|Vicky and I visited Aberdeenshire in summer 2008 and had one of the best adventures ever.
I drove up from Lancashire, picking Vicky up in Glasgow and then we headed off, picnic in tow, for 3 full days of stone hunting. Our first site was the wonderful Tomnaverie. I know that some find the reconstruction of this site frsutrating but I liked it! I liked the wee path leading you up to the site, twee as it may be; at least it felt like the site was appreciated and better than it being left to fall into a more delapitated state.
It was around 6pm as we arrived, after a long day's driving and the sky was blue and gold. The atmosphere of this site really got to us; maybe it was the fact it was the first of the journey or maybe I was just reacting to being upright and walking, after being sat in the car for 6 hours, but I loved it. It was all jumbled and confusing, but still magnificent!
From Tomnaverie, we carried on towards our first B&B of the trip, in Insch. Our plan was to stay overnight here and then head out to Archaeolink in the morning - the thought of an archaeology-based "theme park" had amused us both and we had no idea what to expect.
We were staying in Insch for the night, so after a long drive up from Lancashire, stopping en-route to pick Vicky up in Glasgow, we finally saw Dunnideer around 7pm.
As we drove by this most beautiful of sites, a herd of red deer came running down the hill, following a huge stag. We pulled the car over and just watched, amazed by it all. There was just the railway track between us and them. The stag looked across at us, sniffed majestically into the wind and set off again, followed by the hinds. The most Scottish of moments I have ever witnessed!!
The B&B was pretty ropey but the setting was amazing - our room had a wee bench and table outside and we sat and watched the sunset and dusk fall over the hill. It was still light enough to read our maps at 11pm, with a bottle of wine and some bread and cheese to finish it off - just perfect.....
The following morning we headed off to Archaeolink but decided it was worth stopping off at Stonehead en route. It was a weirdly misty morning but as we aproached Stonehead, the mist cleared and gave way to a beautiful blue sky. As we parked on the road, we stopped and asked the man in the house adjoining the field whether it was OK to leave the car and go into the field and he said it was. So, over the fence we hopped and over to the stones we ran. This is such a HUGE site; it is almost overwhelming, We spent a good few minutes checking out the different possible alignments and Vicky was taking a picture of me against the stones when I noticed a rather frisky herd of cows heading our way; they had been hiding at the bottom of the field and we hadn't seen them as we entered.
Now, I love cows. I really, really like them. A lot. But.....Vicky doesn't. She is a bit nervous around them and, as I saw them heading towards us, I quietly said "don't panic...." She turned round, saw that they were heading directly for her and shrieked! She set off running towards the the trees and I was stood there going "oh, don't run, it''ll be fine, they are only curious". I then turned round and saw them all thundering towards me! I ran too. We had to leg it over the barbed wire fence, only my legs are a lot shorter than Vicky's and I got stuck on the fence. I ripped my trousers and most of my right thigh, trying to get over. When we recovered our dignity, we decided that Stonehead was a site better viewed from the roadside!
We had wanted to try and get up to Dunnideer circle but, with my leg bleeding and thoughts of lockjaw setting in, we headed back into the town to buy a bottle of TCP!
Once I had regained my composure and we decided that I wan't going to die from rusty barbed wire poisoning, we headed off for Archaeolink. It was brilliant! If you are ever up in this neck of the woods, I would really recommend that you go. They have reconstructions of stone and timber circles, an iron age round house and bog goddess, mesolithic hunting camps and a fabulous wicker woman. Great fun.
Having played around for a couple of hours, we really wanted to get back to the "real" archaeology, so we headed off to the next site of the day - the wonderfully named Loanhead of Daviot.
This site was relatively easy to find, being well-signed from the road. Lots of parking and a pleasant enough wall through a wee wooded area before emerging into bright sunshine and the realisation that it was school-trip day! The whole site was swarming with Aberdeenshire school-children who appeared to be undertaking some kind of mathematical experiment!
As this was the one site I had been least excited by the prospect of visiting, it wasn't too much of a downer and I quite liked the fact that they were engaging with their heritage. It did make getting decent pictures a bit of a 'mare though!
The situation is fabulous, with amazing views over the verdant countryside but, like others here, the reconstruction of this site made this a hard one to get too giddy about.
Leaving Loanhead, our next stop was to be Broomend of Crichie.
What, on first appearance, seems to be a grim and desolate spot, behind the petrol station and surrounded by industrial units, becomes a revelation upon closer inspection. There was still enough of this site left to make it utterly charming, if in need of a little TLC. We wandered around for much longer than we had anticipated and (as usual) talked a lot of drivel, wondering and the whys and wherefores of it all. Definitely worth the diversion and a site that sticks in my memory.
From here, we headed out to what was one of my "must-do" sites - East Aquhorthies. Coincidentally, I once shared a room in Barcelona (on a hen weekend) with a lovely woman, also called Vicky, whose husband farms the land that this site sits upon. She was slightly bemused by my hysterical reaction to this news......
We arived at the carpark and it was still blazing sunshine and blue skies. The walk up the circle is just lovely, and we mused on the joys of living in such a lush and wonderful place, and did some very amatuer birdspotting! Upon arrival, we were both stopped in our tracks by the colours before us. The stones were just shimmering and the different shades of red were breathtaking.
