The Modern Antiquarian. Ancient Sites, Stone Circles, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic Mysteries

Fieldnotes by Chris

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Balgorkar (Stone Circle)

Has no-one been for 6 years?

Recently harvested (the farmer was still baling) access was easy to the field, but less so to the circle which was head high in weeds in places.

The noise of the tractor and the height of the weeds made it hard to get a handle on this circle, but the setting is stunning and the view to Mither Tap (minus the trees) would have been amazing.

One to return to on a cold, frosty sunrise I think.....

Cothiemuir Wood (Stone Circle)

First time visit to Cothiemuir Wood, I have no idea why I didn't come before.

Walking up from the small car park from the burial ground it's only a couple of hundred yards along a forest path, yet totally isolated. The wood was green, but because the circle is treeless the frost had settled, which meant that with the early morning sun it was glowing white in a sea of green. My meagre snaps didn't come close to capturing it.

Too cold to linger long, there is plenty to see and the site is reminiscent of Loudon Wood and Tyrebagger - not restored, but enough left to see and an overwhelming sense of the ancient.

Essential visit.

Don't worry about the burial ground either - it's well away and from what I can see will only enhance the nearby area and keep it green & open. Plus it's small car park make it even easier to access the circle. Drive on up and follow the route on the sign.

Wantonwells (Stone Circle)

Didn't get the chance to explore as the gateway I'd parked in at 8am on a frozen Sunday morning suddenly became popular with van loads of farmworkers. Oh well.

The circle is shattered, but it's an epic location and must have been something to see a few short millenia ago (in the grand scheme of things).

Pay a visit if you have the time.

East Aquhorthies (Stone Circle)

Wow it's been 9 years since I first visited this circle-Mr Cope has a lot to answer for!

On a whim I decided to re-visit this Sunday past to watch the sunrise over the circle. Like my experiences at Tyrebagger & Whitehills, even without a camera to watch the sky lighten, the sun rise and to see the light creep across the ground before hitting the stones is an amazing experience.

The light literally changes second by second, through a range of pinks, yellows and oranges and, like this morning, heavy overhead cloud only amplifies this. There was a window of around 20 minutes from sunrise until it disappeared above the grey clag but it was worth the 5:30 alarm.

As Gladman has mentioned, East Aquhorthies is a show site, and perhaps can variously be accused of being over-restored, over-manicured and occasionally over-visited. Some visits with 20 other people are wholly unmemorable.

But then, at other times, you fully appreciate the builders genius.

Girdle Stanes & Loupin Stanes (Stone Circle)

A lovely pair of sites, which I have been meaning to visit for at least 10 years, but it was always too far from the M6 on jaunts to the lakes & Scotland.

It is a fair old round trip from the motorway, but it IS well worth it - in fact I'm surprised more people haven't been. The circles are easy to find, well signposted and there is now a small layby for 2 cars, with an info board and sheets to carry round.

The circles are very different: The Loupin Stanes is a compact circle on a small flat platform and feels very cosy. The Girdle Stanes is a massive circle with many stones, and isn't really diminished by losing such a large area to the river. If anything it just emphasises how old the place is.

Well worth visiting, though the walk between is boggy and a little longer than hinted at-don't wear your flipflops- make the effort to visit this site and you'll be well rewarded.

John Bells Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

If you're visiting Balgorkar, be sure not to miss this little oddity, just across the road in the grounds of Castle Fraser.

Entry is free at this point, and the stone is opposite the car park across the drive. Enter the field by the gate and keep walking straight across until you see the stone.

Afterwards, tea & cakes in the Castle tearoom is highly recommended and if you go for a tour of the castle you'll bump into my sister who works for NTS....

Crarae Garden (Chambered Cairn)

A pleasant surprise to find this tomb while having a look around the gardens. Manicured yes, but equally in no danger of being ploughed up, or having rubbish dumped in it, so I'll take what I can get.

It's not worth paying the entrance fee to see it, and in some respects nor are the gardens given what NTS charge. I'd always advise joining, because no matter what your views on the organisation, you get 'free' entry to all the properties, throughout the UK. Nice places for picnics on the way home, and for finding hidden gems like this one.

Clachnaben (Natural Rock Feature)

Clachnaben (or Clach-na-ben) is a near 600m hill south of Banchory, topped with a massive granite plug. Visible from miles around, it has given rise to the rhyming couplet "Clachnaben and Bennachie, Are twa landmarks frae the sea" and the similarities to Bennachie are obvious.

