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!!!!

Quick update more to follow

Further updates will arrive over the next few days, but from what I saw today there are some really exciting finds starting to emerge including a stone that looks like it was used to polish leather as well as potentially other crucible and amphora shards.  The archaeologists have busy on the site and there seems to be even more flags.  The pop up pictish cafe is now open for visitors until next Saturday, so pop along between 10 and 5pm every day with tours at 2pm.

Quick update more to follow

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

Welcome home Rhynie Man – The Rhynie Gala

This weekend, although wet and cold, was the annual Rhynie Gala.  Rhynie Man put in an appearance and so did the talented people of Rhynie.  Here are some behind the scenes photos of making the mementos for #Rhynie15 big dig starting this week and a few photos from the event.

I’ve been ably assisted by Anne and Rachel this week to make some lovely mementos which will be on sale at the Rhynie Gala and Open Days.  Rachel is a soon to be fourth year Anthropology student at the University of Aberdeen.  Apparently students are stereotyped as being lazy and unmotivated, well not this one!  Over the past few months, amongst other things, she has been volunteering with Rhynie Woman and me over the summer and is interested in how a community’s landscape can influence cultural activities.  I think she’s come to a very good place to use as a case study and Anne and Rhynie Woman appreciate all her help and enthusiasm.

Lovely day although it was very wet, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the hill climb and the other activities around the Market Stance.

There are still a number of events happening with the dig over the next few weeks, keep up to date with the event listings here.

Welcome home Rhynie Man – The Rhynie Gala

The Rhynie Man Way – Part One – Woodhill House to Dyce“>


TIME: Approx 3 Hours

Symbols handed out to: George (wolf), Iain (snake) and Annie (pictish beast)

Key features: Geology of the river, topography of North Aberdeen, industrial heritage including railways, waterways, roadways, factories and ongoing transformation of land.

Want to find out more about: the Marching Stones, the loupin’ Stane, Industrial heritage, Dyce Community Garden and Persley’s hidden garden.

Observations: Anne’s journey started from Woodhill House, North Anderson Drive, Aberdeen.  As you can see it’s not until you start walking around that you realise that there are hills and if somewhere is called Hilton it is usually for a reason.  The road names showing glimpses of what existed before estates and businesses moved in; OldCroft and Castleton perhaps indicating what was demolished to make way for the new community.  As she descended North Anderson drive she reported that she could see, in the distance, the aircraft landing in Dyce, on a short plateau at Kirkhill, North West of Aberdeen.


The area of Stockethill is an established community about a couple of miles north of the city centre of Aberdeen.  Most buildings were established in late 1940s as post war housing.  The area houses the region’s main hospital complex and the Council Buildings of Aberdeenshire Council.  A quarter of the population are over the age of 65 and a third under 35.  People were happy to chat as she walked past and the smell of cut grass and hedges being trimmed filled the air, allowing her the potential to forget the main A96 running beside her.

March Stones

It’s great to see stones still being used today, there is still evidence of them in the landscape. When walking through Woodside and Hilton keep an eye out for the March Stones of Aberdeen.  Sixty seven stones placed around the perimeter of Aberdeen after Robert the Bruce granted Aberdeen various rights to lands around the city.  On this route you will come across three or four of them; 53, 52, 51 and 49.  Watch out they are quite sneeky and could be mistaken for mile markers or may be hidden or flat on the ground. There are a couple of trail maps available from the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums website look for the Bridge of Don Trails and March Stones.

When the route crossed Great Northern Road, apparently it is like stepping back in time. You move away from the main road and busyness of the main routes through Aberdeen down into the valley of the River Don to a quiet tranquil and interesting landscape of industrial heritage.  I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been like that in the 19th Century, there would have been the lint mills, paper, calico, bleaching, kids running around, wheels turning, a busy waterway, bells, clunking of machines and people going to and from work.


But now it is a quiet place to walk the dog and imagine how the role of the River Don and its fortune over the centuries has changed since the Picts travelled through the area.


The river walk ends at the Persley Bridge, what now is called Persley Castle (currently used by a nursing home) where there used to be what some called the barracks or if they knew the history a children’s home (which used to house children who were the sweat shop-labour in a calico-printing business nearby), there is also what looks like a ruined church.  The memorial to those who have fallen whilst working in industry, starkly reminds you of sacrifices that have been made over hundreds of years for people of the 21st Century to have the things they have now.  The gardens are beautifully looked after but it wasn’t possible to find out more infomation about its history or who looks after it now.


Where the route moves onto the roadside, look out for the sign post at the roundabout and follow it into what is an area in transition.  The route takes you through Mugiemoss, an area that for over 200 years was filled with the sounds and smells of a paper mill and later chicken, milk and cheese processing.  The area is in the process of being transformed from an area of production to one of consumption.  Hundreds of houses, still being built, have been sold already.  A strange concept to me as a pict; I find it difficult to understand what the purpose is?  houses with no jobs seems to be strange and disconnected.  You can’t even see or get to the river anymore.  I’d give it a ‘watching brief’ as the archaeologists say.

Arriving in Dyce the signage is quite clear, there is a choice either to follow the Formartine and Buchan way, which used to be the railway lines north to the coast, or follow the route towards the river again and the Riverside park.  Both routes meet up where the main road north crosses the River Don and where the next update will start.

Anne’s feet are holding up and I’m looking forward to updates from the rest of the journey.

The Rhynie Man Way – Part One – Woodhill House to Dyce