On a crisp and sunny mid November day we drove a short distance to the pretty village of Monymusk for a walk. Monymusk has an interesting history, the estate has been owned by the Grant family since 1712 and many of the cottages in the village square are estate properties.
Sir Archibald Grant inherited the estate in 1719 and set about transforming the agricultural land surrounding the House of Monymusk. When the Grants took ownership the land was boggy, poorly drained, had little in the way of crop or stock capacity and was almost bare of trees.
Archie Grant had a colourful life. He was a speculator, sometime mine owner and was expelled from the House of Commons after a financial scandal. However, he proved to be one of the great agricultural "improver" lairds. He ordered the clearing of ground with stones being used to make field enclosures, introduced crop rotation to the estate including the use of clovers and rye grasses to condition the soil, he planted millions of trees on the estate and was one of the early adopters of growing turnips - a humble crop today but a game changer in cattle rearing practice at the time. Using turnips which could stay in the drill until winter, cattle could be fed through the year rather than having to be sold. All these improvements meant a change to the old subsistence farming methods which had existed in Aberdeenshire, and many folk had to move but this was not a clearance in the sense of evicting people to make way for sheep or sporting estates. His legacy and that of his descendants is a rich mixture of productive agricultural ground, woodland and the origins of the village of Monymusk we see today.
The most important building in Monymusk isn't the estate "big house" but the church. A stone church has stood here since the 12th century, and it's believed that this replaced an even older Celtic church. The origin tale concerning the building of the church records that the future King Malcolm III prayed here on his way to a battle with Macbeth near Lumphanan in 1057. He stated that if he was successful he would build a church to replace the already old building in Monymusk. Malcolm defeated Macbeth's army, captured and summarily executed him on the battlefield, then honoured his promise to build a church.
The church seems very large for a small rural community but was originally built to serve a nearby priory. The tower was originally somewhat higher than the present one but has been lowered twice, firstly to counteract an unsound wall. A spire was added which in turn became unsound so the whole tower was lowered further.
The church contains an important Pictish symbol stone and two 6th century grave slabs. Despite living just a few miles away, we've yet to see these - something to rectify!
Our walk took us out of the village and up through a wood containing some huge Douglas Firs, perhaps planted by Archibald Grant. The path through the wood climbs gently up to Clyan's Dam.....
.......which proved to be a bit of an autumnal gem. A path goes over the earth dam and around the small lake, which was probably a mill pond. The last of the autumnal colours were reflected beautifully in the still water, it's a peaceful spot and several benches offer the chance to sit and enjoy the setting.
At the dam a small burn emerges out to wind down through the wood to the River Don below, rushing through mounds of beech leaves had been piled up by the wind. We headed the same way, back down through the wood and along the minor road to reach a track which heads back towards Monymusk alongside the River Don.
As from so many places in Aberdeenshire, the distinctive shape of Bennachie's Mither Tap is prominent above the farmland and woods.
In mid November when most of the glory of autumn is finished, the Larch trees have their moment. This image doesn't do justice to the intense yellow and gold strips interspersing the dark greens of the spruces in Bennachie forest. Add in a blue sky and you have another autumnal gem.
In the three weeks since the images in this post were taken a series of autumnal gales, sluicing rain and a little snow have stripped the trees of their remaining foliage. The colours diminished, it's more about form now.
We soon arrived back at Monymusk but took a short diversion to get a view of the House of Monymusk. Originally built by the Forbes family and developed by the Grants, it's one of the grander examples of a Scottish estate "big house" and is harled in the pink shade often used in the castles and estates of Aberdeenshire.
Our walk around Monymusk had lasted less than two hours, but on a lovely crisp day had been something of an autumnal gem!