Over breakfast we decided to visit a few more Pictish Stones and Stone Circles on our way south to Broughty Ferry, stopping first at The Maiden Stone.
After we said our goodbyes and got on the road, I remembered when we were over in 2013 David asking if we had driven all the way up to Wardhouse Mansion. We hadn’t but when I drove by the road this morning, I made the turn. It was posted as 15 mph. You would have to be nuts to even think of going that fast! Two gravel tire tracks and grass growing up in the middle – not to mention ruts and potholes. Still the drive was worth every jostled body part.
We wandered around the mansion and I took pictures from every angle but from inside its walls. The chapel is nestled into the back of the mansion (extreme left in the top photo).
I am so SO glad I drove up here. I’ve been in love with this place since I first set eyes on it in 1993. After spending about an hour at Wardhouse – getting our feet wet in the process from the heavy overnight dew – we got back on the road to what was going to be our initial stop, the Maiden Stone.
Folklore says that the notch in the stone is from where the devil grabbed the maiden’s arm. You can read the full story here.
The other side of the stone has carvings on it as well. Unfortunately, the sun was in the wrong place so they didn’t show up well.
From here, we went to another place we’d been before – the Easter Aquorthies Stone Circle. When we arrived there was a woman a young boy (presumably her son) there and she was letting him climb on the stones and were oblivious to the fact that others were about. I hoped they would soon clear off so I could get some good photos but, alas, they were still there when we left. Grrr…
Our next stop was the Cullerlie Stone Circle near Garlogie. Another couple came at almost the same time and the dog from the farm next door but they held back and let us have our time around the stones to take photos and watch the sheep in the field behind the circle.
After we left here, we tried to find the Clune Hill Stone Circle to no avail so decided with the time we might as well make tracks for the Hotel Broughty Ferry where we would spend three nights.
We stopped at the Aberlemno stones which we had seen before but this time we also drove down the single track road to the church to see the cross slab in the churchyard.
One more diversion before we reached our final destination. We were driving straight by the sign posting for Restenneth Priory near Forfar so I had to go there.
Wow! We were speechless when we walked into our room. It was huge! And the fixtures in the bathroom were gold plated! Talk about luxury!
I’d ordered the champagne in our room on arrival and although it wasn’t there when we walked in, it was there straight away. We enjoyed our bottle of Moet and Chandon then walked over to the railway station to get an idea how long it would take us to get there since we would be taking the 10:34 from Broughty Ferry to Dundee the next morning. It was about a 10 minute walk at the most so now we could set out to explore.
From the railway station we walked to the Firth of Tay to Broughty Castle. It was too late to visit the museum located there but we had time before we moved on to our next destination so could work it in.
After a short pitstop at the hotel to use the toilet, we walked up Claypotts Road to take our time and see the castle there without cars running us over.
I knew the hotel was in between these two castles and within walking distance but I’m really glad we took advantage of a nice evening to visit both.
We had supper in the hotel’s bar (the restaurant upstairs was full) and sat at a table next to a couple from Montrose. When we mentioned that we were meeting up with my crime-writer friend, Chris Longmuir, the next day for a tour of Dundee focusing on locations she used in her books, they knew her – well, at least knew of her.
We woke to another day of sunshine. Since we were close to the sea, I thought it would be nice to drive along the coast of the Moray Firth for at least part of our journey.
Being the stinker that I can be (I know I hear you saying – “You? Never”) I really wanted to go through Cullen. Travelling from west to east, the 90 degree corner at the bottom of the hill isn’t so intimidating. When we were over in 1997, we came through Cullen from the opposite direction, my husband behind the wheel. After the sharp corner at the bottom of the hill after passing under the railway viaduct, he swore off driving in Scotland for good.
Can you imagine how loud the noise from the train would have been in these houses? How about the shaking every time a train went through? The little white one has a small gate separating it from the viaduct but the one across the street is attached.
Since we were so close to Ladysbridge (the site of the former asylum that I used in my novel, A Shadow in the Past) we drove by it to see if the two boarded up, almost derelict houses had been refurbished. Nothing had been done to either one of them, but two brand new houses now stood in between them. And the old school building on the opposite side of the street to the main asylum (now luxury flats) was in the process of being pulled down.
After seeing Ladysbridge, we headed off to Orbs Bookshop in Huntly. The lady who used to run the shop contacted me in Sept 2013 about getting copies of A Shadow in the Past after I’d returned home (timing is everything, eh?) so I reached out before this trip and arranged to drop copies my novel off and the possibility of a signing. Anyway, the two books the shop could definitely purchase were signed and the transaction completed. We also volunteered our friends who lived nearby to keep the remaining books and take them to Huntly as and when required.