We spent a long time here, we just could not bring ourselves to leave. We lay on the grass in silence, wandered round gabbling away and gazed at Bennachie in the distance, just blown away by it. I had wanted to come here for such a long time but had also been wary of the fact it is such a showsite, with all that implies;I was worried it would be too clinical but - oh my - this place was just magnificent.
From East Aquhorthies we planned to visit the most evocatively named stone circle and one we were both itching to see – Sunhoney. The name just drips from your tongue and conjures up golden images (well, it does to me) so I was almost gearing myself up to be disappointed; had I based too much on the coincidence of a lovely name? Well, the answer if very definitely "no". We parked by the rather broken down farm building with the "Stone Circle" sign and set off walking. We were really lucky with the weather, as it was warm and the skies remained blue and bright. The approach to the circle is lovely alongside lush fields, full of tweeting and twittering birds. Then we came upon the site – set amongst the most beautiful ring of trees with foxgloves and wild grasses bobbing gently in the breeze. After the manicured surrounds of East Aquhorthies and Loanhead of Daviot, this was as absolute treat. Vicky was beside herself, taking picture after picture of the cup-marked recumbent and I just pottered around the site, feeling slightly drunk with the whole place, in the late afternoon warmth. The surround of tress make it difficult to place this most wondrous of sites within the landscape but certainly add to the amazing atmosphere of the place.
After goodness-know-how-long drinking in Sunhoney's wonderful ambience, we decided we should call it a day. We had been out for hours and were due to head back into Ballater and find our Hotel for the night. However, as we set off from Sunhoney, I spotted a sign for Midmar and we took a quick diversion to Midmar Kirk.
When I first started dragging Mark around the country in search of stones, one of the first places we visited was Rudston Monolith; a site that took my breath away with the huge phallic stone stood alongside the wee church. Here at Midmar I again felt that thrill of seeing the ancient with the relatively new, side by side and seemingly in some kind of harmony. The grave stones are a little too close but this didn't seem too intrusive to me. I just marvel at the fact that any of this site remains.
It was definitely time to call it a day, as far as the stone-hunting went. We headed back to Ballater and checked in at our amazing hotel, The Auld Kirk. If you are in this neck of the woods, I would definitely recommend staying here. It is a converted church (obviously!) and is possibly the best place I have ever had the pleasure to stay in the UK. We rounded off what had been an incredible, thought-provoking day, with champagne cocktails in the church grounds before eating the best meal I have had for many a year, in their fabulous restaurant, gabbling away like giddy children about the sites we had visited that day.
We awoke the following day with rather fuzzy heads, after drinking far too much wine and port in the restaurant, but eager to see more sites.
We didn't have a definite plan for today's itinerary, although I was keen to see Culsh Souterrain. As we headed off, we were once again astounded by the weather which was already hot and sunny. Culsh was my first (and, so far, only) souterrain so I was quite excited as we pulled up in a very small lay-by. The entrance gives no indication as to what lies within and we got our torches out, ready for a bit of investigation. Unfortunately for Vicky, who isn't best suited to dark, damp places the experience wasn't too pleasant, and she decided to give it a miss so I headed in alone, struggling to make sense of what I was (barely) seeing in the torch-light. I loved the red granite stone, which was easy to make out with the little light I had and I was pleased to have read before-hand about the cup marked stone in the entrance, otherwise I am sure I would've missed it!
After Culsh, we drove back into Tarland to look at the beautiful carved stone balls, which are part of a public art project, close to the bridge in the village. A lovely nod to the area's ancient heritage.
It was starting to get really hot and neither of us particularly wanted to spend much time in the car, on such a glorious day, so we headed off to find Image Wood and decided that this site would be our last of the day.
What an absolute beaut! After a lovely, cool walk through the woods, we came across this cracking little circle and were more than pleased we decided to come - the heat of the day was starting to get to us and all we had really wanted to do was head back to Ballater and have a pint of cider!
We had struggled to see how we could get here at first, missing the turning twice - we hadn't realised that we needed to park by the cemetary and then walk. We obviously need to go on a map-reading course!
We sat in the dappled sunlight and just drank it all in. This tiny circle is made of up of improbably large stones and we spent a good hour just pottering around, enjoying the peace and solitude of this site. This is the most perfect spot and is the most perfect, small circle.
After the cool, fresh air of Image Wood, we headed back out into the Aberdeenshire sunshine and decided to head back to Ballater. There was a standing stone we had noticed on the map about 2km from our hotel and we thought we should drop off the car and head out for a nosy. However, after 15 mins of walking along narrow country roads, we gave up and decided to go back into town and soak up some sun, with a pint in our hands!
Came across this beaut as we were leaving Ballater on the long journey back home. We had tried to walk here the day before but had been deterred by the boy racers who were speeding around the country lanes (and the thought of a pint of cider!) so made sure we drove this way.
As we pulled up on the side of the road, another car arrived and 2 rather gleeful people leapt out and started taking pictures too. We had to head off so didn't have time to talk to them but I think they were possibly Dutch, so if you are reading this, sorry for being rude but we had a long drive ahead of us!!!
Anyway, this was just lovely, even though we didn't have the time to get up close and personal with the stone, it was such a lush and verdant setting and made for a perfect last site before heading back south.
Posted by Vicster
16th January 2010ce
Edited 28th February 2010ce