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

Going beyond Rhynie….

If you’ve made the effort to come all the way to Rhynie, it would be rude not to find out more about the area surrounding my field and the other symbol stones.

34 Rhynie from Stone circle  (57)
Rhynie village and Tap o’ Noth taken from the Cottown

Rhynie is situated in the AB54 postal area in the far north west of Aberdeenshire, it is a place with a deep history: from the earliest geological evidence of cellular plants 410million years ago[1], to evidence of a long history of human habitation ranging back to the Neolithic Period (4000 – 2500BC)[2].  Traces of human habitation are found in the area’s recumbent stone circles, standing stones, Roman battles, Pictish symbol stones, churches, castles, architecture, beautiful natural history and evidence of pre ‘improvement’ features in the landscape.  This area of Aberdeenshire lies adjacent to the Moray region, part of Highlands and Islands and out with the highly supported and promoted areas of the Cairngorm National Park, Deeside, Whisky and Victoria Tourist Trails.

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 area offers the visitor and community an amazing place to live and work.  There are a whisky distilleries, added value food producers, the spiritual home of the Gordon Highlanders, a car club, train and transport links, hundreds of social groups and clubs and an interesting cultural corridor that runs from North to South of the area[3].  Employment is mainly dominated by Forestry, Agriculture and public services and a growing number of creative industries.  However, accommodation is in short supply, which can lead to higher prices and with few new houses being built it is thought that the lack of growing communities is restricting the further enhancement and development of the area.

makay of uganda
sign to commemorate Mackay of Uganda. The church he grew up in is one of four church buildings in Rhynie

Around the time of Culloden[4], during the early part of the Industrial Revolution, Huntly (the area’s market and administrative town) was at the center of weaving and spinning and was responsible for a third of linen production in Scotland[5].  However with the introduction of cotton from America and the Napoleonic Wars, the areas importance declined.  Despite this change in fortune Huntly and its districts thrived and supported by the train network was a thriving centre for leather, cloth, machine works, beer, sport and fashion which attracted the fashionable, intellectual and philanthropic.  The patrons who grew the town and its wide range of schools and community groups also travelled throughout the world; taking newspapers to China[6], music[7] and literature[8] to the heart of academia and missionaries and engineers to the ‘developing’ world[9].

Huntly in the 19th Century, looking towards the Clachmach and Rhynie 9 miles to the south.

Since the 1980s and the closure of a few major employers in the area AB54 is in a transition period[10]; shops are closing and the town and surrounding district is dominated by two large supermarkets, charity and empty shops, a shortage of housing, properties that require investment and a closed museum.  Tourism is slowly taking hold with a wide range of outdoor sporting facilities, fishing, wedding venues, estate activities and Huntly Castle, however visitors are generally bussed in and out spending little time in the surrounding villages or town.  Without facilities, available houses and reasons to attract people to the area, there is little to encourage new people to gaze, linger and share their experience of the AB54 area with the outside world.

25 Leith Hall (9)
Wolfstone ( found at Newbigging Farm, Leslie now installed at Leith Hall, 4 miles from Rhynie.

Despite the economic and geographical challenges, the area’s rich history, sporting and cultural facilities, train links and community participation all present opportunities for the future of the AB54 area.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that the AB54 area has a lot to offer the visitor and community and perhaps it should be promoted more widely[11].  With the range and diversity of history, natural resources and outdoor facilities Rhynie and AB54 have a lot of potential, which could help develop and sustain the area now and into the future.  I want to return and would love if you came and visited as well.

[1] Rhynie Chert was found in Windyfield at the base of Tap o’ Noth on the outskirts of Rhynie dating back to 400 – 412Million years ago.  For more information take a look at the Rhynie Chert Learning Resource Site  The Chert is one of Rhynie’s many interesting geological features.

[2] Although there is evidence of Mesolithic (8000 – 4000BC) habitation in Aberdeenshire there are no finds reported on the Aberdeenshire Council’s Sites and Monument’s Records in Rhynie, however there are a number of Neolithic (4000 – 2500BC) features found in Rhynie, indicating that the area was inhabited during this period.  The most interesting feature is that of Wormy Hillock a Class I Henge Monument within the boundaries of Rhynie Parish

[3] A quote from a discussion with Jason Williamson, Exhibitions Manager at Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums.  He was referring to Deveron Arts in Huntly, Rhynie Woman in Rhynie and Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden.


[5] In 1730-40s ‘Huntly accounted for about one-third of all the linen cloth produced in the country, worth £40,000 to £50,000 per annum.’ (Scott, 1997, pp. 96, 5)

[6] James Legge (1815 – 1897)

[7] Ronald Centre (1913 – 1973)

[8] George MacDonald (1824 -1905)

[9] Alexander MacKay (1849 – 1890) was born in Rhynie and introduced engineering and Christianity to Uganda.  He is celebrated by the people of Uganda.

[10] Rhynie falls within the administration area of Marr – and local rural partnerships involving volunteers have been set up to‘work with and promote the common issues affecting the local communities, and work to empower, support and help develop community groups’.

[11]  Despite the economic and geographical challenges, the area’s rich history, sporting and cultural abilities, train station and community involvement, present opportunities for the future of the AB54 area

Going beyond Rhynie….

So where is Rhynie?

I have talked at some length about Rhynie, but do you know where it is?  Would you like to visit and stay a while?  Why don’t you come along to one of the digs; for a day trip to the gala (15th August 2015) or stay a little while longer?  In more recent times, Rhynie was an important trading village, at one point it was known for the best biscuits in the whole of Aberdeenshire (so said a friend’s mum), had three butchers and a dress shop.  It currently has a population of 454, a primary school, post office and shop and medical centre with a whole host of clubs and services.  For more information have a look at Rhynie’s local website and Facebook page.  A place would not be a place without a map so here is one, and of course I’m an important feature!

Feel free to download the map.  The map was funded by Heritage Lottery Funding and produced by Anne Murray for Rhynie Woman.

Rhynie Map for blog

So where is Rhynie?