While there, another woman came in. She was involved with the MacMillan Cancer Support organization so I signed and donated a copy to the cause.
Before we left Huntly, we went over to the castle – another Historic Scotland property. We’re members of Historic Scotland so we get in to their properties free of charge and manned properties have toilets… except they were out of order this day.
While we were at the castle at the top of the tower on the left side of the photo above, we met a couple from Belgium. She immediately noticed that she and my husband both wore the same trainers. Obviously, that brand is known world-wide. Anyway, we had a great conversation with them before going our separate ways.
Since we couldn’t bring home our bottle of 18-year old Cardhu on our last trip, we went back to Knockando where the distillery is located. The plan was to cut across the A920. There was a diversion sign on the A96 just before the intersection but the grass was long enough that we couldn’t see exactly where it was on the road we planned on taking. We got most of the way across when the road was totally closed. Mind you we’d met a fair amount of traffic so didn’t give it much thought… until we came to the construction site and the hole in the road. A slight backtrack and across a single track road, and into familiar territory thanks to the diversion because we drove by Fernbank House B&B where we had stayed in 2013.
Our bottle of Cardhu safely in hand and toilets used at the distillery we were ready to drive to Kennethmont. In addition to the diversion due to the closure on the A920, there was also roadworks at Dufftown. To avoid this, we took the A95 to Keith where we hooked up with the A96 which would take us to Huntly.
We made a quick stop at Tesco for supplies – champagne (to toast our friends’ 30th wedding anniversary and our 40th), wine, something for supper, and a pay as you go sim card with top-up card for my unlocked iPhone.
It must have been roadworks season because when we got the B9002 that would take us to Kennethmont, it was closed at the end where it joined the A97. Luckily, there was another road that would take us past the closure without having to go way our of our way.
We spent an enjoyable evening with our friends, drank one of the two bottles of champagne (deciding to keep the second one for our last night with them).
And no it’s nothing to do with Sgt Pepper teaching the band to play.
It was twenty years ago today (on this date is more accurate), I first set foot on Scottish soil. I had wanted to do this for quite some time but it never seemed to be even the remotest possibility. But, this year I had an extra year’s holiday leave from my job so it was “I’m doing it.”
We weren’t in a position for the entire family to go on this adventure so my hubby stayed home with our two young children and off I went.
There were a lot of firsts on this trip.
First time flying. Yup, my first time and I’m going on my own and crossing the ocean. I’ve never done anything by halves before, so why start at that point in my life?
First time in Scotland.
First time meeting family that I knew of but had only written to (and not email) and exchanged Christmas cards with.
First trip to the orphanage where my father and four of his siblings were raised.
First time seeing where he was born and staying at Earlsfield Farm.
Maybe most importantly of all, first time driving on the wrong side of the road on the wrong side of the car and shifting gears with the wrong hand.
See what I mean about a lot of firsts?
When I first drove by the signpost for Weets on my way to Earlsfield Farm just outside Kennethmont, I got all weepy. Weets was where my father was born.
From the first time I clapped eyes on this spooky old hulk, I fell in love with it. I bet those old stone walls are filled with stories and maybe even a ghost or two. What do you think?
So that’s my twenty years ago adventure. Being on my own, I spent all my time behind the camera, and to this day I’m still more comfortable on that side.
What were some of your “huge” firsts? I’d love to hear about them.
There were likely faster ways of getting from Kennethmont to Kelso but they wouldn’t have been as much fun. I wanted to go the back way to Banchory then over to Stonehaven and down the coast – well at least as far as Dundee.
It was mid morning by the time we got away from Earlsfield Farm but we expected that and not just because of the late night. We had so much fun when we stayed here it was really hard to say goodbye.
We stopped in at Kildrummy Castle in the heart of Aberdeenshire – another Historic Scotland property – on our way south. It’s well-maintained, has a small, but well-stocked gift shop and WCs! The gentleman working there had a brother who used to live less than 30 miles from where we currently live. Talk about a small world.
The further we got away from Kennethmont, the more melancholy I felt. There were a couple of times that I could have pulled the car off the road and bawled my eyes out. Thankfully, we had an argument or two with “Sat Nav Sally” over where we were going which temporarily took my mind off things. I knew the route I wanted to take (been there, taken it before so knew where I was going) and she refused to recalculate and get on the same page… or perhaps I should say the same road.
