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  • Writer's pictureMonique Sliedrecht

Midmar Kirk, Stone Circle & Winter Solstice

Updated: Dec 22, 2023


There’s a strange and eerie glow outside as the late morning sun rises and tries to push its way through the blanket of grey.  Wind is whipping around the house and through most of Scotland today, reaching 70 or 80 mph in some places, including here in the far north.


So far the electricity has not gone off, though I’m not sure that’s the case for people in the village across the bay. I have not seen the lights flickering there yet this morning.


I’m hunkered down inside with flu, trying to keep warm with the slippers my Aussie friend recommended, and wrapped in layers and a blanket as I write.  I must have picked up the bug on my  recent travels south this last weekend.  I helped host an evening of music and readings on Saturday evening in Edinburgh.  It was a lovely get-together, enhanced by mince pies, mulled wine and mulled apple juice. Very warming as we come near the end of the Advent season. 

I suppose the flu is not a bad price to pay, but I hope it lets up in time for Christmas! 


It’s hard to believe Christmas is in only 4 days.  I don’t quite feel ready for it, though I’ve managed to get the tree up before I left last week.  Now that I’m ill I don’t really have the energy to dress it, but hopefully will feel up to it later on today.


Here in the northern hemisphere it is the shortest day of the year, which means that the world is beginning to turn slowly back towards the light. We have a good two months of darkness to navigate yet here in the far north of Scotland, but the corner has been turned.


I see occasional patches of light blue sky now.  How that changes things!


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On the return journey to Freswick from Edinburgh, there was the opportunity to stop and visit friends who had just moved to Banchory, an area I’ve never been to before.  It’s lovely, with lots of trees. Very different from Caithness! 


I enjoyed seeing a new part of Scotland - a pleasure that continued on the highland tourist route through the Cairngorms...





... and via Midmar Kirk where old and new cultures are brought together in rather startling fashion.  





Immediately west of the Midmar church entrance is a recumbent stone circle, of a type found in numerous places around Aberdeenshire, probably erected in the 3rd millennium BCE, so estimated to be over 4000 years old, and is one of the most well-preserved recumbent circles in the northeast of Scotland.





It was fascinating!  Something I’ve never come across before.  





The combination of a modern churchyard and an ancient stone circle is a peculiar one. 


The Church was built in 1787 under the ministry of Rev. John Ogilvie. It was deliberately built close to the circle — we can’t be sure why, other than that we know that the Rev. Ogilvie was interested in the monument that was believed to be a Druid religious structure. The circle has now been incorporated into the landscaped grounds of the graveyard.and is one of the most well-preserved recumbent circles in the northeast of Scotland.


The exact purpose of stone circles is uncertain, but it has become generally accepted that they were to do with astronomy and marking the passage of time and the seasons.  The alignment of the stones and the shade and light between them denoted the movement of the sun and the moon and the determination of the summer and winter solstices. This knowledge would have been of value to those who needed to know the best time to plant crops. Seems rather fitting to reflect on this remarkable site whilst sitting in my bed on this windy winter solstice day.  





What is really striking about the Midmar circle is the sheer size of the recumbent stone; it is huge. The stone circle has a diameter of around 17.0 metres. The long recumbent stone measures 4.5 metres and weighs between 10 and 20 tons — as heavy as 2 buses!


To ensure that the top surface of the recumbent stone is level, the base of the stone has been placed on small chocking stones. Each of the flanking stones stands 2.5 metres high, and are tapered to a curving peak so that they resemble nothing so much as a pair of canine teeth, or fangs.





It has some interesting, possibly quite old engravings carved on the top surface. The pointed flankers on either side are 2.5 metres tall, and stand along with another five stones to make up the circle. It is believed that one or (perhaps) two stones may be missing from its west arc. Local lore tells that one of the stones from the circle was re-used in the construction of the church, but there is no evidence for this.



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It was so worth the visit and timed very well, as sunshine streamed down through the trees, adding to the atmosphere and mystery.


The overall trip was sunlit which helped ease the discomfort of the growing headache and fogginess I was feeling.  Once back home in the far north, rain was falling, and I was ready to sleep, but not without the lasting memory etched in my mind of that journey and the visit to the Midmar Kirk and stone circle.







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