The Rhynie Man Way

I’ve been a bit quiet recently, with one thing or another, but luckily I’ve had lots of helpers to keep exploring my local landscape.  I’ve been contacted by my friend Rachael (who helped out on the project last summer) to say that she wanted to do something special after handing in her Thesis and finishing her exams at the University of Aberdeen.  I was delighted to hear she wanted to cycle the 50Km Rhynie Man Way with one of her best friends, Anastasia.

She has very kindly written about her trip and sent some photos (taken with film) and Anastasia has written a lovely piece of creative writing.  I’m so pleased that people want to explore this beautiful landscape on my behalf and have been inspired to write about what it means to them.

Please let me know if you make the journey along The Rhynie Man Way and if you share your journey on social media please use the hashtag #TheRhynieManWay .

Having worked a bit with Anne and Rhynie Woman last year, and being a keen cyclist, I have wanted to cycle Anne’s Rhynie Man Way for a while, and a few weeks ago, with my friend Anastasia, I finally did. We planned to set off early on Saturday morning so decided to go the day before to pay a visit to Rhynie Man in Woodhill House.

1 rhynie man

The following day we agreed to meet bright and early at 7am. The weather was a bit damp but we didn’t let that deter us. As the route more or less follows the River Don, then the River Urie, and finally the Gadie Burn before going ‘cross country’ to meet the Bogie in Rhynie, it seemed appropriate to start at the mouth of the Don.2 bridge of don

From there we cycled through the picturesque Seaton Park and along Tillydrone Road to join the National Cycle Network Route 1. This takes you through Woodside along the old station road. As the day went on we became aware that, as well as the rivers, we were also following the railway, which we frequently crossed and which reminded us of its presence with each passing train. Our next symbol stones, at Dyce Church, sat very close to both the river and the railway.

3 dyce church

Following this, we headed on down Dyce Drive, finally realising that my navigation had gone a little awry when we reached Kirkhill Industrial Estate and Aberdeen Airport, not quite the quiet country lanes we’d been in search of. We retraced our steps, or rather our revolutions, and refound our way.

Our next stop was Kinellar Church where my Wee Guide to the Picts informed us we would find our next symbol stone. Sadly, on our arrival we discovered that the church had been converted into a house and there was no symbol stone in sight. A kind gentleman whom we spoke to at a neighbouring house informed us that the stone was still there inside but you needed to arrange in advance with the owners of the church-come-house in order to view it. So on we went…

4 kintoreKintore was our next stop where the symbol stones in the churchyard were quite easy to find once we’d been pointed in the right direction by a local fisherman.

5 brandsbuttCycling up out of Kintore we got an amazing view of the Don Valley and Inverurie appearing below. Everything seemed to be going well and the sun was even coming out… But then disaster struck! Anastasia’s chain had broken so she couldn’t peddle her bike. Thankfully, we were at the top and could happily freewheel most of the way into Inverurie (unfortunately by-passing the stones at the Bass at the Old Churchyard, Inverurie as we whizzed past) where we were grateful to discover the Pedal Power Bike Shop where they were able to fit a new chain. At this point we decided we’d earned our lunch so we enjoyed our picnic in the square in Inverurie, followed my Millionaire’s shortbreads from the bakery. We were well set up to continue. On our way out of Inverurie we stopped off at the famous Brandsbutt Stone and admired its Ogham inscription.

6 maidenstoneThen we continued our journey to the perhaps even more famous Maiden Stone. Far bigger than any of the others we had seen and bearing many more symbols, both Pictish and Christian, it was easy to understand why. It was quite magnificent. And we enjoyed reading the local myth – featuring bannocks, Bennachie and the Devil – about how it had come to appear. I was also chuffed because reaching it on my bike meant ticking off my first checkpoint on Cycling UK’s British Cycling Quest, something I’d been meaning to do for a while.

7 clattOur final stone before arriving in Rhynie was one built into the wall surrounding the churchyard at Clatt, one that we never would have known was there if I hadn’t already visited it with Anne last summer.

We were pretty knackered by this point and, lying down on the grass to admire the stone, we were tempted to take a little nap. Buoyed on by the thought of a warm welcome in Rhynie and some Rhynie Woman pizzas, we continued, and made it!