We stopped briefly at Dunnottar Castle just south of Stonehaven on the North Sea, primarily for a photo op and maybe make a point. Long story…
Okay, back to my long story. Some years ago, I started reading a novel set in Scotland (author and title shall remain nameless) and a castle on the North Sea south of Stonehaven was wrongly named Kildrummy Castle. Having been to both castles, I knew it was WRONG! The only castle fitting this locational description was Dunnottar. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past this glaring error. I might have passed up a good author but that was a chance I was willing to take. I mean, if the author didn’t want to use the ‘real’ name, then make up a fictitonal one, don’t just plunk an inland castle on the coast. Rant over now.
At Dundee, we agreed to “Sat Nav Sally’s” route and we continued on without her nagging “turn around when possible”. The rest of the trip to Kelso was quiet (well at least on the sat nav front). I was still sad but not so much as before. Now, I had new territory to get excited about. Yes, we’d been to The Borders before but not Kelso.
When we arrived in Kelso, I couldn’t remember the name of the street the B&B was on, only that it was a one way street. It seemed most of the way in to the town centre was just that. I wanted to stop in the square where the Tourist Information was located but I missed the turning and ended up going up yet another one way street. And guess what! It was the right one. Just at the top of the hill was the sign for Duncan House and their car park. How fortuitous was that?
There was a note on the door addressed to me, telling me where the keys were and how to get to our room so we began the process of unloading the car. On one of our trips to the car, we opened the front door at Duncan House to be greeted by a young couple wondering if we were the owners and was there a room going for the night, We disappointed them but told them to try the phone number on the note in the window. Making sure the front door was securely locked behind us, we got the rest of our loot from the boot of the car.
One of the first things I had to do was plug my laptop in and charge it as the battery was almost flat and I didn’t want to give it a case of “chargus-interruptus” before we left Kennethmont.
Once we were settled, it was time to go exploring but first we stopped off for a bite to eat at The Empress of India, just down the street from our B&B.
After a fantastic meal, an Indian beer (Cobra) and the best onion bhajias I’ve ever had, we headed to the abbey. Unfortunately, the gates were locked but I still got some great photos – likely even better than from within the gated part of the grounds.
Let’s play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!
Tomorrow will be another big day! We’re going ‘south of the border’ with our final destination being Market Rasen, but on our way we’re stopping near Whitby to meet my author friend, Nicky Wells, and her family and my cousin in Lincolnshire that I’ve not met in person before. How exciting!
Day 7 – Launch Day at the Rannes Hall in Kennethmont! – August 17, 2013
The big day was finally here! Was I nervous? A wee bit. Mostly because I still had no idea how many people were coming.
Besides my book launch today at the Rannes Hall, I appeared virtually on two blogs – one is my author friend, Nicky Wells’ Romance That Rocks Your World blog and I did an interview with Peggy Stanton over at Famous Five Plus so I hope you’ll pop over to these wonderful sites.
Compared to other days (especially our ‘free’ day), we did nothing. We both think we went in to Huntly that morning but for what, we can’t remember. We’d been there the night before. Still, we did something/went somewhere nearby in the morning and for the life of us, we have no recall whatsoever.
Fast forward to the afternoon… we loaded the car with books, book swag, door prizes and my silver sharpie pen for signing and made the short journey down the road. We could have easily walked, but trundling a suitcase behind us and me in my ‘ruby’ slippers, it wouldn’t have been a very comfortable walk.
I’m not sure when this sign popped up. I don’t remember seeing it the day before when we walked to the Old Kirkyard and we walked right past here – trash day, wheelie bin in front of the hall. I guess it ‘grew’ overnight.
Here it is – the venue for my book launch. Isn’t it a grand looking building? It’s home to many a Robbie Burns night and other functions.
When we pulled in to the car park, I was gobsmacked to see my friend, Bill Dunbar, still sitting in the vehicle beside us while his wife chatted by the side entrance with David, my Rannes Hall connection (and owner of Earlsfield Farm). He and Helen made the drive up from Quarriers Village for my launch. I got a huge hug from him as did Don (who insisted on it, since they’d come so far).
So, let’s go inside and see what it looks like in there. I have an advantage having been to a dance here in 2000 and seeing photos from Burns Night celebrations online.
My table was set up in front of the stage with alternating Canadian and Scottish flags affixed to it and three rows of seats were arranged in a semi-circle.
With the hall empty, it seemed even bigger than it really was. It was between 1:30 and 2:00 pm and so far it was only Bill and Helen, David, and Don and me. Nail biting time.
Soon, it went from hardly anyone to almost every seat filled. The original plan of doing my reading, followed by a Q&A session, then signing and selling kind of went out the window as people wanted to purchase their copy right away, or if they already had one, get it signed. Who was I to argue? It worked.
