|Although my Megalithic visits pre-dated the publication of The Modern Antiquarian by eight years, I never quite realised just how much was there was in Aberdeenshire, until I read TMA. . or indeed, just how different the Aberdeenshire monuments are from anything else in the UK.
And that's what makes TMA such a great book.
Cope's enthusiasm for these sites in the TMA TV show had me whipped up into megalith styled frenzy. I too wanted to visit all those circles and see the sacred hill of Dunnideer.
So, I set a few days aside in June 2005. Me & my red van again, off in search of old stones. Got my Burl Books, the TMA, maps, money. . yea. . I'm off!!
I drove up in a day, from Wolverhampton. And it took the day, but I did stop over to see Long Meg. Only ten minutes off the M6 and you're in heaven! The weather was glorious, and I found Little Meg and her spirals for the first time too, a lovely, almost secret site.
Got to Findon, by the coast, just three miles below Aberdeenshire about 11pm. I stopped here for the next two nights and found it an excellent base for fieldwork. As I sat supping Jack Daniels in my Findon digs I looked once again at the OS maps I had pored over since early last year. There were a few circles right by Findon.
I'm stopping right by a place called Stonehaven too . . Yea, bring it on!
I was at Craighead Stone Circle before 9am. But it certainly wasn't a classic RSC like I'd been dreaming about. In fact, looking at the sorry state of the four stones left standing, and the metal rings attached to them, one wonders what they were used for, and even if their prehistoric rating is earned. But it's easy to get to, and encased within a dry stone wall, in view of JCBs at the adjoining industrial estate, it's an odd site.
Next up - Cairnwell. Behind a secluded house. I asked the house owner if I could take a look, and he was only too pleased to let me. He told me his wife found the circle in the seventies, and it was officially verified by the monument bods. It's one of the last stone circles to be given official status.
It's ruined, but you can still see the recumbent, (facing SSW) and a couple of standing stones.
On my way back, the house owner showed me plans of which stones the surveyor thought were in the circle. I was chuffed to see my initial thoughts were mirrored on the blueprint. A good visit that left me enthused, but I knew Aberdeenshire was yet to show me its true Megalithic goodies.
I decided to go for broke and visit East(er) Aquhorthies, that legendary site that must surely be the most famous of the Scottish RSCs.
It didn't disappoint, and the sun shone and there was the sea, (you can see it from this circle. No-one ever seems to mention these things!). What a fantastic site. And there's the recumbent, with the flankers, like Devil's horns. Majestic. Yea, welcome to Aberdeenshire! Now we're cooking with gas!
A worker for the coucil was painting the fence at East Aqourthies. He was having his tea break, he'd bought a flask. He told me how the smallest stone, facing the recumbent, is always warmer than the rest of the stones.
As I left him, supping his tea, with his face in the sun, alone at East Aquhorthies. I thought, has he the best job in the world today?
Off to Loanhead Of Daviot. Another showcase circle, and like Easter, it's signposted. These are the two the tourist visit.
But how hip a tourist to visit these great wonders?
And there. . in the distance, is Dunnideer. And I'm in the picture on page two of TMA. The amount of times I've looked at that picture. .
Just to the right of that picture, is a field in which Newcraig stands. And please go to it, don't just look from the road, because behind the recumbent, over the fence, is a wooded area where stones still stand. Eerie, as wooded standing stones often seem to me. I felt almost hesitant to approach these stones. . a feeling I would encounter again later that week, at another site.
Aberdeenshire was shaping up nicely!
Old Rayne is ruined. All stones are fallen around, the Recumbent toppled, yet it was a great place for me that day. I lay on the recumbent, looking at my faithful red van, and Dunnideer in the background. I'd needed to put suntan lotion on, it was so hot. I wrote my notes, counted stones, watched a small plane fly over and wondered what used to go on at Old Rayne. A site often deemed as not worth visiting because of its ruined state.
Not worth visiting? I'd have told you different on this sunsplashed Scottish Monday morning, a Monday when I'd normally be fitting fireplaces in Wolverhampton. Because sometimes sites are not list ticking, measuring exercises. Sometimes you just feel like it's where you should be, and things fall into place very nicely indeed.
It's hot, I need a mapcheck. I need protein, I need beer.
Insch is the nearest village to Dunnideer. There's a pub. It's amazing! straight out a 70's sitcom. Wooden panels, ABBA on the jukebox, strange looks from the locals. . love it!
I have a pint or two of bitter, Fats Domino comes on the jukebox and once again I'm in heaven.
I'm at Stonehead. It's an RSC without the circle, but it's right by the road and it's dominated by Dunnideer.
And I'm looking at Dunnideer, I'm gonna climb up there soon. I've seen some wonders, but still the greatest treats of Megalithic Aberdeenshire were yet to greet me.
Hatton Of Ardoyne takes some finding. You have to park at a private house and walk. I asked permission and the lady was most helpful. The site is slightly ruined, one flanker is down, but in an amazing position. It was blazing hot here, and I could see for miles.
