Just under half a mile south of the main A96 as it runs through rural Aberdeenshire north-west of Inverurie is one of the most magnificent Pictish stone ever carved. The Maiden Stone is all of 3.2m high and stands just off to the side of a minor road a mile west of Chapel of Garioch and half a mile from the Macdonald Pittodrie House Hotel.
Judging from the style and subjects of the carving, the Maiden Stone was completed some time in the 800s, whereupon it was erected a few yards east of where it still stands today. As was common on later Pictish stones, the Maiden Stone was carved with Christian symbology on one side, and more traditional Pictish designs on the other.
As you approach along the path from the small car park you first see the east or "back" side of the stone, which also happens to be the better preserved of its faces. This is divided into four panels running down its length. From top to bottom these contain a scene of animals; a geometrical Pictish symbol; a "beast", possibly an idealised dolphin; and a mirror and comb.
The front, or west side, of the stone carries the vaguer depiction of a ring-headed cross surmounted by a person standing between two fish: perhaps this is intended to be Jonah. The bottom section of the front of the stone carries an extremely complex roundel design underneath the foot of the cross. The two narrow sides of the stone are also finely decorated with geometrical patterns.
And why is it known as the Maiden Stone? It is tempting to think that the mirror and comb design at the foot of the east face might suggest an association with a noble Pictish female, either as the sponsor of the stone or as the person it commemorated. The more popular story is that the daughter of a local laird made a wager with a stranger: that she could bake a large amount of bread before he could build a road to the top of Bennachie, the 1600ft hill whose summit is under two miles to the south. Unfortunately for her, the stranger was the Devil, and he won the bet. She tried to escape, but the Devil caught her on this spot and turned her to stone. The place where his hand touched her shoulder is still marked by the obvious notch in one side of the stone.