I had three draws for the following door prizes.
David wanted one of these so it was sheer serendipity when it was his wife’s ticket number that was drawn.
If our murky memories are correct, Helen Dunbar won the tote bag.
And the calendar was headed off to Dubai with a teenaged cousin of mine. And speaking of cousins…
Ian’s and Norman’s fathers were two of my Dad’s brothers who remained in Scotland. And it was Norman’s great-granddaughter who won the calendar.
By the time the afternoon’s event was over I sold… drum roll, please…
copies of A Shadow in the Past! Yippee!!!
People mingled afterwards over tea/coffee and shortbread before gradually saying their goodbyes and heading homeward. Once everyone was out of the hall, we did the same and went back to Earlsfield Farm to change and relax before going out to supper at The Hunters Moon in Auchleven.
In the end there were ten of us who went to supper. The food was amazing!
After our meal, we went over to Rhynie for the dance at the gala. There was a dance the night before for the younger crowd but they were all back in full force. I got bowled over trying to get in when security couldn’t wrestle a drunk out. Not the most auspicious start to the rest of the evening.
It was well after 1:00 the next morning when we finally got back to Earlsfield farm and we would be back on the road that morning heading south to Kelso.
No SEEKING SARAH SHAND today… we all know where she was. It will resume on Day 8.
It wasn’t actually a “free” day but more a “what shall we do today?”. Better still – an “open” day. Earlier in the week, we had taken advantage of the gorgeous weather and visited the churchyards in Gartly and Insch that we wanted to visit.
We decided that after breakfast, we would walk down to the village and the Old Kirkyard where my grandparents were buried.
Before we reached the junction of the road our B&B was on and the B9002, this sign begged for a picture. I’d seen it when I drove past it but never had the opportunity to get a good look, until this morning.
In order to get to the footpath to the Old Kirkyard, we had to walk past the Rannes Hall where I would be launching my book the next day. I did take a couple of photos but as it was trash day, there was a huge wheelie bin out front. I decided then, I would try the next day or Sunday (depending on the weather) to get another photo.
Look who is in the Rannes Hall’s outside announcements board. You’ll likely have to click on the picture to get the full-sized image to be able to see, but my event is in there.
We continued on up the road to the footpath. It starts out as a lane up to a couple of houses, then becomes the footpath to the Old Kirkyard and on to Leith Hall.
From what I’ve read, this used to be the Old Kirk at Kennethmont. The door was padlocked shut but I was able to peek in the windows.
We continued making the most of our day and carried on along the footpath.
Despite being near the railway line close to train time, I missed being able to stand on the bridge and photograph the train as it approached. And there were two trains! One to Aberdeen and one to Inverness and I missed both of them.
As we still had other things we wanted/needed to do, we didn’t walk any further but turned and made our way back along the footpath, this time taking a different route and coming out at the B9002 at the opposite end of Kennethmont.
One of the things we needed to do was laundry, and even though the wash machine at Earlsfield was offered, with it being so close to when we’d be leaving, I needed a tumble dryer to ensure everything washed was dry by the time we packed up to leave. My luck, had I hung them on the line, it would have poured rain and there I’d be with a load of soggy clothes.
Laundry in the car, we drove up into Huntly to the launderette which had since moved from its location known to us (Bogie Street) right onto the main street going into the town (Gordon Street). This location was far more convenient. After our laundry was washed, dried and folded, we walked up to the square and the Brander Library. They were the only one I sent a book launch poster to that acknowledged receiving it. I asked if they would like to purchase a copy of my book for their branch and was told that all acquisitions had to go through the branch in Old Meldrum. She did take some of my postcards and bookmarks. I thanked her for her time and we went back to the car.
The rain that had fallen earlier had stopped. No bright sunshine yet but at least no rain. Since I had wanted to see Auchindoun Castle for years and it wasn’t too far from Huntly, that was the direction I pointed the car in.
When we arrived at the small car park (essentially just a wee lay-by) along the A941, it was spitting rain again. We grabbed our outerwear and started up the footpath which is actually a road up to two farms. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the steel beams running across the road at regular intervals to keep it from washing out in heavy rains. The photo doesn’t really show how steep the incline was but trust me, it was.
I think the fact there were some ominous, black cloud looming when we got to a vantage point where we could see the castle added to the atmosphere of the place.
Now that we finally reached the last of our journey up the hill, we still had some climbing to do. We didn’t realize it until we were leaving but if you walked along the fence line, there was a far less steep approach to the castle. Oh well, this was all part of the experience.