Wherever possible, I paced out the diameter of the circles, and every one was between 18 & 23 paces. And at every one, the recumbent faced the same (general) direction. There's a design to these places that is quite amazing.
I found Wantonwells RSC, and was surprised to see it almost completely overgrown! Then Inchfield, which is a treck across a field to see a ruined site.
I knocked at the farm by Sunhoney and asked to see the circle. They couldn't have been more helpful. The circle is behind the farm, in a small patch of trees, and wow! it was fantastic. I sat there for a while. The sun was streaming through the trees and I could hear the kids from the farm playing. Sunhoney was my favourite circle of day one.
Midmar Kirk is not far from Sunhoney. It's a well known circle because it's behind a church. Very odd, but well worth a visit.
I stopped at Cullerie on the way back. This is very near the road, and an avenue of trees act as a pathway to the circle - which isn't a standard RSC.
I had seen Tyrebagger on the hill during my first day, but decided to make the treck up the hill on day two. I had seen thirteen circles on my first day, now I could afford to take it easier, and enjoy just being in Aberdeenshire.
Tyrebagger is something else! High on a hill, overlooking Aberdeen's airport. Park at the bungalows and walk up the lane. It's worth it. I'm not too much up with the new ageisms, but if ever I were to describe a site powerful, this would be it. The flankers are enormous!
The recumbent is toppled, but wow! I liked Tyrebagger. They weren't kidding when they built this baby!
Yesterday I had a 'stovie', which is mashed up potatoes, veg a corned beef, in a cup. Salty and warm, and just the job when you're peckish. Today I went traditional, Sausage sandwich from a roadside cafe. I eat it in Tyrebagger woods, where there might be red squirrels.
I took a trip round Dunnideer, and visited the Churchyard of Kirkton On Culsarmond, where there once was a circle. The Church looks to be a private dwelling now.
I had nowhere to sleep that night, so RSCs had to wait whilst I found digs. I headed north to Macduff, which is an fishing village, but it had a pub with B&B overlooking the harbour, so that's me sorted.
Spent the rest of day in pub. Cheers!
Haggis and chips later, and I fall into a blissful sleep, waking only occasionally by the sound of pissed up fishermen fighting.
My notes call this site Castle Fraser, but everyone knows it as Balkagor. And it's in a field completely overgrown.
I walked up Dunnideer. It's a hard walk, (it's a very steep hill!) but it was worth it. Imagine how many RSCs you could see from here if you had a powerful enough telescope! I could see Sunhoney through my binoculars, and the spot where Dunnydeer Stone Circle is, but that's all.
There's a lot made of Dunnideer's importance to the ancients. It seems to stem from the fact that the hill is easily recognisable from so many RSCs. Well, it is, but is that because it's so recognisable anyway? With its Glastonbury Tor type tower on top?
Yea, you can see it all around, but you can see so many other hills too. But the one you recognise - is Dinnideer. Because, well, it's just so recognisable.
Anyway, I went up it and loved it.
I visited Cothimere Wood next, and found this circle to be very intimidating, (yea, it looks silly writing it down, but you go, on your own, you'll see!). What a fantastic site! Massive Tyrebagger type flankers. And I think it's the woodland around it that gives it that eerie feel. I didn't know it was Cothymere wood circle until I saw it, it's not called that on the OS map.
Old Keig is visable from the road. I walked to it, it's ruined but worthwhile. Again, it's set in rolling hills.
Had a pint outside a Hotel in Alford (blazing sun, I was lucky), before an unsuccessful attempt to find North Strone RSC. I walked miles, got ripped to shreds in gorse, but did at least get to see a beautiful Bambi type young deer darting through the woods.
THhere's a ruined circle at Druidsfield, on the OS map. I found only two standing stones. The lady farmer told me they are 'entrance stones' or 'pointers' for a nearby circle (Keig?).
I found Rhynie stone circle (remains of). Two stones in a field. I was running out of steam I thought, so I drove to Tomenaverie. A site worth visiting, and around it, some of the nisest scenery I got to see in Aberdeenshire.
I had more Haggis in Macduf, this time at a restaurant, and was once again serenaded by the night-time sounds of drunk thugs and their wailing girlfriends.
Had Macduf even one glimmer of charm, I might have stayed another night, but as I stepped over the puke and beer cans to get in my van, I thought I'd head home after visiting the ArchaeolinkCenter. Which was very good, it had mock up Neolithic houses, and even its own (mock-up) RSC!
I had another pint in Insch, said goodbye to Stonehead and Dunnideer, and started the six hour drive back to the Black Country.
Favourites - Tyrebagger and Sunhoney.
Failures - The two at Aquhorthies (seen from road only) and North Strone.
Best food - Haggis and Chips in Macduff
Posted by suave harv
19th August 2005ce
Edited 20th August 2005ce
suave harv's TMA Blog
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