Accessed from a small car-park on the B974 a good, but sometimes steep track will take you to the summit. Passing through pine forest, across moorland, around a small wood and finally up to the summit, you get most of natural Scotland in a 4 mile return walk. The tor dominates the skyline, and changes at each angle of the approach. Once there, an easy scramble to the top gives massive views 360 degrees around - Bennachie & Lochnagar can be seen, and if the view is clear, you can see the North Sea, and down to the firth of Tay.

Whilst not famous for it, I'm sure a 'face' can be made out on the southern side of the Tor-see my photos. From the comments of other people up there, I'm not the only one to see it.

Traigh Bostadh (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

They may be dark & a little smoky (tho not as bad as the blackhouses!) but they give a real impression of snugness & warmth. The lady from Historic Scotland was quite pleased to see us, we were the only people to visit all day - and this was July!

Visited 2001

Mither Tap (Hillfort)

Well, we chose a nice day for it, swirling mist and driving rain mean an absence of photos for this site I'm afraid!

This is a truly amazing site, Mither Tap is so visible from so many sites, yet I hadn't realised that so much of the 'nipple' as it were, was actually man-made-I knew it was a fort but there's a real scale to it. The vitrified walls are incredible-I had read about them, but never seen them up close. The heat and sheer size of fire need to melt these walls must have been off the scale-the walls are at least 100 feet high, and yet clearly melted and slumped. If, as theorised, the burnings were carried out by an invading force, it must have been a real statement of intent to the locals - shock & awe anyone?

Wonderful site, and although steep only about 1 hours walk from the Bennachie Centre car park, even with 2 four year olds in tow.

Brandsbutt (Stone Circle)

Another sorry urbanised site. Destroyed in antiquity, the stones were used in a wall, and most have disappeared. The equally abused Brandsbutt Pictish stone was also broken up for walling material, before being Blue Petered back together and dumped here. Just to finish it off, they then built a housing estate around it.

Not a place to linger, I'm afraid.

Kirkton of Bourtie (Stone Circle)

Four years on, and at last I can reach the circle-and its well worth it. A truly massive recumbent, and everything about this circle seems big, although the suggested arc is quite tight. This could have been quite claustrophobic when complete.

Most recumbent stones are chocked into place, and this is no exception. However, I like the fact that this ones main chock stone was also shaped to fit snugly against the flanker. There is a smaller stone adjacent to the flanker, which I feel could well be the 'backsight', the smallest stone of the circle moved from its traditional place directly opposite the recumbent.

I know there's lots to see in Aberdeenshire, but you won't regret a visit here. Visit Sheldon while you're at it.

Shieldon (Stone Circle)

Four years since my last visit, and the circle seems bigger than I remember. This is probably due to the fact that the grass and gorse have been well cut down, and this makes viewing the circle so much easier. I hadn't even made out the outlier on my last visit, but now it stands clear, and the arc of the circle can be clearly seen, along with the sheer size of the tallest stone, some 8ft high.

This is a wonderful site, although a cutting north wind was blowing, there was all manner of rubble strewn around the interior: field clearance and possible cairn rubble certainly, along with the ubiquitous scattering of quartz.

Had a long chat with the Farmer & Bob the sheepdog, and he said that not many people visit anymore (the farmer, not Bob). This is a real shame, and those of you that have visited Aberdeenshire without seeing this circle have missed out on something special. Next year?

Memsie Burial Cairn (Round Cairn)

These places are huge-after Cairnlee yesterday, this one has a better view, but still has a house about 3 inches away from it.

You may think its just a pile of stones, but this monster can be seen a mile off, and there's some beautiful quartz pieces scattered over the cairn.

Not worth a special visit perhaps, but if you're visiting the Buchan RSC's, its got to be worth a stop.

Loudon Wood (Stone Circle)

I never met an RSC I didn't like, and this was no exception. Lots of fun walking up and down the conifer plantation was had in trying to find it, but it was well worth the effort.

The photos tell most of the story, but can't convey how big the ring was, and how impressive it must have been when complete. Several complete stones are laying, fallen, and the stumps remain of the others. The recumbent has a banded crack running around it, which suggests it may not remain whole for many more winters: see it while you can.