8 rhynieIt was a wonderful cycle and would never have happened without Anne, Rhynie Woman and of course, Rhynie Man! So thanks is due to them all. For me, the ride was made all the better by having a companion on the road. I’ll let her introduce herself and a story she was inspired to write…

My name is Anastasia Cojocaru and I have just graduated from University of Aberdeen with a degree in English and International Relations. I enjoy reading and writing so I joined the AU Creative Writing Society in my last year as an undergraduate student (2015-2016). I developed a lot as a writer there and I met like-minded individuals but I took Creative Writing classes before joining this group. The initial version of the piece I have sent you was written more than a year and half ago for a Creative Writing course at the university in third year and is based on my very first childhood memory, growing up in rural Romania with my grandpa in the summer. I adore cycling in Scotland in the summer and my trip with Rachel to Rhynie inspired me to adapt the initial version of this piece and turn it into a blend of Scottish-Romanian memories.

Mushrooms and Dew

by Anastasia Cojocaru

That morning I woke up and searched his side of the bed with my left hand. There were only cold sheets touching my skin.

The room was already covered in light. It was an enormous room which had a table and a bed which was far too large for just a child and a man. There was a blanket on one of the chairs. The cat slept peacefully on the woollen red and from time to time the wood crackled in the stove which smelled like baked mushrooms. I could feel the heat of the fire on my face.

Outside, I ran barefoot to the edge of the forest behind our house hoping that he would be there, somewhere between the tall trees which looked like emperors of the endless greenery. I could feel the dew on my feet and the sun playing with my hair. Our cottage looked so small from the outside. Sometimes my eyes lost its sight between the hills, when I looked at it from the distance, on my way back to the city.

I stopped at the edge of the forest and shouted at the top of my lungs: ‘Grandpa!’. I got no answer so I returned to my room. I knew a long and painful wait was about to come. I closed the door with a hook and crossed my arms. Everything had an unpredictable feeling to it. For the first time it was just me and the bright early morning. I looked through the windows at the hill covered in gorse in front of our house. Most of our sheep and their lambs were still asleep in their sheepfold, on the meadow at the base of the gorse hill. I could see the mountain covered in violet heather in the distance. Could he be on top of the mountain? He must be as small as an ant. That’s why I can’t see him.

This was my first summer in Rhynie with grandpa.

He came back at noon. In the morning he used to pick mushrooms that grew during the night. His basket smelled like earth, grass, and damp leaves.


The Rhynie Man Way

Busy day on the dig site – Cattle Jaws and Mini Diggers


Another couple of busy days on the dig site. Most interesting for me, the great excitement when a Cattle jaw was found in the terminal/stone socket.  Once again the wooden Rhynie Man Lookie-likie came out and prove to be a very good likeness. Thank you to the @NorthernPicts for the photo – have a look out for them on Twitter and Facebook for more updates and follow the #REAP blog here.


The number of diggers more than doubled today with the primary school’s annual visit to the dig site.  The children were met with a huge container full of spoil to sift through and find lots of interesting things.  They were also interviewed by Fiona Stalker, radio presenter from BBC Radio Scotland – have a look out for the photos on the Northern Picts facebook page, here’s a sneak peek of one of our young at heart local volunteers getting involved.


Listen out tomorrow on BBC Radio Scotland “Out For The Weekend” Friday August 28th 2-4pm for more information about our open day on Saturday 29th August 2015 at 10 – 4pm.

Keep up to date with all the activities and events on Saturday by following the Rhynie Woman Facebook Page and twitter @therhynieman  Hope to see you there!

Busy day on the dig site – Cattle Jaws and Mini Diggers

Visit to the dig site and some (potentially) very exciting news!!!!

A flying visit to the dig site today to introduce some University Lecturers to the Art of Archaeology and Rhynie.  The tour took in the proposed cycle route between Aberdeen and Rhynie visiting a few of the Pictish Symbol Stone sites on the way.

The Rhynie Man way - Full route

Thankfully it was lovely weather and we arrived to see Rhynie Woman Daisy picking Yarrow to put on top of the now famous pictish pizzas.  The site was easily spotted with the great signage and flags.

The approach from the north
The approach from the north

We found Rhynie Woman Debbi and Rachel busy preparing dough and the Pizza Oven. Whilst the kettle was whistling and the oven getting up to temperature we had time to have a quick guided tour with the archaeologists.

Rhynie Woman Hayley’s lovely photos taken at the weekend of the entrance to our outstanding pop up museum, cafe and dig site
Come and visit just follow the Rhynie Man and Woman signs – Hayley Keane Photography

We met with DrGN and he introduced us to the background and context of the site and the series of digs that have been taking place in Rhynie over the past 5 years.  As we started to smell the aroma of pictish pizza there was a lot of activity around the dig site and we took a closer look!