By now we had seen and done everything we wanted to at the castle, so we picked our way back down the hill to the road and our car. Our next stop was the Walker Shortbread Company where we picked up some shorties to bring home and some to have whilst we were away.
After getting stocked up, we headed to the Aberlour Distillery. Hubby had enjoyed the sampling the night before so we thought we would take their tour. It was a bit disappointing to find out they only do two tours a day and they had just filled the final two places for the 2:00 pm tour fifteen minutes before we arrived. Still, we were told we could walk about the property and take pictures… so I did.
The cemetery at Rhynie was one of the stops we wanted to make today since we hadn’t got there yet. We could have taken the main roads into Huntly and down the A97 to get there but what fun is there in that? Instead, we went down the A941, waving as we went past Auchindoun Castle.
I had an ulterior motive for taking this route even though the road in the middle section isn’t the widest or affords the best places to pull over when meeting traffic. The small Essie Cemetery is on this road and Essie is mentioned as places my ancestors came from. So I had to investigate, now didn’t I?
All along the road the heather was blooming on the hills and until this point never in a location where a body could pull over. Then, the opportunity presented itself and I didn’t let it pass.
When we arrived at the small Essie cemetery, we tromped around but found no one related. Or if they were, I’ve not come across their names in my genealogy – yet.
After our short prowl here, we carried on to the village of Rhynie and the cemetery (where I do have relatives).
This is my great-grandparents’ (on my dad’s mother’s side) grave and one of their children, although we’ve never been able to find a birth or death registration for him. Things that make you go hmm…
Probably the most interesting thing here at Rhynie is the Gordon vault built into the back wall.
Oh yeah, and a lean-to at the far end of the car park where three Pictish, sculptured stones are on display protected from the elements.
From here we went on a bit of a cross-country adventure where we drove past the restaurant in Auchleven (The Hunters Moon) where we would be having supper the next night and before we knew it, we were in Alford. Unfortunately, we were too late to tour the Grampian Transport Museum properly as they were closing in fifteen minutes at 5:00 pm, we did get to see a Dalek in the Tourist Information and museum gift shop.
Right after I took this photo, it came towards me shouting in its Dalek voice, “Exterminate!”. Not every nice…
For a day that was free, we managed to do a great deal – and we weren’t done yet! We went back to Huntly, this time by way of the two main roads – the A944 and the A97 where we stopped in at the Tesco for an Indian takeaway, bottle of wine, another poncho and a long-sleeved sweater for me. When the sun was out, it was lovely and warm but when it wasn’t it got cool and long sleeves were nice, especially in the evenings.
After eating our supper, we decided to take advantage of the fact that the sun came out and we walked up to the stone circle on the farm. Our hosts gave us each a pair of wellies and off we went up the road to the top of the hill and through the five-bar gate at the top.
The cows were at hoot on our way up. When we got what they thought was too close they ran off, but it wasn’t long before they were hanging around and following us – the nosy parkers.
They scattered shortly after this picture was taken.
See what I mean about being nosy? Had to see exactly what we were doing up there.
See, it really is visible from the stone circle if you know where to look.
We started back towards the gate and the cows closed ranks between us and it. As we moved closer they parted – slowly – and allowed us passage. Even the bull didn’t move any faster than need be and we didn’t see him at all on the way to the stone circle. I think before he got bored with us, I was only about four feet from him. When he sauntered off, the rest of the herd took their cue from him and off they went.
The gate might not have been chained quite the same way, but I made sure it was secure and we started down the road, this time to be greeted by the “ladies” in the field across the road from the stone circle.
Now it’s time to play SEEKING SARAH SHAND!
Tomorrow is a big day for me, not because we’re travelling but because it’s launch day for A Shadow in the Past at the Rannes Hall! Wish me luck!
BOOK LAUNCH DAY for A SHADOW IN THE PAST in SCOTLAND
After years of dreaming and wondering if my dream would ever come true, I’m happy to say that my Scottish Book Launch of A Shadow in the Past is happening. Yay! There was a lot of hard work and rejection slips along the way, but it’s finally happening.
But why is it so important to me that I launch my book in Scotland after being at its debut in the US then hosting a launch in my hometown?
Well, it’s this. My father came to Canada as a Scottish Home Child through the auspices of The Orphan Homes of Scotland in 1930. I fell in love with the country and its people right from the time I stepped off the plane on my first trip in 1993. Subsequent trips followed and the spark of a story came to me inspired by the area surrounding my father’s birthplace. That story grew into a novel and I promised myself that when I got published, I would host a launch in the Rannes Hall in Kennethmont, Aberdeenshire.
My Scottish roots and writing by Melanie Robertson-King