a photo of what had been the post office and is now someone’s home. Post Offices have been closed down all over the country which is a tragedy as they were often the hub of a village. In fact this place has no shops or anything, just a church and a community hall.

Old Post Office, Collessie

It’s like stepping back into a sort of Brigadoon. I’ve only seen a few thatched houses in Scotland, they’re much nore common in the south of England, so I was amazed to see several of them in Collessie. The village apparently has the most thatched roofs of anywhere in Scotland.

Thatched Cottage
They look lovely but we have friends who lived in a thatched cottage down south and they said that as soon as the weather turned a bit cold – all of the local ‘skittering’ wildlife moved into the roof for warmth, not my idea of fun. Especially as they didn’t stay in the thatch but made forays into the house.
Thatched cottage
Of course not all of the cottages have thatched roofs, but the street below is still amazingly quaint looking. It looks like nothing has changed for a couple of hundred years.
street in Collessie
I think that the road in the photo below must have been the main road leading to St Andrews which was of course a popular place for pilgrims to walk to in the days of the early Christian church. You can see the church beyond the thatched roof, it has been extended a lot over the years but the original part of it dates from before 1243 which is when it was consecrated by the Bishop of St Andrews.
Thatched Cottage

Considering the size of the village this church is enormous. I think that over the years the population must have decreased a lot.
Collessie Church

The village is a bit of a dead end as it has been by-passed by a larger road which is why we had never been there before, but it’s definitely worth making a detour off the main road to step back in time to Collessie. I’ll put a few more photos of it up tomorrow.

Orkneyinga Saga – The History of the Earls of Orkney

Orkneyinga Saga cover

Orkneyinga Saga – The History of the Earls of Orkney was written around the year 1200 by an Icelandic man and was translated by Hermann Palsson.

It’s a window into the life and times of those who lived in the most northerly area of what is now the British Isles, but was then a Viking culture. There’s a lot of fighting, feuding and feasting and also a lot of travelling about, sailing between all of the islands and as far down south as England, and back and forth to Norway.

This is an interesting read and I imagine that for people who have written historical novels set around this time then it would have been a rich source of tales to buff up, pad out and turn into entertaining tales for a more modern reader.

Again, I’m really glad that we went to the Orkney Islands last year and ran around for a week visiting all of the many places mentioned in these sagas. It was only comparatively recently that Orkney and Shetland became part of Scotland, until 1472 they were ruled by Norway and Denmark, but then became Scottish possessions as security for an unpaid dowry of Margaret of Denmark when she married King James III of Scotland.

If you’re interested in seeing the places we visited have a look at these previous blogposts.

Broch of Gurness, Orkney Islands

Broch of Gurness in Orkney is one of the many sites that we visited when we were there in June 2017. When we went there early one morning the man in charge of the place was just about to shut it and go home as he didn’t think that anyone would brave the terrible weather, it was a howling gale. I’m really glad that we experienced it like that though as as soon as we got into the shelter of the broch it was so calm and quiet, and we had the place to ourselves.

Broch of Gurness, Entrance

Jack has done a couple of posts about it and if you’re interested in seeing more photos of the place have a look here and here.

Brough of Birsay, Orkney

In June 2017 we had a week’s holiday in the Orkney Islands, a strange and amazing place full of archaeology. I did blog about quite a lot of the places that we visited, then life got in the way – and books and more travelling and such – so some blogposts fell by the wayside. So if you’re interested in seeing the Brough of Birsay have a look at Jack’s recent blogposts about the Brough of Birsay here and here.

Most of what can be seen nowadays at the Brough of Birsay dates from the Viking settlement of the place between 800 and 1200, but before they invaded the Picts built a settlement in the 600s and 700s.

To reach Birsay you have to wait for the tide to go out and then you can walk over on a narrow causeway, it’s just a short walk of a few minutes and when we set off the weather was fine. But as soon as we set foot on Birsay we were blasted by a storm of howling winds and horizontal rain which drove into us like spearheads. In seconds we were drenched and it took two days for my anorak to dry out! Jack posted about the causeway here.

I’ve recently finished reading Dorothy Dunnett’s book King Hereafter which features Thorfinn as the main character, and I was really chuffed to think that I had visited what is thought to be his home in Orkney.

Thorfinn