The main street running through the pretty village of Old Deer is Abbey Street, whose east end is dominated by the tower of Deer Parish Church. The church you see today was built in 1789, and the tower was added in 1881.
The remains of Old Deer Old Kirk are accessed through the churchyard of the parish church. Having worked out how to open the churchyard gate, you make your way around the south side of the church to its east end. It was common practice for churches to be built on the same site as, or near, the church they replaced, and at Old Deer the 1789 church was built immediately to the west of the church it replaced, and on the same alignment as it.
What you find in the old church is a long rectangular roofless enclosure divided into a nave and a chancel by an internal wall pierced by a chancel arch. The chancel is of the sort of proportions you'd expect, but the nave is unusual, being wider than it is long.
It's tempting to suggest that the nave might have originally been longer than it is now, perhaps extending as far as the west wall of the later church, which certainly carries a blocked arch suggesting it once had a doorway.
The surviving structure of Old Kirk contains a number of interesting features. These include a well preserved aumbry near a blocked doorway in the north wall of the nave. This is an inset stone cupboard which would originally have been used to hold the vessels used in services, and is now home to a modern memorial. The outside of the south wall carries an arched recess which was probably home to an effigy before the Reformation in 1560. Inset carvings dated 1603 seem to represent a male and a female. It is debatable whether the remains of a coat of arms above them were inserted in 1603 or date back to the original use of the recess.
A burial enclosure has been created in the south side of the chancel, defining an area around a memorial on the wall whose text has been lost to erosion. A number of memorials have been set into the outside of the north wall of the Old Kirk, while other old gravestones remain on view in the large churchyard.
The origins of a church at Deer can be traced back to the arrival here of St Drostan, a follower of St Columba, in the 580s. St Drostan founded a monastery in a loop of the South Ugie Water here, a monastery most famous for its association with the Book of Deer (or Book of Deir). This is an illuminated manuscript produced in the 900s in Latin, with additions in Gaelic, which makes it the earliest example of written Gaelic to have survived.
In 1219 Deer Abbey was founded by William Comyn, the Earl of Buchan, on a site half a mile to the west. It seems likely that Old Deer Old Kirk stands on or very close to the site of St Drostan's first church, though the standing remains look to date back to the 1400s, suggesting it was just the latest of a series of churches to have stood on this site over the previous 800 years.