Friday, 24 October 2008 A beautiful clear sunny day--for once, I have ordered things right, doing distilleries yesterday, and
roaming the countryside today. I meander along back roads to the east, toward northern Aberdeenshire, admiring the gently
rolling scenery along the way. The great round bales in the fields have always made me think of giant slugs, slowly making
their way across the land at, well, a snail's pace. Come back tomorrow, they'll have advanced a yard or two.
I'm looking for antiquities today, starting with the recumbent stone circle on Aikey Brae [Undiscovered Scotland]. The name means "oak hill", but the oaks are long gone, replaced by a reforestation of pines. Walking in Scotland usually means traveling over open moors, and passing through the pines feels more than a little spooky. The circle is in a clearing on the other side, its horizontal (recumbent) stone typically facing southwest. I search vainly for the Aikey Brae Key Heart before leaving. (Yes, it's as bad as it is obvious, but if I didn't say it, Bobby would.)
Just beyond the village of Old Deer lie the ruins of a Cistercian abbey, named, appropriately enough, Deer Abbey [Undiscovered Scotland]. This, I am not making up. (Note to non-Americans: Dear Abby is a long-running newspaper advice column, and my fellow Yanks will find the name of this monastery amusing.) There's little left here; the walls have long since been reduced by pilfering, and Deer Abbey's columns have been entirely edited. (That's enough, Mr TH.)
There's supposed to be another recumbent stone circle in Loudon Wood, but it's not well posted, and it seems to be a longer walk to it than I'm willing to make. It would help if I had a Landranger map to get the lay of the land, or at least the Ordnance Survey map of Northern Scotland that I accidentally left home. The Touring Map of Scotland that I bought at the airport is not much more than useless. I give up on Loudon Wood and drive on to Strichen, where I see Scotland's one and only White Horse (aside from the famous blended whisky), and another stone circle [Undiscovered Scotland]. This latter is a seriously degraded site, having been dismantled and carelessly reassembled by a farmer in the 19th century; then bulldozed in the 1960's, and rebuilt in the 1980's, with a good deal more care to archeological evidence.
A signpost outside Memsie points the way toward a burial cairn, but twenty minutes driving up and down the road fails to reveal any further direction. For a while there, I think I'm in Ireland, where poor signage seems to be a way of life. Again, a decent map would have helped. I head west along the coastal road, and stop at the beach below New Aberdour to eat cheese and crackers and take a short nap. Then I continue west, dipping briefly into Pennan and Gardenstown, regretful of the time wasted looking for dubious ancient monuments. It would have been a fine afternoon to stroll along the waterfronts of these villages; Crovie basks in the late afternoon sun, seen from the lookout above. I don't have the time.
I do stop briefly in Banff to chat with Richard Parker at Parker's Whisky [since vacated in questionable circumstances]. Then it's on to Elgin, where I've arranged to meet the estimable Mr Ian Logan, international brand ambassador for Chivas Bros, for a pint at the Mansefield. He's flown in today from Sweden, and is headed for Dubai tomorrow; I'm honored that he would take time out to have a blether with me.
It's raining when I leave, and I'm halfway to Craigellachie when I realize that I never paid for the two pints I had. I stuck Ian with the bill! I email him from the Highlander, expressing my embarrassment. He replies shortly with typical grace and good humor. I owe him one. A couple, actually. Well, a whole lot, now that I think of it.