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

The journey home!

As you may know I live in Woodhill House in Aberdeen, and while I would love to visit my friends in Rhynie, it is not possible at the moment.  Well I’ve been trying to think of routes and things I would like to see on my way home and have come up with a plan.  Much as I would like to go home, there is the small matter of being a weighty stone, so Im going to send Anne. She’s small, but i’m sure she’ll manage, it’s only about 50km!

Having had a good look at your maps, there are still some symbol stones out there, so Anne and I plotted them out on the map and most of them are where I remember, mostly along the River Don.  Over the next few days Anne will walk between Aberdeen and Rhynie, visiting all the stones and then reporting back on what she finds.

Wish her well, and if you see a wee walker with her stick and pink trainers give her a wave, she’s got a bit of walking to do!

Route from aberdeen to Rhynie
Route from aberdeen to Rhynie
The journey home!