Now the archaeologists tell us that this amount of stones is VERY unusual on this site, there are signs of a fire and something possibly being removed from this socket….now what could that be?  Archaeologists don’t want to speculate but they can’t help wonder if the socket held up something heavy, large and potentially kite shaped.  I wonder what that could be.


I recognise those feet!!!!!


and that handsome face!  No it’s not Fred, but Me!  who’d have thought.  Well it is important to remember we don’t know for certain, and I’m keeping quiet on the matter, but I’m sure the archaeologists will be measuring and calculating things over the next few days with a view to establishing whether this could be the socket hole of Rhynie Man.  Wouldn’t that be amazing!!!!


There were some more interesting behaviours and use of material culture being demonstrated on site today.  I’ve observed a large increase in this kind of behaviour over recent years; the raised arm, the heads inclined towards each other, the cheesy grins and after the event the discussion of whether it is tweetable or suitable for facebook.  On this occasion it was a definite positive reaction.  No doubt the image will be found online and around the world quite soon on a computer near you.  Here is recorded an image of the ‘selfie’ as the event is called.  I would recommend further study of this behaviour.

Visit to the dig site and some (potentially) very exciting news!!!!

Oh Boy Oh Boy!!!! we’ve hit the headlines

The dig in Rhynie is gathering momentum and Dr GN and his team of intrepid archaeologists and volunteers have been clearing the site around where I was found.  The media is just starting to pick up early promising indications that there are interesting features to be found and as they work their way through victorian coins and pottery there are more things to be found.

Photo thanks to Bruce Mann
Photo thanks to Bruce Mann

One thing they would like to find out is where I was situated!!! My bolt hole, if you like.  keep all your fingers and toes crossed that they find it and I can finally get an idea of where my cold toes were placed in the warm Rhynie soil.

For further information follow the REAP blog which gives you a day by day breakdown of the events on site.

Oh Boy Oh Boy!!!! we’ve hit the headlines

Throwback Thursday – Crafting Kingdoms The rise of the Northern Picts

This weeks Throwback Thursday takes us back to the depths of winter, January 2015 and the opening of The Crafting Kingdoms exhibition at Kings Museum, Aberdeen University, Aberdeen.

After our trip to Aberdeen on the dark and chilly night we were given a warm welcome by the volunteers and members of the team who installed and curated this amazing summary of the Northern Picts.

Putting Rhynie right in the centre of things and the context amongst other pictish centres
Putting Rhynie right in the centre of things and the context amongst other pictish centres

The exhibition told the story of the Picts in, what is now, Scotland and then focused into the domain of the Northern Picts (where I come from).  It also highlighted the key find locations in the North East called Cé (pronounced ‘he’ as in S’he’ and Bennachie) which includes Tillytarmont, Gaulcross, Rhynie and Burghead (which could now possibly be augmented with the find at Dunnicaer in April 2015).  The exhibition was jointly curated between the Museum and Dr Gordon Nobel the lead archaeologist on the Northern Picts Project.

The gallery above shows the range and skill of craft(wo)manship that we had and were on show at the exhibition.  I don’t think the Romans were that complementary about us but I would argue that we knew what we liked, had highly developed aesthetic skills and sense of style and design.  We were also skilled traders and knew how to get hold of the odd bit of Roman silver when they weren’t looking!

Rhynie a very royal place, of course!
Rhynie a very royal place, of course!

It’s great to see that our history has not been forgotten, even though the archaeologists have not found that much of what we produced and how we lived.  The exploration is continuing and inspiring groups and communities like SSW and Rhynie Woman.  I’m happy in the knowledge that we won’t be forgotten, we just need to support these groups to make things happen.

the team getting ready to climb Dunnicaer!
the team getting ready to climb Dunnicaer!

There are lots of opportunities to get involved, whether it’s being involved in a dig, supporting a project or funding further research, so keep an eye on the Northern Picts facebook group and the Northern Picts Project website.  They are currently trying to raise funds to do some more digging at Dunnicaer:  on the sea stack, in the middle of the sea, with a big drop down off all sides, in the cold north wind where they need harnesses so they don’t blow away.  I’m off to calm down, I can’t cope with heights either; where’s one of Daisy’s Tap of Noth buns when you need one!

