So here we are – my partner Colin and I – staying in a little cottage in Royal Deeside, exploring Aberdeenshire. As is my wont – and indeed much of the reasoning behind the choice of location – a good part of our holiday will be devoted to visiting ancient sites, and, after arriving late Saturday and having a lazy Sunday, today has been our first major excursion into the ancient landscape around us.
We devoted today to visiting the major recumbent stone circles in the area – so called because of the style of circle unique to North East Scotland, which incorporates a massive horizontal, or recumbent stone, flanked by two standing stones, and in which the rest of the stones taper in height gradually away from the recumbent stone to the shortest one directly opposite. The two flankers are also generally one tall and thin, the other short and fat, and – as today’s experience seemed to suggest – the masculine/feminine suggestion in these flankers was sometimes accentuated by the taller, thinner flanker looking decidedly phallic.
The first circle we visited, we didn’t realise until the end of the day, would be the one with the finest ambience, views, and overall ‘vistor experience’. Tomnaverie, near Tarland, proved to be not only one of the finest examples of recumbent stone circles that we visited today, but with by far the best feel to it.
The next we visited was Midmar Kirk, in the graveyard of a church built right next to it in the late 18th century.
The best thing about this circle was the flesh pink granite penis stone – the Balblair Standing Stone – a short walk away from the circle hidden in a little wood.
Then we visited Cullerlie Stone Circle – a fairly fine example of the style of circle, but yards from a working farmyard where farmers and tractors bustled about their business during our visit.
Then Easter Aquhorthies, a very massive recumbent stone, but the whole circle wrapped in a 19th century kerb with a 20th century barbed wire fence a few feet beyond it. It was impossible to get any real perspective on the site, and the ambience was definitely not helped by the four old ladies sitting on the recumbent with their packed lunch. I made it quite clear that I thought they were distinctly lacking in respect for a historic monument, and – to their credit – they moved and got out of the way so we could take our pictures and try to gain some appraisal of the circle.
Lastly, at Loanhead of Daviot, we found again the peace, space, a good view, and some of the ambience we had experienced at Tomnaverie, and would call this the 2nd best of the day.
It remained only for us to make the trip across the harvested wheat field for a closer look at the much depleted and uncared for Balquhain Stone Circle, before beginning our journey back to our cottage in Ballater. The most impressive stone at Balquhain is of course the white quartz pillar!
The day would not have been complete, in the Valley of the Don, without a visit to at least one of the several Pictish symbol stones, displaying the now lost symbolic language of this 7th century Christian people. Nor, without a picture or two of the imposing Bennachie mountain – literally the ‘breast mountain’ – that overlooks the entire valley, and which is visible from most of the circles we visited.
Finally, the day was only complete with a tea – or martini – at the delightful Kildrummy Castle Hotel, after a gentle walk in the lovely gardens for which the ruins of the 13th century English conqueror’s castle forms a picturesque backdrop.
Click on any picture in these blog posts to see all the photos in the Aberdeenshire set on Flickr