If you stray south of the River Dee at Banchory you find yourself in a surprisingly remote and little visited area. But while this part of Aberdeenshire may be sparsely populated today, there is plenty of evidence that our prehistoric ancestors knew it well.
Three miles south-west of Banchory and accessible via a network of narrow single track roads lies a cluster of three stone circles dating back around 4,000 years. Two of the circles, Eslie the Greater and Eslie the Lesser stand half a mile apart in fields within sight of one another. The best known, the Nine Stanes Stone Circle, forms a roughly equilateral triangle with them, and once also enjoyed wide views, but now stands within a forestry plantation.
While the setting in which you find the Nine Stanes Circle today is certainly not what its builders intended, it is a setting which contributes strongly to the remarkable atmosphere that surrounds it. Here, more than at perhaps any other stone circle in Aberdeenshire, it is possible to imagine our ancient ancestors as real people celebrating key points of the year or burying the remains of their dead. Catch it on a still summer's evening, especially if you are alone, and it is almost possible to believe the circles's builders are hiding within the nearby trees, simply waiting for you to leave so they can resume their rites.
Some of the atmosphere of this circle comes from the way it has partially been reclaimed by nature. Many of the stones are heavily overgrown by lichen, and one of the uprights flanking the recumbent or horizontal stone has fallen down at some point in the past. There were originally eight stones in the circle plus the recumbent and its flankers. One of the stones has been removed, and another exists only as a stump. There may originally also have been two outlying stones standing beyond the ring of the circle, one of which remains today.
The Nine Stanes Circle was originally placed here to allow the farmers who built it to mark the passing of the seasons by observing the way the moon was framed by parts of it. Generations later, the circle, by now already a potent symbol of the ancestors, began to be used for the burial of cremated remains in what became a large cairn.