Time does not permit a long and carefully edited article this week. We are busy, a month into our trip, polishing and polishing our study abroad day in Aberdeenshire, which I refer to as the “Aberdeenshire Archaeological Tour”. Many sites in this region close after October, which necessarily limits what we can do. However, Aberdeenshire is full of ancient sites that are best explored outdoors, so it’s likely to define this part of the trip even if it were August.
We will start the tour on Sunday 20th November with an early departure from Dundee. We will, thankfully, be traveling in an 18-seater coach instead of the original 50-seater Covid-social-distance-imposing monster. We take a scenic coastal road called the Angus Coastal Road towards our first major stop, Dunnottar Castle. Because it’s on the way, we’ll take a brief detour to Arbroath Abbey, site of the famous declaration of Arbroath. The building is closed due to instability – it is a ruin, after all – but a good time to address an important event in Scottish history.
The morning will be devoted to exploring Dunnottar – we could of course spend the whole day there! After that we will stop for a group lunch at Feugh Falls near Banchory. We hope to have enough time to see the falls, but our afternoon is full of ancient sites. Our original itinerary included way too much so we narrowed it down to three sites: Midmar Stone Circle and Cemetery, Aboyne Kirkton Cemetery and Tomnaverie Stone Circle. Readers of this journal recognize the latter two sites, and Midmar is a nice inclusion. There is a satisfying three-way symmetry between stone circles and graveyards in all their various combinations – all sites of course concerned with our human mortality. The remains of cremation pyres exist at the center of many ancient stone circles, and tombstones in cemeteries are of constant interest to amateur genealogists like myself.
The Scots are known for their generosity to traveling strangers – it’s a common Highland custom to offer hospitality as a survival strategy in a harsh environment – and nowhere is this more evident than helping on the ground that I received from several people. I would like to mention here. The first, of course, is my cousin who wishes anonymity, who helped with maps and registrations at the Kirkton of Aboyne, mentioned in my previous post. The logistics of getting to and around the area were made easier by two people in particular: Veronica Ross, the president of the Cromar History Groupand Dr. Kathy Ader, CHG member and owner of Wild History and Whiskey Tours operating out of Aboyne.
They set up a whole welcoming committee for us in Aboyne! We will meet them both as well as the owners of the Lodge on the Loch, on which the cemetery is located. We should have quite a story about the Templars and the origins of the kirk, which will amplify and expand any personal interest I have in the site, which of course holds dozens of Cromar burials.
As a detour between KoA and Tomnaverie, Kathy suggests a brief stop at Aboyne Castle Estate, just to take a look at Aboyne Castle from the outside and to see the birdcage bell tower that capped the Kirk of Saint Adamnan in KoA. Readers of this diary will remember that I discovered it a while ago, and I think it will be a great addition to the tour if we have time to stop by!
Our goal will of course be a sunset in Tomnaverie, weather permitting. I think this will be a pretty spiritually satisfying cape for a busy day of visiting ancient sites in my ancestor’s homeland.
Below is a map showing our full route, including the stage described above. Watch to learn more about this trip!