All over the United Kingdom, the countryside is littered with ancient stone circles and they are located in some very interesting and scenic locations. Sometimes they are in unexpected places such as the middle of a housing development or sitting way up on a knob of land out in a farmer’s field, and sometimes, they are a national treasure sitting out in a big open plain, such as Stone Henge. Wherever they are, they are well respected and they are protected. Often times fenced but always with access entries and pathways leading to them so anyone can visit.
On a beautiful sunny day on the 17th of May Lindsay and I decided to go and explore Aberdeenshire due west of his house searching for a couple of stone circles near Midmar which we had noticed on the Historic Scotland website. There was also an obscure castle we also wanted to see if we could find. Historic Scotland has an extensive map they have marked with various historical sites so it’s fun to pick a few in a general area and then head out to see you can locate them in the countryside. It’s like going on a scavenger hunt.
They are usually well marked, like the first one we visited below – Cullerlie. Sometimes not so well marked; it takes some sleuthing and determination to find them. Cullerlie was easily accessible and very well tended, plus it had that nice avenue of tall evergreens flanking the sides while you stroll on the mown grass down to the circle beyond.
According to Wikipedia: “Although many theories have been advanced to explain their use, usually around providing a setting for ceremony or ritual, there is no consensus among archaeologists as to their intended function. Their construction often involved considerable communal effort, including specialist tasks such as planning, quarrying, transportation, laying the foundation trenches, and final construction.”
Stone circles are very interesting to me and always cause me to pause and consider the ancient people who placed them here so long ago, worshiped here and honored their dead.
In a nearby tree, Lindsay found this card hanging for passers-by to reflect upon. Thought that was really kind of a nice thing to do!
After contemplating Cullerlie Stone Circle, we headed further west across the farmlands toward Midmar in search of its castle.
It wasn’t easy to find, but after going down several roads off the main road we finally found it. We found out that it was not, however, a public place; it is privately owned. Midmar Castle is a 16th-century castle. It was built for George Gordon of Midmar and Abergeldie between 1565 and 1575. After discovering it was someone’s private house, we turned the car around to head back down the driveway to respect the owners’ privacy. I couldn’t resist taking just a couple of pictures though. What a cool place to live in! It reminds me of a couple of other neighboring castles; Craigievar and Braemar.
Back to the main highway and up the hill, from Midmar Castle we found the Midmar Kirk.
As we approached the back of the church there was the stone circle right in the middle of the churchyard!
The recumbent stone and the “flankers” were enormous!
We had worked up an appetite so we decided that the recumbent stone was a perfect sunny spot to enjoy our picnic lunch upon!
Afterward, as we left the church, we noticed a standing stone out in the middle of a nearby field, all alone. It must have been associated with the circle in the churchyard. The farmer definitely leaves it be; plowing all around it but not disturbing it!
Then we began our hunt for the final stone circle of the day, Sunhoney. We drove around the area but couldn’t seem to find any of the usual brown and white signs erected by Historic Scotland pointing the way. However, I did notice a sign for “Sunhoney Farms,” so we turned up the dirt lane leading to the farmhouse.
Sure enough, just beyond the farmhouse was a handmade sign (probably by the farmer) pointing the way. We parked the car and continued on foot following the narrow pathway between a rock dike fence and a wire and post fence to a neighboring field. Off in the distance was a group of trees fenced off in the middle of the fields that looked suspiciously like a stone circle location.
There is was indeed! Unlike the other two sites we had visited, this one was not mown and well kept, but at least the cattle weren’t able to get in there. It too had a recumbent stone like the other one nearby in the churchyard with two flankers.
While we were photographing the site, a whole bunch of young cows came up to the fence curious about what was going on! I walked over to the fenceline to see them. What a bunch of cuties! They were all sniffing the air like crazy and were so intrigued by my presence. They were all vying for the spots closest to the fence so they could get a look, and a ‘sniff,’ of this curious visitor in their field.
We then headed back down the path toward the car admiring the growth of the farmer’s neat and tidy rows of his fields as we went.
As we worked our way back home to Aberdeen, we ventured upon the back gate of Drum Castle and decided to stop to see how its’ famous walled gardens of historic roses were doing.
We didn’t tour the castle, we’ve done that before a couple of years ago. It’s a great tour, however, and I highly recommend it if you’re in the area. It is a National Trust property and very well preserved, but they do not allow indoor photography.
This time we were here to see the gardens, so we parked the car in the car park and headed down the lane from the castle to the walled gardens as shown in the interpretive panel below.
Along the way, the path meanders through some trees and flowering shrubs, past a lovely wetland pond flanked by many beautiful and unusual species of flora before coming to the walled garden gate.
Once inside the gate, all kinds of interesting features are waiting for you. They do a particularly good job of creating sculptures out of living willow branches, like this gardener at left with his shovel. One year they had a living willow gazebo you could sit under and enjoy the view beyond.
It was a bit early in the season for their famous roses; they were just beginning to grow and set leaves, but the walls were covered with many wonderful early and late spring varieties in bloom including an absolutely fantastic specimen of wisteria!
Its blossoms were so fragrant and the bumblebees were very busy collecting their pungent pollen! I stood there absorbing their scent for quite a while before continuing on.
“In the walled garden of Drum, the National Trust has carefully created and cultivated four different gardens, each designed to look as it may have appeared in the 17th, 18th, 19th or 20th century.” It’s really quite beautiful when all the roses are blooming later in the season, and definitely worth a visit!
For now, I am totally content with the spring blooming varieties that are present like these clematis blossoms.
Imagine walking through this wooden archway on the left later in the season when it is absolutely covered with beautiful roses its entire length!
We caught the very last vestiges of tulips for the season and saw some early blossoms of peonies.
It was a fun day scouting for stone circles, picnicking in churchyards and visiting castle gardens. Always something fun and interesting to explore in Scotland! Hope you enjoyed it!
Attitude of Gratitude – I am so grateful that ancient structures like Neolithic and Bronze Age stone circles have been preserved and protected and revered throughout the ages. They are such fascinating places to visit and oh-so-much-fun to try to find sometimes!