15 October 2010--Win and I are lingering over coffee after breakfast--Scott has gone upstairs to shower--when the landlady's son,
in town to visit with the grandkids, walks into the dining room and says, "You have a white Skoda? You have a flat tire." So we do--
picked up a screw somewhere, and the tire is flatter than an unfinished pint left overnight on the Highlander's bar. We have the donut
on before Scott is dry. I call the rental agency and get the address of a garage in Stonehaven, our destination this afternoon. There's
probably one in Elgin, which is not far from here, but going there would put a crimp in our day. We can live with the toy tire for now.
The day's agenda: a castle, a Pictish carved stone, and a recumbent stone circle. I've given a lot of thought to the first. There are certainly many interesting castles between Craigellachie and Stonehaven, but in the end, I can't think of a better one to show the lads than the one in Huntly, which Ron and I visited just last year. There is an extraordinarily rich architectural history here, from the remains of the 12th-century motte, to the foundations of the 15th-century tower house, to the 16th-century castle, remodeled in unparalleled style at the turn of the 17th century. The carved frontispiece over the main door is unique in Britain, and is matched in splendor by other carvings throughout the house. The history of Scotland looms large here, as well, from Robert the Bruce to the last Jacobite rebellion. See Undiscovered Scotland for more detail than I can provide here.
I wish I could have given the lads more insight into Pictish culture than the Maiden Stone. It's interesting enough in itself, but seems rather inadequate as the sole representation they will see. Like many carvings of its era--probably 9th century--it has Christian imagery, including a Celtic cross, on one side, and more typically Pictish symbols on the other. The Christian side is badly weathered, and does not photograph well [thus none below]. The edges of the stone show some knotwork.
As we approached the site of the stone, Win caught a glimpse of a large statue in the woods on the other side of the road. We backtrack to have a look, and find an oriental female figure which towers over us. What it's doing here, we can only guess...it's on private property, and we are trespassing to look at it.
At Easter Aquhorthies, we find a particularly excellent example of an Aberdeenshire recumbent stone circle. These are peculiar to this corner of Scotland. The recumbent--horizontal--stone is always to the southwest of the circle, and it's thought that these were used to chart the lunar cycles for the purpose of agricultural planning.
We're in Stonehaven early enough to have a look at Dunnottar Castle, just south of town. It's a dramatic site, both physically and historically. Scotland's crown jewels were hidden here during the Civil War; when Cromwell's forces finally captured the castle, the jewels were gone, having been smuggled out and hidden under the floor of a nearby church. They did not emerge until the crown was restored. We saw them last week in Edinburgh Castle.
We check into our B&B, hosted by Dennis and Lorna. I find the garage and get the flat tire taken care of in short order. I've stayed in Stonehaven a number of times over the past dozen years. It's always seemed a bit shabby to me, but with a great potential, especially around the old harbor. I've watched the fortunes of the Marine Hotel and the Ship Inn ebb and flow over that time. Suddenly this year, Stonehaven appears to have blossomed. Apparently the Aberdonians have discovered its virtues as a bedroom community, being only twenty minutes away from the Granite City by rail or bus. It might also be that last year's flood prompted a general sprucing-up. The high street is clean and lively, and the two hotels on the harbor are appropriately busy on a Friday night. We dine at the Marine. The cuisine there has been up-and-down over the years, but now seems to have made a quantum leap. (Judging from the posted menu, I'd say the same is likely true of the Ship.) We are joined by Andy, a whisky forum acquaintance who lives in Dyce, near the airport. The lads had been talking about an early night in advance of their departure tomorrow, but fine food and drink, and excellent company, make it impossible to cut the evening short. We know we are being a bit irresponsible--Andy cheerfully misses the last train, and has to take a very expensive taxi home--but we own it. I tell the boys I expect to hear no complaining in the morning. The admonition is at least as much for myself as for them.