I am sure everyone has heard of and maybe visited Stonehenge, but were you aware that the North East of Scotland can boast of almost 100 ‘Recumbent Stone Circles’, and that this area, along with the south-west of Ireland, is the only place in the world that you can visit this type of prehistoric site? In addition, Aberdeenshire has many other impressive ‘regular’ stone circles, so Pamela and I decided to plan a day trip and visit these sites of our ancient ancestors. Indeed, it was our chance to meet the Flintstones in our own backyard!
So, I hear you ask, what is a ‘Recumbent Stone Circle’? Well, the circles are made up of a number of standing stones, plus a large horizontal (or “recumbent”) stone which has an upright flanking stone at either side of it.
The Aquhorthies Stone Circle
The Aquhorthies Stone Circle is perhaps the best example of this type of ancient architecture. The site is handily located just a 10 minute drive from the A96 main road, next to the commuter town of Inverurie. It is well signposted, and there is a small car park, which is at the bottom of a 5 minute walk up the hill to the site. Aquhorthies is well preserved and the looming presence of the Bennachie peak sets a beautiful backdrop.
The Loanhead of Daviot
The stone circles of Aberdeenshire were erected around 4,000 years ago, making them a similar age to Stonehenge and the great Pyramids of Giza. The alignment of these stones probably helped prehistoric farming communities to follow the changing seasons. The flanking stones would have framed the rising and setting moon at midsummer. The Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle has a particularly large recumbent stone, with the circle surrounding a ring cairn.
Sunhoney Stone Circle
We also visited the gloriously named Sunhoney Stone Circle. The site is not signposted, but it is marked on Google maps. Head west of the village of Echt, and in just over one mile you will see a sign on the right for the Sunhoney Farm. Take this track and drive up past the farm and park up. At this point there is a sign to help you, and a narrow hedge-side track which leads up to a small wooded hill top. The site is very atmospheric and you can feel the history and mystery of this location.
Cullerlie Stone Circle
As well as the recumbent stone circles, our day trip also took us to a regular stone circle at Cullerlie. The approach to the circle is beautifully framed by a short avenue of trees. The eight stones surround an area which was likely used for cremation. The Cullerlie Stone Circle is remarkable for its setting at the bottom of a valley. Most prehistoric stone monuments were built on higher ground, and the reason for Cullerlie’s unusual location is a mystery.
The Maiden Stone
We capped off our journey with a drive to the Maiden Stone, near The Chapel of Garioch (pronounced Gee-ree). Although not a circle and only a mere 1,300 years old, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to examine this 3m-tall Pictish stone. The Picts were a Celtic group who inhabited the North East of Scotland, and the stone bears many of their symbols as well as what may be a biblical scene. For it was around the time that this stone was erected, that the Picts were slowly being converted to Christianity. Local folklore, however, has it that the stone was once a maiden, who lost a bet with the Devil. As she fled, the Devil turned her to stone. Whether you wish to believe this or that the stone was a marker along the ancient road which connected Aberdeenshire and Moray, we’ll let you decide!
Join us next time when we visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels!
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