Throwback Thursday – Crafting Kingdoms The rise of the Northern Picts

From Turf to Tools

Last August I went along to visit Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden, just down the road from Rhynie.  SSW was established in 1979 by sculptor Fred Bushe, RSA OBE.  Their website describes their purpose.

SSW is a making and thinking facility – offering the time, space, support and facilities to artists from all backgrounds to develop their practice, with an emphasis on experimentation and exploration of sculpture within the expanded field.

The project they have been working on at the time was called From Turf to Tools, it is an ongoing investigation into landscape, material and craft, inspired by local archeological investigations in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire.

The collaboration of Scottish Sculpture Workshop artist Eden Jolly and master blacksmith Darrell Markewitz, with Dr. Gordon Noble, archeologist at University of Aberdeen, will seek to recreate a ceremonial axe – as seen on the Rhynie Man standing stone – through smelting and forging locally sourced materials. Two writers, Maxime Hourani (Lebanon) and Deirdre O’Mahony (Ireland) will document the collaborative research process

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The event was spectacular and reminded me of when I was growing up in Rhynie, not just what they were doing but the sounds, sights and smells were so evocative.  What a great way of bringing our history alive.

@SSW photo of Darrell Markewitz with the axe and my good self – not a bad likeness

The axe let the experts and public see how it could have potentially been used and they concluded that it was more likely to be ceremonial and not an axe for cutting wood, perhaps it was for knocking beasts over the head with!  I’m still keeping them guessing, but through the making process they are getting a closer understanding of how we lived and the considerable effort and skill we employed in making our tools.  We were a sophisticated bunch!

From Turf to Tools

I’ve been on the Telly don’t you know!

I’m not boasting when I say I’m quite media savvy not to mention photogenic!  I’ve been in a few articles, books, newspapers and on television in my time.  I like to think Madonna models herself on me, rebranding herself each time a new song or genre develops.  I’ve been described as a warrior, a pilgrim, Rhynie Number 7, a king, a slaughterman, just to name a few and I’m just going to keep you guessing, it’s much more fun that way.canmoreAbove is a link to Canmore’s swish new website entry, it’s all very serious and factual, great if you are a historian, archaeologist, visitor of stones but there is no mention of nettle pesto and roasted beetroot on their site to get the taste buds watering.Rhynie man aberdeenshire monument recordAberdeenshire Council also has a record of my good self including some brilliant map overlays and all the amazing books I’ve featured in over the years.  They are the chaps to contact if you find any artefacts Pictish or not. For more information check out their website or email PictsThe University of Aberdeen also has a keen interest in all things Northern Picts, under the all seeing eye of Dr Gordon Nobel.  Hopefully the archaeologists will reveal some more interesting things about me in the Summer.  They’ll be digging where I was found and further in the same field.  Just look out for them in mid August to early September.

The digging efforts should mean that even more people will get the chance to see my good looks when they present papers and workshops at conferences over the Winter and Spring. If you’d like to take part in the digs get in touch with  I’m reliably informed that Rhynie Woman treats will also make an appearance at some point as well.


Canmore and Aberdeenshire Council’s Sites and Monument Record are the main sources of information and starting points for research and academic dialogue. There are a whole host of other websites and blogs that write about me (some more accurate than others). Just search under my various descriptions and you’ll see.  A good starting point is Historic Scotland’s micro site Pictish Stones, which has links to some amazing laser scans of some other pictish stones.

If you’re interested in creative things and want to see how others have been inspired you can find out more at the following facebook pages.

Rhynie Woma

Rhynie Woman are by far my biggest fans, they want me back in Rhynie. They are an artists collective that aims to enhance their community by raising awareness of their landscape, history, and people through food and celebration.  I’m up for any kind of food and celebration, especially a Tap O’ Noth bun and some elderflower cordial!

rhynie wifie facebook

Unlike Rhynie Woman, Rhynie Wifies are another matter completely.  To cut a long story short, I seem to have been married to all four of them at some point and must have upset them somehow, I can’t imagine why.  I met them a good few years ago, they haven’t aged well and we won’t mention the nagging, the wee herbal night caps, the hair dyeing, speaking in tongues (really unnerving) and the fleas!

I have been the inspiration for batik painting, poetry, souvenirs, t shirts and towels, sweeties, cookies, Scots fiddle music (thanks to Paul Anderson) and stories.  Have you been inspired to create something about me?  I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve been on the Telly don’t you know!