We were blessed with superb weather, 'scorchio!' in fact. Moth had a punishing itinerary of sites to check out – he wanted to show me everything, what with this being my first trip to Aberdeenshire – and get a real feel of just how much hot stuff there is up here.
We stayed at the comfortable Rothie Inn in Rothienorman, just north of Inverurie, in the heart of megalithic Aberdeenshire.
To find our way around, we used Aubrey Burl's guide, our lovely maps, and a sheaf of print outs from this site. Why isn't there a field guide to the stone circles of Aberdeenshire, I wondered? Has anyone written one? Would there be a market for it? If I was to write it, it would have maps, directions, suggested itineraries/circuits, photos, drawings, opinions and comments.
Anyway… armed with wide brimmed hats and sun cream, we headed out blinking into the sunshine for:
Properly called Easter Aquhorthies, this was my first recumbent stone circle – and the one I had been most looking forward to seeing. Beautifully restored and presented and with stones sparkling in the light out of the greenest of landscapes, we spent three delightful hours here during which I got quite sunburned.
People came and went. Local dog walkers, casual visitors, a party of children, mountain bikers, joggers (one woman swore blind she has just seen a lynx or other large cat in the next field) and a friendly mature couple who knew about stones. We got chatting to them about Aubrey Burl and Julian Cope. The gentleman, who must have been well into his 70s who had met Cope at some talk or other commented on Cope's academic prowess despite his unusual and unique appearance!
Ah, but the stones! What a temple to the heavens! I was enchanted and reached for my paints. I started with a quick sketch, but moved on to a more considered and lengthy study.
Set in an Arcadian woodland glade, this is a monstrous site! The flankers are incredibly tall and pointy in opposing ways but made to seem small by the huge bulk of the recumbent stone, which is round and streamlined like a whale. With insects whirring and the smell of hot pine and warm forest this was a Loved it!
The woodland is now being used a natural burial ground, with plots for cremations in the wood (though not within a certain distance of the stones) and plots for whole body burials at the edge of the wood. I can't think of a more appropriate resting place.
To reach Old Keig you first have to climb over a nasty barbed wire fence (be careful! I cut my leg!) and trespass down through a narrow strip of copse. The farmer clearly doesn't want visitors. The stones are set onto a spur of land in a rolling wide valley – a fantastic location. All that is left of the circle stones at Old Keig is a jumble of large broken stones which have been moved and dragged about and hidden in undergrowth. But the recumbent and flankers are just too massive to move or hide. With some effort I clambered onto the gigantic recumbent and paced it out – 6 paces long! It's also noticeable flat and straight along the top.
The feeling of trespass didn't leave me, however, especially as we were being watched only metres away by an equally gigantic snorting red bull with testicles the size of footballs and a Mike Tyson look his eye, held back only by a line of barbed wire.
This is too easy to miss, right on a corner, and with such a tiny entrance that even the sign pointing clearly to the entrance makes you think 'where'? But it's huge!
After an initial squeeze down into the banana shaped souterrain, the head height is more generous and I was able to stand up. Treading carefully, as my torch didn't seem to penetrate the gloom whatsoever, I paced it out at 16 paces and counted seven capstones! Wow!
After the relentless Aberdeenshire sun (and you don't get to write that very often) the fridge coolness of the earth house was most welcome. This was surely a prehistoric food store-cum-bank-cum-insurance policy.
High up on a raise and viciously quarried right up the edge, this lovely place seems to teeter like a potential suicide at Beachy Head.
It has been recently restored and now boasts roadsigns, a car park, some picnic tables and a well constructed, unobstrusive path suitable for wheelchairs. Historic Scotland wants this one on the map! And why not? I just wish they'd do more like this and show that people really do care for our ancient monuments instead of them being an embarrassment, like Old Keig. The views are spectacular from the little platform and the sky seems very big.
This wasn't on our itinerary, but we were driving past and couldn't resist a peep. This was a 'bonus track'. The map showed a potentially tedious walk which could be a hot, hideous waste of 20 precious minutes. You shouldn't really go 'off roading' in a Mazda 626 but I like a challenge. So at the point where most sensible people would park and walk, I drove on. Success!
Tucked away among oak woodland in the grounds of a hotel/conference centre thing stand five lovely good sized stones set close together in a fairy-ring stylee. From their relative positions, it seemed to me that either two stones were missing or it was a four-poster with an extra one slotted in for a reason I couldn't conceive.
Gah! We followed greywether's directions precisely, but after stomping around in the forest for quite some time and losing gallons of sweat we failed to find it. Grrrrr! Very much more specific directions please!
It always makes me smile to see an ancient monument survive in context like this: a churchyard. Ha! Neatly tended lawns and regimented lines of graves and in the middle of it all… a stone circle! What pleasure! The flankers look as if they are triumphal raised arms as if the christians never existed.
Some of the modern graves are a bit too close to the circle for my liking, but it is easy to block them out of your mind and concentrate on those big pink stones.
This one is strawberries and cream!
Today deep in thigh-high grass and purple foxgloves spikes, Sunhoney is sublime coolness.
The grass was so deep that we could hardly see the recumbent at all, and the atmosphere here so soporific and drowsy that Moth and I both forgot to seek out the cupmarks. The lovely deep red stones, the warm breeze in the trees, the hum of the insects and the luscious blanket of waving grasses all conspired to create a megalithic lullaby.
So low is the recumbent and so relatively tall the flankers that the arrangement looks more like a showjump to pop over on your pony than a megalithic altar.
It's on private land, but is a very good example of a farmer accepting his responsibility to let the public view it. There is a place to park and a sign pointing the way along which he has erected gates and a fence to protect his crops.
I'm in love with Sunhoney.
Anywhere else but Aberdeenshire, I would have gone for a poke around the henge and the stones in this undoubtedly important site. But after a busy and long day looking at nearby stuff like Sunhoney
and East Aquhorthies
I couldn't even be arsed to get out of the car. So we parked behind the garage and sat and looked at the monument as we munched our chips for tea. This is clearly worth more than the miserable effort I took.