Of the three remaining stones still upright, they seemed an example of each of the common types you seem to see at most sites in NE Scotland. The flanker is a rounded stone, with a tapering top, one of the stones is definitely triangular, and the other is oblong, with squared sides. Given the re-occurence of these shapes (to my eyes at least) across the RSC's I wonder if the stones were shaped and erected to a common specification in addition to the grading of heights, quartz pavements, cup-marks & SSW alingment of the recumbents. Nothing was random.

This site is now signposted from the road, but you are left very much on your own in the forest. I would recommend: OS map, compass if your SOD is not up to much, waterproof boots in all but the driest conditions and waterproof clothing. The forest tracks are ok, but the grass can be thigh high when you leave them. You will see that the circle is marked to the north of the main track, opposite a southerly track. When you stand at this junction, two paths to the north will greet you: take the left hand one and in 75-100m look for a path to the left-this will take you to the circle in less than 30m. I would say that the circle is slightly to the west of where it is shown on the map.

Should you visit? If you've one day to fit in as many sites as possible. then no. If you're here for the week, then absolutely - it is an essential companion to Strichen, Berrybrae, Aikey Brae and Netherton.

Cairnlee Cairn (Cairn(s))

This place is huge! So many cairns have been robbed out or reduced, that I wasn't fully aware how big they can be. And what a charming setting!

So many of our sites have been urbanised, but at least they're still here. Yes there are the usual broken bottles & beer cans around, but not too many, and the estate doesn't look too bad (and I've seen a few).

This cairn is great-an overpowering physical presence, big stones and numerous chunks of quartz scattered about, the view over the Dee valley must have been fantastic, and glimpses can still be seen.

Do visit this site: its about 150 yards off the A93 a few miles outside Aberdeen: if you're visiting Aberdeenshire, you WILL drive past this.

Access: In Cairnlee Avenue, off Cairn Road, off the A93 in Bieldside, near Milltimber. The road is in the local atlas. I must give a recommendation for the Phillips blue road map books: They show every road in Aberdeenshire, and as they're based on OS data, most circles and cairns are in them (except this one! but Cairnlee Avenue is) - invaluable on a day's Stone hunting.

Clava Cairns

This site has just about everything you could wish for in one place. Stone circles, burial mounds, outlying standing stones, kerb cairns, cup-marked rocks and a very peaceful setting make this a place you could linger for hours. Although there are over 60 known 'Clava Cairns' as a type in this part of Scotland, (Corrimony being one) these are the originals the others were named after.

Three beautiful cairns in a wooded river valley, each surrounded by their own Stone Circle. Although all of the cairns are now roofless, this does enable you to see and understand their construction better. Different coloured stones were deliberately placed for effect, and several stones were decorated with 'cup-marks' for reasons we can only guess at. All in all a wonderful site, and I can think of no-where better for your final resting place.

Aikey Brae (Stone Circle)

Fantastic RSC-is there any other kind? Although its pretty obvious that all megaliths are heavy, the first thing I thought on stepping out of the trees is 'Wow, this is big.' A real feeling of scale is given by this site, assisted by the fact that the remaining standing stones are all over 6 feet.

A real use of colour was again made here: the embanking stones being a mixture of pink & grey granite, the circle stones all grey. The recumbent, huge and pitted was obviously set in place 'just so'. It would have lain much easier rotated around 180 degrees, but the use of chocking stones to achieve a particular relationship with the horizon is very obvious.

a23's directions are spot on, and we should be thankful he suffered, so we don't have to ;-) I will just add that ACC have installed some 'Stone Circle' road signs to assist you as you get nearer.

Gaval (Stone Circle)

The rain was coming across sideways, so it was hop out of the car, quick photo & back in again. Nice stone, nice setting-terrible weather. I'll look for signs of a possible circle another day.

Ceann Hulavig (Stone Circle)

Ceann Hulavig, also known as Callanish 4 is my favourite of the smaller sites on the Island. Perhaps because of the elevation and the near 360 degree view, but also the stones lend a more enclosed feeling. The depression you can see inside the circle was caused by peat cutting which revealed another two feet of depth to the stones. The stones are coated in great sheets of lichen, indicative of the wonderfully clear air here, and this is very much a place to come and breathe deeply, whilst constantly turning and taking in the view.

Visited July 2001.
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